British journalist Hoskyns (Vogue, Spin, etc.) wends his way through 60s mythology and the mystique of the remarkable rock group known as The Band' to deliver a nicely readable, straightforward bit of pop-music history.
The compelling irony of The Band's career, Hoskyns shows, is that they achieved their greatest celebrity by breaking up: Martin Scorsese's film of their final concert, The Last Waltz (1978), "transcended the limitations of the genre and...caught both the sweep of the band's history and the edgy reality of live performance.'' The four Canadian members of The Band (Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson) and their Arkansan drummer, Levon Helm, had backed singer Ronnie Hawkins as the "Hawks'' since the late 1950's, when most of them were still in their teens. Their striking out from the domineering and limited Hawkins--plus guitarist Robertson's strong desire to be part of "something more vital...than a travelling alcoholic freakshow''--led these talented musicians (each played a variety of instruments, and most sang) to a historic hookup with Bob Dylan and to his switch from acoustic folk to electrified rock. The first year with Dylan was a frenetic mix of world travel, often hostile audiences, drugs, and mayhem in the midst of an explosion of creativity that "was pop...rock 'n' roll...and R&B...fused with an avant-garde, anti-mainstream sensibility.'' The release, in 1968, of The Band's Music from Big Pink album offered down-home, gut- bucket country blues--a notable departure from the hard-and-acid rock of the day. As Hoskyns says, the group's very name was "born of a beguiling mixture of humility and arrogance. They were just `the band' but they were THE band.''
Though relying heavily on others' material, a well-written, enjoyable account of a 60s legend.