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The Band: Live at the Academy of Music 1971

Levon Helm: Ramble at the Ryman

The Band: Three of a Kind

Robbie Robertson: How to Become Clairvoyant

Garth Hudson Presents a Canadian Celebration of The Band

Levon Helm: Electric Dirt

Garth and Maud Hudson: Live at the Wolf

Pulse

Dirt Farmer

Elliot Landy's Woodstock Vision

Conversations with The Band

Robbie Robertson


by Ruth Albert Spencer

From The Woodstock Times, Vol. 14, no. 14, April 4, 1985. This is one of a series of interviews with all five members of The Band that appeared in this weekly newspaper.

Copyright © Ruth Albert Spencer.

[photo]
Front page header, Woodstock Times, Vol. 14, no. 14, April 4, 1985.


Several months ago, I conceived of the idea of writing a loving study of the Band's music from a classical musician's point of view. The Woodstock Times agreed to publish this article, but when it was suggested that I perhaps interview some of the Band, I became obsessed with the idea of speaking to each of the five about music and theit lives as musicians. I decided to focus on comparisons between classical and rock musicians, and the creative process of writing and performing music. Anything they could say would surely be more interesting than anything I could say, and I set to find and speak with each. This self-imposed task wasn't easy; even after all five had agreed to do this, the saga of arranging for the individual interviews became almost as interesting as the interviews themselves and could surely form the basis of a film or thriller novel. It meant dealing with the in-between people, going backstage to clubs both in New York and Woodstock and in one case, following a member home and having my daughter hand deliver a note. It meant contacting old friends in the recording and film world in Los Angeles at the time I was working on this project. Of course, some of the Band members helped put me in contact with the others. But in the end, each of the five sat down with me and spoke seriously and I believe quite sincerely. The interviews took place over a three-month period in Woodstock, New York and Los Angeles. I am presenting them in the chronological order they were conducted.
--Ruth Albert Spencer

The other interviews by Ruth A. Spencer:
[Richard Manuel] [Garth Hudson] [Rick Danko] [Levon Helm]

[photo]
Robbie Robertson.
The interview with Robbie Robertson took place on December 28, 1984 at his Village Recorder office in West Los Angeles. Though it had taken several months of correspondence and phone calls to pin down and schedule an appointment, when we finally met, Robbie was warm, open, gracious and very willing to talk. His sound-proof office had one glass wall opening onto a recording studio. The other walls were decorated with Indian portraits and there was a word processor and synthesizer in the room. My husband Michael and I spent about an hour and a half with Robbie. His speaking voice was rich, musical and expressive. Standing out in my memory is his unique pronunciation of certain words, including "process" with a long "o", "often" with the "t" pronounced and "influenced" with the accent on the second syllable.

RAS: This is a project I cooked up this summer.

RR: Yeah, you told me it's something about classical music and rock 'n' roll...

[I give an explanation of the project.]

RR: Have you spoken with the rest of the guys?

RAS: I've done an extensive interview with Richard and I spent several hours with Garth the other day. Rick and Levon promised to do it when we get back to Woodstock. Richard and Garth were fascinating, each in different ways. Richard talked about the way he composed songs and with Garth I was most interested in finding out about his transition from a classical to a rock musician. He plays Hanon exercises and Bach every day and then he plays rock.

RR: Yeah, he's always done that. He's done that since he was a kid, since I first met him.

RAS: I'd like to first talk about how you started as a musician - your early influences, formal studies, who were the people who encouraged you when you were young. But the most interesting area I'd like to talk with you about is you as a creative musician - the songs that you've written, your work as a performer, specific things about certain songs, how you compose. And then perhaps talk about any relationships that you think exist between the worlds of classical and rock music.

RR: Okay, just ask me a question and I'll answer.

RAS: How did you start as a kid; what turned you on to music?

