If you don’t love the Band, you’re not a lover of music. Whatever genres you prefer, there is simply no denying the gorgeous soulful freewheeling and majestic sound of the Band, from Big Pink and the Basement tapes onward. Listening to the Band’s second album was a form of time travel, taking you to the civil war and creating an aching nostalgia for a time you never knew.
I loved all their voices. When we lost Richard Manuel to suicide, it was a terrible shock. When Rick Danko died, I knew it was the real end of the band. I once tried to say hi to him in a small club, but a security guy pushed me out of the way. Rick looked a little nuts that night, and sang alone next to a boombox playing the Band’s music. But his voice was as plaintive as ever. It was an honor to see him.
Back in the day, I saw the Band perform at the Royal Albert Hall. They had just started playing when my sister was seized with violent stomach cramps and I had to go with her to the ladies room. I could hear the band singing while she tried to throw up. It was taking forever and I didn’t want to miss “Unfaithful Servant.”
I had to take charge. “Okay”, I said to her.” Think about raw eggs. Think about dead birds on toast.” She threw up and we ran back to our seats. The show was fantastic.
The next time I saw the Band, they were playing with Dylan at the Forum in Los Angeles. I went with my former husband. As we took our seats, a guy next to me graciously offered me a joint. Soon, I was on another planet, ecstatic throughout the entire concert. Walking to the car, I remember floating slightly above the ground.
The Band has always been there for me. Their music will endure but saying goodbye to Levon Helm is really rough. He was a man who just wanted to play music and tried his best not to give in to cancer.
“Whispering Pines” is one of my favorite Band songs, a bittersweet mournful ballad that pierces your heart with its beautiful soaring harmonies. There is longing but also a sense of acceptance. I hope Levon has reached the other side and he’s saving a place for me.