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by Mike McGuirk

May 4, 2012

Another Side of The Band

by Mike McGuirk  |  May 4, 2012

The passing of Levon Helm (see Rhapsody Rock Editor Justin Farrar's awesome obit) got us thinking: there is only one Band, and as its members die, we all lose a little. Richard Manuel killed himself in 1986. Rick Danko died in 1999. And now Helm is gone. That leaves Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson.

I don't think I'm breaking any new ground by saying that The Band's music is not like anyone else's, inhabiting a no-man's land between rock, blues and country with three separate, easily identifiable singing voices and a samurai level of technical ability honed by years of touring as a backing band. There really is no similar group in the history of rock music. And with the loss of its members one by one, I started feeling like Rhapsody should have a new Band playlist every day for two weeks. But that'd be weird, and too many of us would end up in rehab. Still, as great a job as Justin did, at least a second playlist is in order. Also, I realized something about Robbie Robertson.

Over the years, Robertson has traditionally been characterized as a narcissistic a-hole -- his hopped-up cockiness in The Last Waltz sure doesn't help -- but he has one of the most distinctive guitar sounds in rock music: economical, precise and infinitely tied to the old masters (think Wild Jimmy Spruill and Mickey Baker). Plus, the dude is the glue that held together the range of talents that made up The Band, writing much of that lost-in-time Americana that bumps as much with funk as with the sacred moves of Delta blues and ancient country. The collaboration of these massive talents is what made The Band great, but somebody had to be the nucleus. So maybe it's a little unfair that Robertson gets such a bad rap among record geeks. I mean, at this point, he's almost all we've got, and it's not like The Band just had a few good songs.

Now, with the rock era clearly ended, The Band's body of work not only becomes a signpost for kids interested in resurrecting olden times, but a downright precious document of a bygone era. Eventually they're all going to be dead, and that will suck, but The Band's music was always connected to the ghosts of the past and tinged with this indefinable sadness. I've compared it to the feeling you get watching old home movies of your family, when everyone was young and beautiful. That is quite a legacy to leave behind.

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