RR: My mother was born and raised on the six-nation Indian reservation just above Lake Erie. They all played music; they're like country people in a kind of way. Rick comes from around that area too, but not on an Indian reservation. All my cousins, all my uncles, everybody played a guitar, a mandolin, a fiddle, or something. So when I was old enough to be exposed and watch them it thrilled me to see and hear them play. I wanted to do what they did and that was the first thing I can remember that made me think that I wanted to do what they were doing, but I only wanted to do it on that level. My mother was encouraging in music for me. As I wanted to pursue it, she would be encouraging. She wasn't pushing and saying "you should do something with music," but as I would bring it up, she would then encourage me. I remember one day I was coming home from school and a guy came up and handed me a piece of paper that was for guitar lessons; I took it home and told my mother I would like to take guitar lessons and she sent me to this place. When I went there, the guy had this guitar, but instead of holding it like a guitar, he put it on my lap and it was Hawaiian guitar lessons. So I took a few of those, but I didn't want to play Hawaiian music and that was the extent of my musical education. That's my formal studies.

RAS: Was the guitar your first instrument?

RR: Yeah. Then it was the beginning of rock 'n' roll and I just caught the fever along with everybody else and I wanted to be a rock 'n' roll musician. I became obsessed with doing that and started playing with little bands and then I started writing songs and that's what really kind of got me into it quicker.

RAS: Did you always know that you wanted to be a musician?

RR: At a certain stage - not always. I don't remember when exactly it was, but I was pretty young - I was probably ten years old when I thought that that's what I wanted to do and then by the time I was 12 or 13, I was positive. And it was like a big distraction in life too - that's all I could think of, that's all I wanted to do. I wasn't interested in sports, I wasn't interested in school, I wasn't interested in anything but just getting better at that.

I wrote a couple of songs when I was 15 that Ronnie Hawkins recorded, "Someone Like You" was one; then he asked me to start playing with him when I was 16. That's when I met all of those guys. First it was Levon; then it was me; them we started gathering the rest of the guys. Ronnie Hawkins' group was all from Arkansas at the beginning and as they got homesick, these guys came in. As we would play around the area, we would pick out the best guy from the little groups that would open for us and lure them into the web.

RAS: Do you remember your first impressions of any of them?

RR: Well, my first impressions were of talent. I thought. that Richard was a great singer, that Garth was the best musician we'd ever heard in our lives and Rick was a great singer and a good player and a great spirit - all of it. We would talk Ronnie Hawkins into hiring these individuals.

RAS: As a creative musician, have you always considered yourself primarily a performer or a composer?

RR: I thought of myself equally as a writer and a guitar player first.

RAS: A guitar player first?

RR: Yeah, a song writer and a guitar player first. That's what I did; that's what I concentrated on mostly.

RAS: How did you start writing songs that had "real" lyrics?

RR: I don't know - I don't know why you do that. I'd be practicing, just playing and then I'd find a little something and one thing would lead to another. I didn't sit down and say "what would be great is to be able to write these songs" - it just happened.

RAS: Do you think it was Dylan's influence?

RR: No, I was 15 years old. It was way before.

RAS: Are you aware of how you composed? Did you work on lyrics first - have an intellectual or verbal idea - or the musical idea first?

RR: It was always different; all kinds of ways. Sometimes I would find a little melody thing. Sometimes I would think of the name of a song. Sometimes I would find the first line of a song. Sometimes l would find the chorus. Sometimes it would just be something I wanted to write a song about.

RAS: Do you still compose songs?

RR: Yeah, every day.

MS: Do they just come out, or do you have to work at it?

RR: Sometimes I work and then put it aside. Sometimes I hack away daily, just as if you're writing a novel or something; you just come in and pick up where you left off the day before.

RAS: Are any of these songs heard publicly?

RR: The songs that I'm writing right now are for a project that I'm working on. It's a movie and it's an album that I'm going to make and it's based on a story, so they're going to make a film about that.

RAS: Do you still play the guitar?

RR: Every day.

RAS: Do you practice?

RR: I don't practice, but I play. I mean, I don't practice like Garth practices; I don't know how to - I never played scales.

RAS: That's exactly what Richard said. He sits down and improvises, plays patterns, but does it every day.

What do you think was the influence of the Woodstock area on you?

RR: The influence of Woodstock? In the beginning, it was kind of a retreat for us. I think all of the guys would probably say the same thing about Woodstock. It was a retreat where we could set up a little workshop-situation and we could go every day and try to better what we were doing; work on songs and chord progressions, musical ideas and rhythms and all of that. We could do it in a comfortable setting with not much to disturb us.

RAS: But you were the first to leave and of your own choice, weren't you?

RR: Yeah, it wasn't the same for me; it wasn't serving the same purpose. I got bored. I didn't like the thing so much. When I left about ten years ago it was becoming this little hippie drug town and I had kids that I was bringing up and - I mean there's nowhere to go to get away from it, but - it just didn't appeal to me anymore.

RAS: Do you ever go back to Woodstock?

RR: Well, I was back last year. I went up to visit with Albert Grossman at Thanksgiving. That's the last time I was up there.

RAS: Do you think some of the songs you wrote were directly influenced by the environment?

RR: I think they were influenced by the ambiance. I don't think I would have written the same songs that I wrote up there if I had been living in the city. I felt a little easier about things - images and the feeling of the music wasn't as neurotic as what I felt when I was living in the city, so I think it influenced me in that kind of a way. In the beginning, I really liked it a lot - I never lived in a thing like that. I was always a city kid; it was the first time I had ever done that and I liked it.

MS: Where and how did you pick up a Southern feel?

RR: When I first joined Ronnie Hawkins, I went from Toronto, Canada to Arkansas and I had never been anywhere really before. I had been to New York and border towns - Detroit, Buffalo, but I had never been to the South and it made such a smashing impression on my mind when I went there. It was so different, and all of these things hit me so hard and in an effective way, and I was so impressed by it. Because to me it was like the middle of the wagon wheel of rock 'n' roll - that area around Memphis, where all those people came out of - and I thought it was such a powerful rock 'n' roll medicine in a sense. And the historic elements of it, and just the life style. And things had different names, more rhythmic names, more musical names, and everything was more musically oriented. So I liked all of that and it was all really new and I was very easy to impress.

RAS: Is it true you lived with Levon's family?

RR: Yes, for a while. I absorbed and was fascinated by the folklore. For people there, it was nothing; they didn't notice it, because it was so close to them. And for me, it was so new that all of these things came out in the songs.

RAS: Are you still fascinated by that music?

RR: Well, I'm fascinated by that music in a traditional sense. It doesn't mean the same thing to me now as it did then.

RAS: Do you have any favorite songs that you've written?

RR: I've never thought of that - favorite songs. If you do have favorite songs, it's for some kind of inside .... Not really. Favorite songs are kind of like what you are writing; your favorite thing is what you are doing.

RAS: What relationships do you think exist between the worlds of classical and rock music? Is it the same language?

RR: Yeah, I guess it's different versions of the same language. Classical music is much more sophisticated; classical music is instrumental music. I like the story telling aspects of opera; the story telling always appeals to me, so I relate to that. I think classical music is much more mathematical and much more sophisticated. You don't have to be bothered with lyrics.

RAS: I read in an interview a long time ago that your favorite composer is Penderecki.

RR: "Pendereski" - that's how you say it. It's spelled like Penderecki. He was one of my favorite new composers and I still like him. It's very passionate music and depressing and weird. I can't remember what piece it was that I heard that influenced me, but it made me think of an idea that I started to work on at the time. It was a mood that I found; I worked out this melody and then I found counter-melodies with it and I couldn't find any words for it, so I just kept working on it that way. The idea was. I was gonna write this piece of music, but I didn't, finish it because there was nothing for the Band to do on it really - it didn't have anything to do with them and there was no demand for it. It's not something the record companies would be interested in from me. So I was doing it on my own. I was doing it with an American Indian thing in mind. It was around the time or after the Wounded Knee episode - I wasjust thinking about what happened to those people. They were going to make this movie about Wounded Knee and Marlon Brando was involved and I was going to write it for that. It kind of fell apart, so it was. something I didn't finish.

MS and RAS together: Any other classical composers you like - who set you off on ideas?

RR: Oh yeah, tons of them. You always hear a little piece that has an attitude to it; or else a melody that you'd be inspired by. Lots of them. I did this thing with Martin Scorcese in Raging Bull, I worked on the music with him for that. We. found that Moscani piece that we used at the beginning and throughout by this little orchestra in Bologna. We'd heard other people doing Moscani stuff - wonderful orchestrations, huge sounding things - but none of it had the passion that this little orchestra from Bologna did. And we couldn't even get a half decent copy of the tape; nobody knew where it was. We went through great pains to get that and finally when we did get the tape, it went sort of: [He makes a downward pitched sound]. It sagged - it was like someone just bumped the machine when they were doing it. So I had to figure out this way to put the tape back in tune when it would do that. And it was a technical complicated bunch of nonsense. But anyway - Moscani - I love that music that we did. I've been influenced in little ways by - God - everybody.

RAS: Like a sponge, absorbing everything.

RR: Yeah it would just be - different things would set you off.

RAS: Do you have any friends who are classical musicians, or have you ever?

RR: No, I think we just ran in different circles. I had friends that could play classical music, but they weren't like - oh - Glenn Gould.

RAS: Can I ask you some things about the Band?

RR: Sure, you can ask me anything you want.

RAS: First of all, what do you think are some of the elements that made the Band so unique?

RR: It's just like a soup that works out great. The ingredients just work in some cases and they don't in others. What I really liked about the Band thing was that everybody made up their own little element of it that all added up. Everybody contributed something to it; it wasn't like there were two guys doing everything and we had these other guys along for the ride. It was never like that; it really was a unit and the way we disbursed the musical responsibilities seemed to work. What makes a good band or doesn't make a good band? I think that's what it is - when these ingredients really add up. A real band, not somebody who's a singer and a player and he has these other guys. Like - thinking in the same period - like Creedence Clearwater. They were a so-so band. It was really just John Fogerty and these other guys that were okay.

MS: . How did you work from a tune? After you wrote it, how did it get from that to the final product?

RR: Well, when you write the song, you have something in mind because it comes out of your imagination. As I would be working on it, I would get different ideas that we would try first because we're starting from scratch. Nobody knows the song, nobody knows what to do in the song, so I would play the song and I'd say, "I think this would be a good song for... Levon to sing... or for Richard to sing and when this is going on - da-da-da-da- - it'd be great if you went boom-boom-boom-boom here in this part and if this went like that." So you give them what you've got to go on and then try and expand upon that or find out even if the idea that you do have in mind will work. Sometimes they sound right in your mind, but when you really try them, they're medium and they're not as great as what you thought.

RAS: Do you ever sing lead vocals?

RR: Yeah. Not very often, although the guys in the Band would say "You should sing this song, because the character and everything sounds right." I didn t want to do that, because then it wouldn't be like a band anymore. All of a sudden I'm writing the songs, I'm playing the lead guitar and the tune and I'm singing the song; it wouldn't be as balanced. I also enjoyed being able to write it and then say, "you should sing this" and "then you come in singing here"" and "then you come in with that harmony at this point on top." Because I wrote the songs, it helped me get a better picture of what I was trying to do by having an ensemble, like a committee kind of thing where we could experiment with it. Rather than being in the midst of it, doing it, I could have an overview of it that l thought would be more helpful in a lot of cases.

MS: So you would often come in with the counterpoint and rhythmic things sort of worked out in your head.

RR: Sometimes they would just come with the song, because the song was in a certain rhythm. Or while I was doing it, I would find parts of it. Not all of it. I never ever wrote a song and came in and gave everybody everything to do on the sang. Never. I never wanted to. But you just give them the basic thing to go on and then hope that they can take that further - to a more interesting place.

RAS: It sounds as if there was a leader or conductor, that it was you.

RR: I never thought of myself as the leader or conductor of the Band. It wasn't necessary to think like that. The only thing that made it that way was when you write the song, you know more about the song than anybody else, so therefore you're kind of in that position because of the material.

RAS: How do you think the Band would have been different if four of you had not been Canadian?

RR: I don't know if that really had much to do with it.

RAS: That's what Garth and Richard said. I always wondered; to me, there was always an element of someone who was not an American looking in on American music.

RR: I don't think so.

RAS: What if there hadn't been Levon - someone from the South?

RR: Well, I think if nobody had been Canadian (you said four hadn't been Canadian), if nobody was Canadian, I think it would have been different. Because it was different kinds of influences - Canadian flavors of music that had come from Brittania and the British Isles. It was a little more predominant in Canada. Certain folklores that I drew upon too; it affected the writing. I think, in the same ways, if there hadn't been anybody from the South, it would have affected it. It all would have affected it really, but what the big difference would be, we're just talking about an abstraction.

RAS: Would you ever play a reunion concert with them?

RR: I don't think so. Not that I'm really opposed to it at all. I don't feel the necessity for it or I don't see what we would really get out of it... and to do it for business reasons, I'm not interested in doing that.

RAS: When John Lennon died; after the initial shock and feelings wore off, the way I felt was "That's it - there can never be a Beatles' reunion." And then I thought about the Band and I thought "one day one of them won't be here anymore and then there will never be even the possibility." Have you ever thought about that?

RR: Oh, I think the Band did whatever the Band is going to do; I think that that was it. What really happens in a case like that is when people grow to a certain stage, you're growing up and you don't grow anymore and all of a sudden, you're not learning. It's not a learning process anymore or growing process anymore, so then it becomes kind of stagnated. I didn't feel anybody was getting a lot out of it except what we could do on a show business - business thing. And I wasn't interested in going on the road anymore and playing all those places that we'd already played many times - I felt the same way about that - that's what The Last Waltz was all about. That was kind of a statement - it was a definite statement. So then to do that and then say, "Oh we're just kidding, here we go again," I couldn't do that.

RAS: You don't have the urge - just to see what it would feel like - not to go on the road, just to...

RR: To play together? Well, for a while we had talked about doing that. The idea was that we wouldn't go on the road and do that anymore and that we would continue to make music together and would just share it in more modern technology through the video process or through film - whatever the medium would be. And everybody went off on little projects of their own that they had been kind of really building up wanting to do, and everybody just got scattered around and we never really got around to doing it. Then I think it just faded - just kind of got paler and paler - the idea of it - and it just faded away and nobody was that anxious to do it.

And then when the other guys decided they would get together and that they would go back on the road, I couldn't; I didn't want to do that at all. It just took on a different light to me - it was something in my past. I felt very good about it and I was very proud of the things we did together and everything, but I didn't feel that way now. It's not what I'm interested in now. I've done things in the meantime with Garth and I've done a couple of things with Richard - he's helped me on a couple of things I've been working on - that's all been fine, I enjoy that. I still think they're extremely talented guys, but l can't see the Band playing together anymore. I think that that's what it was - it just doesn't feel the same to me. I'm not interested in that musical direction anymore in what I'm writing now; it's a different thing. I have something else in mind.

RAS: It sounds like you're very strong in your feelings about this.

RR: Yeah, and I don't mean it to sound bad in any kind of way; it's just you grow to another place and things strike you differently; it doesn't appeal to me.

RAS: Well, I'm sorry, but I understand how you feel. I think everybody feels that way about certain things sometimes.

Do you read music?

RR: No... no.

RAS: How do you write out...

RR: I write out the chord progressions.

RAS: You mean, like the letters, "C major."

RR: Yeah, I write out the chords.

MS: How do you notate the melody?

RR: I sing the melody while I play the chords.

MS: And then does someone transcribe it for you?

RR: Nobody transcribes it - oh, you mean when they have it in song books and stuff like that?

MS: Yeah, eventually it gets committed to writing.

RR: Yeah, well, what they do for those things - they just take the records and they just take it off the records. I have nothing to do with that whatsoever - except they send it to see if they were done correctly, and I would give it to Garth and say "Is this done correctly?"

RAS: Do you play any other instrument?

RR: I play piano. I do most of my writing on the piano.

RAS: I never knew that. I never saw you play a keyboard.

MS: We followed all the Band concerts in and around New York from the beginning at the Fillmore East. We've been fans from way back when.

RR: Some of them were good. There were periods when we were playing really well, but like anything, it goes in phases and different stages that we were going through in our lives. Sometimes it got real accurate and sometimes we were just crazy rock 'n' roll musicians, but when it was really. good, when we all played really well, it made us feel just tremendous.

RAS: Was there a best period?

RR: I don't think so; I mean, there probably was, but I don't know what it was. A couple of nights it would be okay, but it just wasn't fulfilling completely and then there'd be a time when it would be and then the third night w'd e' play really well; we would cut it and would feel tight and it would feel like you could not do anything wrong.

