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Everything’s Connected


Yesterday I reviewed a show by Mercury Rev that was sponsored by the Woodstock radio station WDST, and later in the day linked to a piece about Levon Helm’s semi-private shows at his Woodstock barn. Helm, in case you don’t know, was drummer with The Band, who first came to Woodstock to record with Bob Dylan, staying in a house called Big Pink, for which they later named an album. The Band’s front man – which is not to denigrate Rick Danko, Richard Manuel or Helm – was Robbie Robertson, for whom I’ve acquired a much greater appreciation since seeing him in the flesh at last year’s Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and on film in The Last Waltz.

Yesterday evening, in the car, I finally listened, via the wonders of the Podcast, to a six-week old interview with Robbie, from KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic broadcast of November 3. (You can find the interview here: it’s an excellent primer to Robbie’s positive demeanour and the vast range of his work, as a member of the Band, a solo artist, and a soundtrack composer.) The host of Morning Becomes Eclectic is a man called Nic Harcourt, who happens to be a Brit – and also the former music director of Woodstock radio station, WDST.

Nothing in the above is anything out of the ordinary. But when you’re listening to a show like this while driving through the mountains it’s nice to feel, once again, and in the words of one of this past year’s better albums, that everything’s connected.

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Discussion

3 Comment(s)

  1. Zobes

    22 December, 2005 at 9:56 am

    Tony,

    Having made so many drives with my wife between my former home in NYC and family upstate, I can very much relate to how cool it is to find something on the radio. “A Prarie Home Companion” is best enjoyed in a car on a long trip with all the scenery passing by.

    The Band is one of my very favorite bands. They first caught my ear in high school when I noticed all the different voices heard in their songs and how there weren’t solos or necessarily “lead instruments.” It was well after college when I listened more closely and found out who provided those voices and blended the instruments so perfectly.

    Having read Levon’s book, I think he would argue with the idea of anyone being a “front man” in The Band. Levon saw each member as intergral and contributing equally, whether Robbie wrote the lyrics or not. When “Big Pink” came out and he saw that J.R.R. got writing credits for every song, Levon was floored, not even realizing at the time what it meant in terms of royalties.

    His other main complaint is how Robbie was the one who decided to break up The Band. It wasn’t a mutual decision. Levon HATES ‘The Last Waltz.’ If you get to a ‘Midnight Ramble,’ don’t tell Levon how much you enjoyed the film! : ) Levon’s recollection of the filming is one of the most interesting parts of his book. The whole thing was basically a Robertson/Scorcese project. No one else in The Band had anything to do with it, nor did they really want to do it. The reason Neil Diamond was there is because Robbie was working with him on something else at the time and Robbie included him. Neil Diamond had nothing to do with The Band at all. So at one point, they decided they were running long, and they wanted to cut out Muddy Waters’ performance. Muddy Waters! Levon flipped out and said, “Why don’t you cut out Neil Diamond, I don’t even know who the f*** he is!” Later, Levon saw the film for the first time in a theater with Ron Hawkins and they shared their observations. Richard Manuel was on screen so infrequently that Ronnie asked Levon if Richard was still with group at the time.

    I think “This Wheel’s On Fire” must be required reading for anyone living within 100 miles of Woodstock ; ) It’s fascinating how Ron Hawkins had so many musicians pass through his band over the years, and how the members of The Band were the ones who stayed together and collaborated so perfectly. I also strongly recommend, from the “Classic Albums” dvd series, “The Band.” It actually covers the making of “Big Pink” as well, and I rate it higher than the “Classic Albums” dvd for “Who’s Next.”

    I am looking forward to hearing the interview with Robbie Robertson when I get a chance. He was really insightful on the “Classic Albums” dvd. I have his “Robbie Robertson” and “Storyville” CDs, both good stuff.

    Mike

  2. 22 December, 2005 at 11:45 am

    Mike/Zobes

    I always really appreciate your input here; excellent stuff.

    As I’ve mentioned before, in passing or more, the weak link in my encyclopaedia of music is American rock of the late 60s through early 70s. (And yes, I know The Band started even earlier…) It’s a slow process of catching up and having made the move Upstate to where some of this music gestated, I’m sure I’ll pick up the slack and fill in more of the missing dots. I came seriously late to The Band and have a lot of catching u p to do.

    Helm’s observations about The Last Waltz don’t surprise me in the least, and they’re not unfamiliar. I could argue that almost every group goes through this period where one person takes over; sometimes it happens early in the career so that the leadership is established (The Who?), sometimes it happens late in the career and causes a break-up (The Band would seem to be a good example of this), and sometimes it happens mid-career, with tumultuous results (The Rolling Stones?) There will always be embittered band members who feel let down, but at the same time, you just have to look at Robertson’s subsequent career against Helm’s… I shoudl probably leave it there, in case I run into Levon round town!

    I love being able to play my iPod in the car; Im catching up on all the tallk radio and new band and session shows I can’t pay attention to while in the office. It’s great stuff.

    Take care

    Tony

  3. Zobes

    22 December, 2005 at 2:16 pm

    Tony,

    Thanks very much for the compliment. When I post here I am always mindful that I’m being read by a real writer!

    The musical knowledge of yourself and the contributors to this site just blows me away. I’m comforted that for now I have a head start at least where The Band is concerned.

    The songwriters always seem to fare better after a band breaks up. Did Roger Daltrey really put out eight solo albums? ; ) Levon did get to play the role of Loretta Lynn’s father in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Take that, Martin Scorcese!

    Eric Clapton and George Harrison both appear on the “Making of ‘The Band'” dvd as huge fans of The Band. I even remember hearing that Clapton broke up Cream after he heard The Band and went to Big Pink to try and join the group (not sure how close this is to being true).

    The point was made in the dvd that as a mostly Canadian group, The Band probably appreciated the roots of American music, especially in the south, more than those who grew up in America. The Band grew up listening to American radio and romanticized the music. I had a coworker in New York who grew up in Oklahoma, and he was almost apologetic about it when it came up in conversation. I think he always anticipated that people would think he was unsophisticated. One of our executives who grew up in London challenged him about that and said he always equated Oklahoma with Woody Guthrie when he was growing up and romanticized it.

    “Woodstock” seems to be getting into your blood already, Tony. I expect you’ll have a Garth Hudson beard before we know it!

    Be well,

    Mike

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