Nothing forges the bonds of brotherhood like life in a band, especially when it’s the Band.
“When you awake, you will remember everything,” Robertson once wrote; true to form, this debut memoir—covering the life of Robertson and the Band up to the legendary “Last Waltz” concert in 1976—doesn’t miss a thing. Whether running interference for a gangster uncle, taking B12 shots with Edie Sedgwick, or hanging with Bob Dylan at Big Pink, Robertson recalls all the key moments of an eventful life with a songwriter’s eye for detail. Part Indian, part Jewish, and a Canadian native who would adopt and reinvent American music, Robertson learned his trade as a barely legal member of the Hawks, the backing band of rockabilly American transplant Ronnie Hawkins. After years of playing together, the Hawks left Hawkins and were soon touring with Dylan. It was a Faustian bargain—the group famously endured nightly boos as Dylan tortured the folkies with his electric guitars and amps—but the association also led to the most productive periods in the lives of everyone involved. Robertson is especially strong at capturing the Band’s life with Dylan, where a shared spontaneity would inform both Dylan’s legendary “Basement Tapes” and the Band’s classic first albums. “Songs poured out of Bob and we tore through them; if lightning struck and you weren’t around, the show went on without you,” writes the author. What distinguishes the book more than anything is that, besides being Robertson’s story, it’s also a memoriam for the Band, a deeply felt thanatopsis for a group of renegades who were never better than when they were together. The picture may be a bit too rosy; post-breakup, Robertson was permanently at odds with the late Levon Helm over publishing credits. The author addresses the issue but not the fallout.
Essential for any devotee of the Band, Dylan, or rock music in the last half of the 20th century.