RAS: I just. can't help asking - you mention it today and many times in The Last Waltz (which I watched a few times before we came out here). What are your negative feelings about being on the road?

RR: Oh, I just don't get anything from it anymore. The life style doesn't appeal to me - just going from town to town - dragging around. You're just tired all the time and staying in those depressing hotels - the routine of travel, set up, play, sleep - and the people that you mostly meet are not extremely interesting. There's rare occasions, but you meet mostly just goofy people that just push themselves on in the situation. I have nothing to learn from it and I did it long enough, I felt - I did it for 16 years.

RAS: Yes, you were very clear about that in the film.

RR: Yeah, and the whole thing is, if the audience-the appreciation of the audience, the crowd and the cheering and the clapping and all of this - if that buzzes you that much, well then there's a reason to do it. But after all those years and doing it every which way from playing for two people in the audience to 650,000 people in the audience, every which way you could probably dream of it. Where the crowd thought we were tremendous, where the crowd threw things and booed at us, we've had every circumstance. I don't know what else to really gain from it, except the money and getting off on "they love me" and I did it enough where it just doesn't do anything for me. Not that I don't really like it, the applause and everything, but I don't need it.

MS: Were you actually booed off the stage?

RR: In 1965, with Bobby [Dylan], we got booed all around the world. There were other cases too. It was a strange job.

RAS: That was before you were the Band.

RR: Yeah, but it was the same guys. We would go and play and they would boo us and we would go on to the next town, set up and they would boo us.

RAS: Why? I forget what was going - on.

RR: Well, because - the purist thing - he [Dylan] was a folk musician and changed to electronic. They really meant it at the time too. And then years later we did this tour together - Bob Dylan and the Band.

RAS: In '74.

RR: Right - and everybody acted like it never happened - like everything was fine and it was always right. It was kind of a nice feeling to think that the world came around rather than we gave in, and it was very commendable for Bob Dylan not to give up because everybody was saying to him, "Get rid of these guys - they're killing your career - this is a disaster, they're terrible." And he didn't do it; that was quite brave of him, I must say, looking back.

RAS (to MS): Do you remember Phil Spector talking to us in '65 and '66 about how this was absolutely "it" - Dylan playing with this group, the Band. and electronic music?

MS: Philip and I went to school out here together. And then when he moved East, I went back East to school, so I did his contracting; I did all the piano playing on his early stuff out there (the Crystals and Ronettes). Philip's influence was Wagner; he went crazy; he would come over to the house and listen to Wagner, those massive sounds.

RR: Huge, yeah.

MS: And at that time, he was developing this concept of the "wall of sound" and what would strike him the most were these massive sounds.

RR: Yeah, yeah, I got the same impressions from Wagner. I didn't know Phil was directly influenced by that, but that's how Wagner struck me too - HUGE. I mean it had this' power - everything was done with power in mind. I liked that too; it's also what Bob Dylan liked about changing to electronic music - that it was so big - powerful sounding and aggressive.

RAS: We were talking before about you not going on the road, but you mentioned before that you still play every day. Do you ever perform; do you ever get up in front of an audience?

RR: No. No. Well, if I would perform, I would not go down to a nightclub and perform like that. I would be doing it in a film sense or in a video sense. That's the medium that interests me.

RAS: Have you done any work for video, like MTV?

RR: . Um. No, I had no reason to do anything like that. There's nothing for me to plug in what I had been working on since the movies that I did. And then after that I just did music for a couple of films, so there's no part of it that called on me to do that. And the project that I'm' working on now, there could be. But I don't know, I don't have any desire for that. It's funny - and I'm not sure why or anything else - at one time I just loved it, I'd be nervous every night and it was really thrilling. I mean you can see in The Last Waltz, I obviously enjoyed it very much, but I just...

MS: But you and Levon have gone on into films. Obviously, you have other things to do. We saw him at Joyous Lake two weeks ago. He got on stage at 11 o'clock witty a bunch of local Woodstock musicians and played for 2 1/2 hours til 1:30. You can see that even though he's in films, he gets off on live performing.

