Thirty years later, I just watched "The Last Waltz" again for the first time. It's the second time I've watched it but it's the first time I've seen it with eyes that see and ears that hear. And the hearing of it through large speakers set at a level unbecoming middle age along with the seeing of it on a BigAss TV made me weep like a virgin after losing herself in the deepest pleasure she could have imagined and finding it pure, and white, and as perfect as any two hours on this planet could be.
I don't know if you ever listened to The Band before. I realize now that it might be an outdated sound to young ears. Take a listen to Bob Dylan's newest twist of tastes on Love and Theft and the just-released Modern Times and think about where the music you enjoy comes from. Dylan is thinking about that a lot these days, evidenced not only by these tunes he's writing but also by his radio show where he's playing the songs for you that made him think about music the way he does. I can't pretend to know what's in his mind, but I do know this: The same sound and attitude he's trying to capture is exactly the same sound and attitude that The Band was in casual full possession of during their heyday. And if that sound could have been put on film more brilliantly than Martin Scorsese did in 1976, I am only sorry that someone else didn't choose to also do it. I could have watched several films on this subject, back to back.
I understand that Joni Mitchell might have performed other songs aside from "Coyote" during the filming of that "end of the road" memento to the fellows who started out as "The Hawks." I hear rumors that Van Morrison performed more than one tune in those sessions at San Francisco's Winterland aside "Caravan." I am not sure if seeing and hearing that extra material would have changed this fact, and if it would have, I would rather not ever be exposed to it. During those two songs, as well as some of the band's original material, I cried like a baby. Tears are like laughter; you can't get them back and you can't recreate what caused them in the first place.
Yes, I read these stories of a soundtrack outtake that includes other songs. Then I dig deeper and find that there was an undercurrent of animosity between some of the other band members and Robbie Robertson who supposedly made the decision on his own to disband the band. This is stuff I did not want to know. All I wanted to know was how do human beings produce songs that can take you out of your chair and put you above the confusion of this world into a place where the American South was not the most awful place to grow up in or live today. Where Joni Mitchell can tell you a story of philandering love while Rick Danko has more fun playing bass guitar than a musician has a right. Where Van Morrison can overcome his stage fright to get so worked up that he's doing Jerry Lee Lewis kicks as he exits stage left at just the right moment. Where the same Rick Danko can sing a song called "Stage Fright" that can tell you everything you ever need to know about performance art; a song written about Van Morrison himself.
Some say that Robertson's mic wasn't even turned on. Who cares. The harmony with Danko and Helm and the soon-to-off-himself Richard Manuel is so genuine, so angelic, that a guitar player with bulging veins singing at the top of his lungs with no release available to the audience is likely prophetic more than pathetic.
Some folks complain about Canadians. Some Canadians complain about that fact that we Americans don't even have a disparaging term for Canadians. In fact, we do. It is "Canadian." But the fact that four-fifths of this band came from Canada and the other one-fifth is a redneck who grew up just a few miles from me in Arkansas makes me happy for reasons that defy geography. As Dylan would tell you, it's all about the genealogy of the music. After all, even though Richard Clare Danko was born in 1942 in Greens Corner, Ontario, Canada, this was a part of Ontario populated by a large number of families descended from expatriate southerners from the United States. My people.
This is just a short aside to tell you that you should watch this film. And turn your speakers up very, very loud when you do. You will not be disappointed. Go ahead. Turn up your electric radio. Turn it up. So you know. It's got soul.