Jun 092008

Are ya watchin’ me, Bob?

A while back we analyzed the legendary duel in The Last Waltz between Eric Clapton and The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Using cutting-edge technology and the better part of three lunch breaks, we compared the efficacy of Clapton’s Guitar Solos to Robertson’s Rock Faces. This groundbreaking study has led to similar inquiries in development and not yet reported, such as a comparison of the efficacy of Aretha Franklin’s pipes to Mariah Carey’s tits and ass from this legendary VH1 Divas performance.

While this and similar studies are ongoing, I’ve been thinking about the concept of the evolution of Rock Faces. How much of what an artist hits the stage with is owing to God-given talent and how much of an artist’s facial means of communication is developed through hard work and study? I decided to kick off this inquiry with an examination of the evolution of the Rock Faces of The Band’s Robbie Robertson. The conclusions we draw from this analysis are only the tip of the iceberg. In coming weeks, as we discuss these findings and examine the evolution of Rock Faces by other artists, we’ll surely develop a more comprehensive picture.

As you know, many members of what would become The Band backed up Bob Dylan on some of his first electric tours. Here’s a young, studious, respectful Robbie accompanying Dylan on acoustic guitar in a hotel room. In a wholly subservient role, Robbie’s all about respect. The closest he gets to flashing anything remotely resembling a Rock Face, is around 56 seconds into the clip, when he engages in an empathetic head dip in rhythm with the descending chord progression.


  11 Responses to “The Evolution of a Rock Face: Robbie Robertson”

  1. alexmagic

    That original Clapton vs. Robertson showdown analysis was truly an important moment in the history of this site, Mod.

    I think time will show that the work you did there – and the way you successfully soldiered through some skepticism from your peers – was groundbreaking in this field.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks, Alexmagic. To call what I’ve laid out here today a “study” would be overstating the case, but I hope that we can dig deeper on the use of Rock Faces. There might come a day when we ask, “Why didn’t such-and-such an artist or band make it? They had it all!” – and our informed answer may be, “Yeah, all but a band member who could properly project the depth of the band’s music through facial expressions.”

    There’s also a lot of statistical analyses to be done on Rock Faces that an old friend has let founder since turning his interests to the development of high-tech computer hardware stuff that I can barely get my head around.

  3. Mr. Mod, was this study inspired at all by the fact that VH1 Classic has begun airing The Last Waltz seemingly every day? For some reason, I keep tuning in during the performance of “Stage Fright.”

  4. BigSteve

    That last clip is so sad. I’m not sure how I’d arrange my face if I —

    realized that I had to sing the verses of my song originally sung by one of the great rock & roll singers, Levon Helm, because he hates my guts and won’t appear on the same stage with me, and I was never really much of a singer anyway,

    had to admit that, despite once being called a “mathematical guitar genius” by none other than Bob Dylan, I no longer know how to play the fucking guitar, and

    had come to the conclusion that no one will be looking at my face anyway, because it looks like a toy poodle has taken up residence on top of my head.

  5. alexmagic

    Hopefully, a Rock Face scale can be established at some point, perhaps with the likes of Clapton and Santana at their respective ends, though research may eventually indicate that neither is truly the extreme of lesser and greater volume in Rock Facework.

    VH1 Classic has begun airing The Last Waltz seemingly every day?

    Did they finally lose the rights to The Jacksons: An American Family?! I hope not, I never did get to do a count of how many times the name “Joseph!” is yelled during the whole mini-series. I’m still thinking it’s somewhere north of 200.

  6. Mr. Moderator

    As to your question, Oats, no, although I’ve been happening to tune in everytime they play “Ophelia”. Last week I lucked into Van Morrison’s “Caravan”. I forget what inspired it, but recently I started wondering if an artist’s Rock Face develops and changes, the way their Look and playing style might change. For instance, I may investigate the evolution of John Lennon’s Rock Face next. He was a highly mutable artist in all other measurable areas. I’m curious to see if his Rock Face changed along with his playing style, songwriting, and Look. His premature exit from the stage, however, may hamper that investigation.

    I’m not sure that RTH Labs yet has the necessary equipment to study the evolution of David Bowie’s Rock Face, but he might be another artist worth examining.

  7. alexmagic

    The observation that Robertson occassionally makes faces when he’s not even playing a corresponding note (a Face Solo?) brings to mind that Page is deserving of a Rock Face analysis.

    I caught one of the videos for The Firm last summer after probably not having seen it since it would have been aired the first time around, and I was struck that Page was happily doing all the classic faces and guitar postures despite the fact that none of it was reflected in the music. I think he may also have been wearing a scarf in that particular video. Coincidence?

  8. mockcarr

    I don’t really understand the rock scarf. My neck has never gotten cold when I’ve been onstage. These guys should eschew the scarf and wear a whiplash brace! Those are dangerous head movements.

  9. Y’all sure do hate Robbie Robertson. Does Levon Helm own this site?

    That said, this Robbie Robertson fan thanks you for putting that clip on your page and thus leading me to it via Google. I had no idea Hudson or Danko ever appeared onstage with Robertson after 1976. Nice to see that they aren’t bitter haters like Levon.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    Hello Vidor,

    I’m the person who did this analysis, and I love Robbie Robertson. We’re not above cutting up on even those we love, though. Spend enough time with any person or thing you love and it’s possible that you’ll find some funny stuff. Glad you found what you weren’t expecting.

  11. OK. It can be confusing sometimes when one stumbles onto a new site. Anyway, thanks for the clip.

    The URL for that video has as one of the “related videos” some gig where Rick Danko was singing “The Weight” with some other folks in 1999, the year he died. Hugely overweight and actually singing with a lit cigarette in hand. Solves the mystery of his heart attack.

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