RR: Yeah, well, he always loved it. I guess they realized after a certain point after The Last Waltz that they really missed it, that they felt this urge to get in front of people and play again.

RAS: And you didn't.

RR: And I didn't.

RAS: I get the feeling that you have grown and changed a lot as a person.

MS: But you're a creator - it's different for a creator. A creator doesn't need to be before the public.

RAS: But a performer is a creator.

RR: It's just where the emphasis is.

MS: A performer must be in front of an audience and a creator doesn't need to be in front of people.

RR: Yeah, once the thing, to me, is written and it is documented in some kind of way by recording it, then it's fine for me. I don't then need to do it over and over again in front of people. I don't know why I would want to or need to; because it's that other thing of taking it out of the air when it doesn't exist and making it exist.

RAS: Do you have any other strong hobbies or interests outside of music?

RR: Just writing stories. Yeah, I have three things that I have written that screenplays are being written on, I would just write the story; it's being translated into screenplays.

MS: Do you write with an eventual screenplay in mind?

RR: Uh, now I do, because that's what I can do with it. I have to have a reason for writing it too, or else you just wouldn't, I guess; you would not be bothered. That is the motivation for me - if I figure it out in a real interesting way, it's something I can get a good screenwriter to write a script on, and then, that's my way of getting it out into the world.

RAS: I forgot - did you do the story of Carny?

RR: Yeah. It wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. In some cases, the collaborations don't work the way you think they're going to work - and you're already in the water and you have to swim and deal with it. The guy that I was working with on that came out of a documentary background and we just never really got back to back on making this experience come off in the way that I had in mind. I was quite happy with the script and the way it turned out, but the movie was never as powerful as the script. And it was that he was just not a real movie maker. He was a guy who let things happen rather than make things happen. Although I enjoyed the experience a lot and is was a part of Americana that I really wanted to make a movie of, it didn't succeed in the way that I wanted it to.

MS: It was about "on the road."

RR: It's what?

MS: Carny's about being on the road - something that is so difficult for you, and yet it's something that's intriguing to you.

RR: The road, yeah. Well, I was always fascinated, too, by that carnival thing, that part of Americana, these odd people that travel around in the night and set up in your town.

RAS: It sounds like what you said about touring with the Band - going from town to town setting up.

RR: Yeah, but the carnival thing was another sect - so mysterious. I always wondered, "what do they do back there?" And they have these freaky people and odd people and they're here and they're gone. There's a similarity, but it's such an old tradition - it's dying away to Disneylands and Magic Mountain places. I thought is was a story that I'd just like to tell...

So, what are you going to do - are you going to write this article for the local Woodstock paper?

[We discuss the Woodstock Times and some national music magazines.]

RR: I hope you can get to talk to Levon. Levon's a very interesting person to talk to if you get him talking about music and his background of music. I find it very anyway, cause it's like the real item of rock 'n' roll in a sense that he comes from all that. He grew up right in the heart of it and I think that is interesting. I hope that you could work it out.

RAS: He promised.

RR: He's never been one to like to do interviews though.

RAS: Neither is Richard; he said he never really did it.

RR: No, not too much.

RAS: Yet he talked to me for over over two hours. Do you still keep in touch with all of them?

RR: Once in a while I hear from them. They just call and say "hello, what's going on," just like that.

RAS: Well, I thought I might just go down and ring Levon's bell, but I was told not to do that. But he promised.

RR: Well just tell him that he promised.

RAS: I will. After I transcribe this interview, I'll send you a copy. I did the same with Richard and told Garth I'd do that, so you can ex out anything you don't want in.

RR: Yeah, I'm not overly concerned about that, but when I'm reading it, it might make me think of something. I'll think "oh geez, this might be interesting for you," and I can mention that.

© Ruth Albert Spencer

Ruth Albert Spencer is a classically trained musician and teacher. She is Director of the Music and Movement Department at the Diller-Quaile Music School in Manhattan. She has published two books on Music Education for teachers and currently is working on a book entitled Recollections of John Lennon. Ruth lives with her husband Michael, teenaged daughter Joanna and three dogs in New York City. The have a weekend home in Woodstock, just down the road from Big Pink. She describes herself as the "world's number one Band fan."


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