True story. I’m in 7th grade, and my English teacher, Mrs. Millichap, finds out I’m a huge Beatles fan. Not much detective work is necessary. I’ve got the classic band logo scribbled on all my paper bag book covers, I’m wearing the Lennon specs, and I’ve always got my nose buried in a Beatle book (the Hunter Davies bio, The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away, Growing Up with the Beatles, etc.) if I finish a class task early.
Anyway, right before Christmas vacation, Mrs. Millichap tells me to stay after school for a half an hour or so. She’s got two presents for me: Highway 61 Revisited and a book by Paul Gambaccini (I think that’s his name) called the 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time. “Something to keep you busy during your break.” A real sweetheart. People like Mrs. Millichap are like angels sent from heaven, especially when you’re living in a small town where the number one band for anyone between the ages of 10 and 30 is the Scorpions.
So I zip home, tear the shrink off the Dylan LP, flop it on the turntable, study the front and back cover, and check out the Gambacccini book. After the 10-day break, I return to school, and my scholastic career begins to go right down the crapper. All I can think about is getting my hands on some more Dylan LPs and as many of those LPs mentioned in the Gambaccini book.
One of the top 100 is a bootleg called In 1966, There Was… It’s a live Dylan acoustic/electric concert from Manchester Free Hall. A large chunk of the critics believe it to be the greatest live concert of all time. All I can think about is getting my grubby little hands on this thing to find out what all the fuss is about.
To make a long story short, my detective work leads me to a record store/bootleg press out of North Carolina called Pied Piper Records: “Hundreds of live recordings for sale on vinyl and tape” is how the company advertises itself in the back of Rolling Stone magazine, in its classified section. I send away for the Pied Piper catalog, and sure as I’m sittin’ here, the friggin’ record is listed for 10 dollars! It’s a whole lot of money, but it’s worth the extra yard work. I send off the loot and 4 weeks later (yeah, back then delivery was 4 to 6 weeks for some reason or another) it shows up. Never in the history of mankind has anyone ripped through cardboard and shrink wrap so quickly and haphazardly.
I flop side 1 down on the turntable. Acoustic mumbers from Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, and Blonde on Blonde. Just Bob and his guitar. Pure heaven. Up to this point, I’d never heard the man live.
Side 2. Electric band. Sloppy arrangements, sloppy playing, sloppy everything. The verdict? Terrible.
I recently revisited side 2 of the same LP, and the verdict is that it’s still terrible. To this day, I’m amazed at the number of high fives that god-awful side gets. Trust me, those Brits had a right to boo. They’re not booing because their beloved troubadour has invited his friends, the almighty BAND, on stage, they’re booing because his friends sound like a high school pick up band, not a group mind you, but a band – a disorganized bunch of nincompoops fumbling around with Dylan’s gems like a focus group that can’t wait to break for lunch. There’s good reason why Levon Helm took off after some earlier Dylan shows in the states. He was embarrassed by the whole affair and certainly had every right in the world to feel that way. Dylan’s too drugged (which is say a lot) up to keep things on some sort of even keel, Robbie Robertson‘s leads are sloppy and uninspired, Helm fill-in Mickey Jones is inserting fills in places where no man has gone before, and Hudson and Manuel are doing their damnedest to a a create a continual noise similar to that of a dolphin in extreme pain. All around bad.
Call me a glutton for punishment, but I rented The Last Waltz a few days after the aforementioned fiasco. Anchored by Helm, the almighty BAND is more together, but Dylan-less, they are about as tasty as a 7-11 microwave burrito: Robertson, trying his damnedest to feign inspiration via 9th- and 10th-fret grimaces, continues to play sloppy fills and solos (and by the way his pinky never hits the fretboard), and Hudson and Manuel continue to create sounds similar to those made by distressed water creatures. That said, Helm and Danko still manage to sincerely entertain. Helm because he’s the real deal, a real rootin’ tootin’ southerner with chops and Danko because he’s an idiot savant of sorts – speaking coherently is apparently quite difficult, but playing complicated bass parts while simultaneously singing lead or harmonizing is surprisingly effortless.
Danko’s communication breakdowns lead me to another of the almighty BAND’S faults. Their overall charm factor is zilch – with the exception of Helm. He’s got it in spades. There’s a vapidity to the rest of the crew that would give the cast of Dawn of the Dead a run for it’s money. But worst of all is Robertson, who truly believes he is really something special, someone who really has the stories. What he really has is a whole lot of nothing. What Scorcese ever found in him will forever be one of the great mysteries of life.
That said, the almighty BAND has still managed to come up with three lifechanging songs: “The Weight”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, and “Up on Cripple Creek” – I recently had a revelation about that number in particular, and if what I think is true about the song’s real meaning, I have to grudgingly grant that Robertson may have a touch of genius. Wallace, I’d like you in particular to tell me what you think the song is all about.
As far as the rest of their catalog is concerned, feel free to dump it all at the side of the curb. Rolling Stone magazine and others of their ilk can continue to champion their efforts for all eternity, but the truth of the matter is that the younger generation aren’t buying it, literally. I oughta know. I’ve been selling records now for quite some time, and I can honestly say I haven’t moved a single Band LP, including Big Pink and the almighty BAND masterpiece, THE BAND, in the last 8 years.
A lot of negative energy is wasted on bad mouthing The Dead, and that’s a real shame because at least half of those negative vibes should be directed at The Band. Think about it. There’s a lot of similarities between the two: loads of boring tunes, lead guitarists who never do anything interesting, zero charm factor, etc… Forget the comparisons with Creedence. It’s a no-brainer. The only thing saving The Band from Dead-like abuse is those three songs. The Dead having nothing of that caliber.
Maudlin, I apologize for the length of this diatribe, but I really needed to vent. Years ago, I almost wound up in a mental institution after Rolling Stone gave Robertson’s first solo LP a five-star review. If you thought Lennon’s Some Time in New York City was band, you really need to check out Roberson’s first solo outing. Know that what galls me the most about The Band is Robertson’s unearned arrogance.
Any thoughts you might have regarding this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Hope to hear from you soon,