The Last Waltz Not Yet Over For The World's Bumpiest Band
by Hanna Höglund
Hanna Höglund is a Swedish journalist living in Stockholm and working for newspapers as Expressen and Nerikes Allehanda. This article about The Band was published in Nerikes Allehanda on October 11th, 2005. Translated to English by the author. Copyright © Nerikes Allehanda 2005. Reprinted with permission from Hanna Höglund.
Lo and behold! A new The Band box-set is out and the story of the world's bumpiest band did not end, this time either.
Next year, it will be thirty years since their last concert, that also became a movie, The Last Waltz.
Then Robbie Robertson wanted to quit, hence the definitive falling-out between him and drummer Levon Helm. The dispute concerning the rights of the music was also at stake, and still is today. Robbie was the one with the record company on his side and of the five original members of The Band it is just himself, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson that are still alive today.
Robbie is the executive producer of the new box-set A Musical History. Garth has been part of the project as well. Levon on the other hand is not a participant; he is not even mentioned in the credits.
I sent Levon Helm, today the age of 65 with a studio of his own in Woodstock where he is holding concerts every other week, an e-mail. He does not want to speak about the past, he is "all about the future".
As a fan of The Band, it's difficult dealing with this; The Band being the group whose mutual friendship was so tightly intertwined with their music and interplay that the two aspects are hard to separate. You want them to stand on the beach of The Pacific forever, as on the Northern Lights - Southern Cross album, grinning, with beards and boot cut jeans.
But with the new box-set; five CDs, a DVD and a fancy book with previously unseen photos, the focus is turned towards the early material, before all the nagging.
On the first disc, including material from the early sixties and the days of The Hawks, they have just abandoned rockabilly for rhythm'n'blues. At night, after concerts, when not rehearsing or doing the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll thing, they sit together, homesick, telling each other about their parents and families.
As always, the view you get of The Band is two-sided. Can one really believe that Richard Manuel, singing "Honky Tonk", is just about to turn 21; that they are still skinny guys with sticking-out ears? Here, he puts on the Ray Charles voice, a voice that sends the saliva sprinkling, drops getting caught in the beard that he has not yet grown. Where you can hear dry splinters whirling off his vocal chords - I mean this in a good way.
Many more or less pretentious things have been said about The Band: how they captured a whole America in their music and lyrics; that their music is so packed with influences that it is beyond time. There is a truth to all these statements, but it is important not to forget that in the end they were a band who just played songs and liked sitting around, plodding along.
The result: a cowboy sound, where the tom-toms just - blonk! - in "Daniel and The Sacred Harp" and Garth finds a jew's harp sound on the organ that no one has heard before (doijng-doijng-doijng). It is music that takes half of the prairie in one step. Music from the days when Rick Danko and Van Morrison drank out of the same stream in Woodstock.
They seem playful. It is "huh?" a lot, and "everybody just went where they could go". You want to scratch their bearded chins.
They themselves disliked the label of country rock; perhaps "country soul" suited them better. On October 17th at 7.30 you can see them with Bob Dylan in the second part of Martin Scorseses documentary "No Direction Home" on Kunskapskanalen, Swedish Television.