FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Play This Film Loud!

by RON JACOBS

It remains one of the most exquisite concerts ever filmed. My friend Rich and I fantasized about buying tickets when sales were announced in the early fall of 1976. We sat in his apartment near the University of Maryland’s College Park campus doing bong hits and running scenarios about getting to the show. Should we try and get a friend in San Francisco to buy us tickets, then buy a cheap plane ticket or should we just buy a beater car and drive across country hoping to find a reasonable scalper? There were no phone sales of tickets in those days, much less anything online. (What did online mean in 1976? Anything?) The weed we were smoking was golden in color and made those who imbibed prone to fantasy and inaction. The combination meant we would never leave Maryland, much less get to the concert.54475_10151216041018872_217811581_o

Martin Scorsese and his crew filmed the whole show. When the film was released in 1978, I was living in Oakland, California. A friend and I saw it at a theatre in Berkeley. Naturally, the venue was sold out. Marijuana smoke and the sound of people snorting cocaine accompanied the showing. I have a feeling this ambience was repeated in almost every theatre the film was shown. The reason Scorsese was chosen to direct the film had something to do with the fact that The Band’s tour manager, Jonathan Taplin, had produce Scorsese’s film Mean Streets. Scorsese had credentials in rock cinema. He had been one of the videographers at Woodstock, that rock festival mythologized in the eponymously named film.

The film of The Band concert, titled The Last Waltz, recreates the concert in a stylized manner. The title of this piece refers to the film’s opening admonition. No rock concert was ever that orderly. However, it does not diminish the energy. There are a limited number of audience shots, yet the viewer can easily place themselves in Winterland, the venue where the event took place, even if they never had the experience of attending a concert there. Much more than the skating rink it was constructed to be, Winterland hosted some of music’s most legendary bands and performances. The late Bill Graham was the venue’s promoter and patron and, despite the many valid criticisms of his capitalist streak and occasional meanness, lifted rock, blues and jazz music into a stratosphere never equaled since. The Last Waltz was once such moment.

I recently had the chance to listen to a bootleg recording of the entire show. This recording includes at least four songs not included on either officially released album or CD version or either version of the film. More importantly for the listener desiring the raw and unadulterated version of the concert, there is no overdubbing or studio cleanup on the bootleg recording. This does not mean the official recordings are not worthy of a listen or viewing. They are. Furthermore, the films remain the best presented documentation of the event. Additionally, many of the raw performances are currently available on YouTube.

One of the songs available only on the bootleg recording is the ever-intriguing “King Harvest.” The version here is a bit more uptempo than the studio version that appears on the Band’s second album. Robbie Robertson’s guitar playing is exceptionally crisp, while Rick Danko’s bass guitar work is more than just a bottom. Why this tune, which many assume to be based on the 1928-1935 organizing drives of the Trade Union Unity League in the US South did not appear on the official releases is beyond me. Another tune (available on all versions of the recording) is the version of “Evangeline” sung by Emmylou Harris. This recording was filmed in a studio, as Harris did not play at the concert. In 1976, Harris was just gaining national notice, having released her solo album Pieces of the Sky the year before. The album featured some incredible country-rock combo playing and Harris would become one of the first women performers of the genre not yet known as Americana. The fact that The Band included her in their long list of artists in the film is testament not only to Harris’s artistry, but also to the ensemble’s awareness of the musical form they had helped spawn.

The Last Waltz in all of its various releases remains one of the best rock music performances ever recorded. It is a uniquely North American celebration of that strangely North American settlers’ celebration of survival and colonization called Thanksgiving. It will be on my playlist along with Arlo Guthrie’s antiwar ode “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” this last Thursday in November.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail