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Richard Manuel

by Hanna Höglund

From the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda, March 3rd, 2006.
Translated from Swedish by the author.
Reprinted with permission.

Richard Manuel, 1971
I think that we'll begin with the shoulders. Without shaky, crooked shoulders at the piano, no Richard Manuel.

This was the guy that gazed wide-eyed into Elliot Landy's camera at home in Woodstock 1968. "Super sweet, super sensitive" as co-musician Levon Helm puts it in his autobiography. But who also, according to legend, demanded photos of the groupies on the Dylan tour of -74 before letting them in, to sort out the ugly ones.

Richard, I wouldn't want to meet you alone in a dark alley but I would like to share a front porch with you in the Catskill sunset in heaven.

Tomorrow it is twenty years ago since The Band-singer Richard Manuel hung himself in the motel shower, on a reunion tour with three of the five original members. Now he is in vogue again, with the re-release of the album "Whispering Pines - Live at the Getaway" from 1985.

What is it then that makes Richard Richard?

The voice. Not least because of its unexpectedness. Who would guess that a white guy from the mediocre Rockin' Revols in a small town in Ontario would sound like this?

He became the baritone of The Band with the lovely falsetto. When the Italian tribute band The Beards (of course) arranges a concert in his memory and call him "the soul of The Band" and let Richard dressed in a cape pose wizard-like on a wintery forest hillside on the poster, then it makes me so proud. He deserves that, the guy with the aquiline nose who called himself "the side man".

"The Rumor" from the "Stage Fright" album of 1970: Never has he gone so deep, never so high, never has it sounded so easy. And then the little vibrato.

"Let the Night Fall" from "Islands" (1977): He growls like a mixed breed dog without water in the middle of the night.

Richard looks like a little owl on the Saturday Night Live clips that were released with the The Band box-set last fall. I am not really sure whether the version of "Georgia On My Mind" is that good, yet I am moved every time I see it and I can go crazy over the fact that he is no longer alive.

But lets not forget the mistakes.

It doesn't sound good when the film "The Last Waltz" makes its final turn and he does his falsetto thing on "I Shall Be Released", but that is one of the things about Richard too. It didn't every time.

He looks like fifty on "The Last Waltz" although he is only 32, and it is said that he at this point lived mostly on Grand Marnier. Lets just hope that the children had a good nanny.

On the 1980:s pictures on he is a ghost.

"I was in love with Richard" Eric Clapton once said. They had their insecurity in common.

Guitarist Robbie Robertson meant that when Richard sings one can't tell whether he sounds the way he does because he has been really hurt, or if he is straining so much just to reach the note.

One gets as close as possible to an answer to the mystery of the suicide in Levon Helm's autobiography, and maybe too close in Barney Hoskyn's The Band biography.

One has to be able to think nice things of Richard too, now that one has him in the ears and in one's heart all day.

I'd rather think of Richard Manuel the drummer, who taught himself the art of percussion during the work with Bob Dylan on what became The Basement Tapes. His wonderful "loosey-goosey" style (in the words of Levon Helm). And how he used to hit the cymbals really hard.

I see it very clearly. It is the shoulders again, how one of them moves up and the other down underneath a flowery shirt, and how he makes a crooked grin from inside of his beard.

He is missed.

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