All News & Blogs
Levon Helm goes home
Levon Helm is gone. So are Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. But their music is as timeless and important as ever.
FILE/John Storey/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Visit the Photo Place
By Jonas Beals
MY FAVORITE rock 'n' roll legend is the one about The Band causing the breakup of Cream. Although Cream had plenty of reasons to call it quits in 1968, it's fate was allegedly sealed when guitarist Eric Clapton heard "Music From Big Pink" and realized his increasingly aggressive power trio would never approach the rootsy, ramshackle sound of The Band.
Even a simplified (or fabricated) myth is revealing. In this case, it suggests the greatest living rock guitarist of the time was humbled by a ragtag and largely egalitarian group of road-worn backup players recording in their basement.
It's an easy myth to digest. Clapton was in the middle of a three-ring ego circus with Cream, and the easy collective swagger of The Band's music must have been both frustrating and fascinating.
What floored Clapton about The Band in 1968 is the same thing that floors people whenever they hear "The Weight" for the first time. The Band is one of the few popular groups to successfully make music that maintains its significance without relying on its contemporary cultural zeitgeist for interpretation. Despite traditional rock instrumentation, The Band's songs sound ancient--filled with gospel flourishes, ragged harmonies and the muted thumps of hardscrabble community marching bands. It's a timbre that gives every song a sepia tone, a sound that is particularly appropriate when the lyrics deal with historic events.
In the winter of '65, we were
By May the 10th, Richmond
It's a time I remember oh so
Summers in high school involved a lot of driving around at night, which meant a lot of listening to the radio as the trees and farms of Spotsylvania County slid past our open windows.
Garth Brooks was usually there, with Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire. So were Nirvana and Pearl Jam and plenty of other mopey rock bands that toyed with the rampant boredom and natural insecurities of teenagers. Some of our parents' bands were there: The Rolling Stones, The Who, Crosby, Stills & Nash.
JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: Zach Deputy at The Otter House. Deputy plays island-infused drum 'n' bass gospel ninja soul, or so he says. Friday at 10 p.m. OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Nick Lowe & His Band at The Birchmere in Alexandria. This legendary British singer/songwriter has had more influence on your favorite music than you think. Monday at 7:30 p.m. LISTENING TO: "Furr" by Blitzen Trapper. Clever lyrics and a balanced mix of country, folk and rock make for a beautiful song by this Portland, Ore., group.