Intimate Music: A History of the Idea of Chamber Music

By Neil Minturn; Micheal J. Budds | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Intimacy and Tradition: A History of The Band

The five musicians who eventually became The Band first played together as the Hawks in 1961. In 1965 Levon Helm, an American, and four Canadians—Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko—began their association with Bob Dylan. It was not until 1968, with the release of Music from Big Pink, that The Band issued its first album, although the jacket makes no mention of a group with that name. The ensemble’s farewell occurred in San Francisco in 1976 at a concert billed as “The Last Waltz.”

But rock & roll does not waltz. It marches, kicks, and stomps in duple and quadruple meters, not triple ones. In fact, such a designation calls to mind a popular mainstream heritage, one older and more traditional than the youthful rebellion represented by rock & roll. A last waltz is also an invitation and a gentle warning about the last chance to dance. The Band extended its invitation to an audience, to fans, and to many of the musicians with whom they had worked over the years and who, like its own members, helped shape rock & roll. What should be made of these musicians who began playing rock & roll but title their grand exit a waltz, who appeared on the rock scene anonymously in 1968 only to have Time magazine compare them to The Beatles two years later?1

Part of the answer is found in The Last Waltz, The Band’s closing voluntary. The Last Waltz comprises the now-classic rock documentary film directed by Martin Scorsese and the recording released separately, originally a triple LP and now a double CD. (Available in VHS format for the past several years, it has recently taken on new life as a DVD; currently on the market is an expanded, four-CD set including an afterthe-concert jam.) In this book, I study The Last Waltz and use it as a platform from which to survey the career of a remarkable force in American music. The actual concert that was “The Last Waltz” did not mark the end of The Band entirely; the project as a whole continued for a short time. But after 25 November 1976 The Band did not play together again in public. Following what Helm calls “postproduction [sic] work” in 1977, the members of The Band did not play together again.2

1William Bender, Jay Cocks, and Molly Bowditch, “Down to Old Dixie and Back,” Time XCV/2 (12 January 1970), 42. “The Band has now emerged as the one group whose sheer fascination and musical skill may match the excellence—though not the international appeal—of the Beatles.”

2See the photographs between pages 192 and 193 in Levon Helm’s This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band (New York: William Morrow, 1993). Included there is one photograph of The Band in 1977 involved in post-production work on The Last Waltz.

-1-

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