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The Eternal Mysteries of The Band

(In Hopes of Eliminating Every Last One)

by Marianna Fikes

Copyright © 2002 Marianna Fikes.

"Fifteen jugglers
  Fifteen jugglers
  And five believers
  Five believers
  All dressed like men
  Tell your mama not to worry because
  These are just my friends."
--"Obviously Five Believers," Bob Dylan

(Questions not ranked according to importance or anything else.)

  • Why did Levon Helm hafta wear Crosby, Stills, & Nash's tour t-shirt when The Band opened for them at the N.Y. State Fair in, like, '86 or so? Presumably, if they'd been opening for...[pause to think of most execrable band ever] Loverboy, he would have done the same. Or does he really like Crosby, Stills, & Nash? Or did he not have another shirt available? Or did he not give a damn? For this and other reasons, I cried. In hindsight I've realized it could've been a whole lot worse.

  • Who played that righteous tamborine on The Band's version of "Tears of Rage"?

  • Why was it always so hard for Rick Danko to get that mellow-toned voice out of his throat? Besides that he was singing too high, I mean.

  • Has Robbie ever even considered redrafting those old contracts where he gets all the money and those other worthless fuck-ups get nothing? Maybe giving them songwriting credits? If not, did he at least think about offering to help pay for Levon's hospital bills a couple years ago?

  • Who exactly wrote what in the Manuel/Robertson co-credits? Didn't Richard ever write his own lyrics (after Basement Tapes)?

  • Who exactly 'wrote' what in all The Band's songs? When you alter a piece of music in recording it, even if you don't write it down, shouldn't that count as composition among friends anyway?

  • Is somebody going to knuckle down and write a biography of 'premature-deathing-rock-musician' Richard Manuel, or will I have to do it?

  • Does Ronnie Hawkins still get groupies? Does he want them? How about terribly attentive nurses?

  • Is Bob Dylan mortal? (Tell me no.)

  • Won't Levon ever sing anymore, god damn it?

  • Were The Band truly the only rock group, then and since, who dressed like men and not glam boys, on and off stage? Who wore hats and suitjackets a lot 'cause they liked to? (Sorry but this has always been one of my favorite things about them; if I weren't female I would dress just like that.) Even when occasionally caught wearing the hideous garments of the times, they looked mighty spiffy, in a real sort of way.

  • Does anyone else think "Up On Cripple Creek" is one of the sexiest songs ever created, and that the very best part is when they're all trying to yodel?

  • Where else have you ever heard three grown men making those sounds together? (They are clearly in the throes of something.) It's better than angels. It's achy.

  • Has anyone else noticed that besides being a king-hell of a drummer, Levon made those instruments sound sexier than anybody else ever did? In particular there is "Long Distance Operator"--especially the 'alternate' version on the Music From Big Pink cd reissue, where his heavy rolling, stop-and-go rhythm, and those tapping sticks, completely distract me from the vocal for once. If sex were really like that, I don't think I would be inclined to do much else.

  • Why--why, o lord--wasn't there another songwriter in this group?

  • How can somebody be ready to kill themselves, have a family and lots of friends, and catch all of them unawares when he does it? This happens a lot; shouldn't we revise our customary interpretation of intimacy?

  • Shouldn't ex-rock-musicians, sports figures, and other show-biz types whose livelihoods have depended on youth and stamina be offered training for necessary re-entry into the real world when their careers fizzle? I know they wouldn't volunteer to sign up for it, but couldn't it be a mandatory program, like parole?

  • Don't we owe these people anything?

  • Was John Simon in fact the sixth Band member (and therefore even less likely to be fully compensated for his efforts)--i.e., the one who stayed home? So what's he been doing all these years hence, besides the two solo albums? Mr. Simon seems to be an unusually classy, talented, and sage dude with a great sense of humor, but of course you can't make a living from just being those things.

  • Did Richard ever record "You Don't Know Me"? If so, will it ever be released?

  • About that circa-1984 Levon Helm film "Country Boy", that Rick and Richard appeared in: judging from reviews I've read, why did they even bother? (Preferable to thumb-twiddling? For the experience? For the cash?)

  • Is there any way you can learn how to be as clear-spoken wise as Levon (I once called it "gospel smart"), or do you have to be born that way, and nowhere near the Northeast when you are?

  • Why was this group the only one like it was? I know, I know.

  • Why does this world suck? Why was the actor George Sanders so right when he called it a "sweet cesspool", then took himself out of it and thereby (most likely) increased the percentage of sewage? Does this question have anything to do with The Band? Of course it does.

  • Is there such a thing as real magic, and do humans ever have a hand (or even a finger) in making it? (I'm not going to bother defining what I mean by magic; you know it when you see/feel it, and it's subjective anyway.)

  • Does everything I love always have to remind me of what could be, and then--immediately--of what isn't? Why can't vicarious living through art keep me happy for any length of time, when it seems to be enough for most people?

  • Why do untalented and all-around useless assholes get to stay around forever?
Answers, please, if you can.

Copyright © 2002
Marianna Fikes

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