This is Robbie Robertson’s autobiography and goes up to the Last Waltz and the breakup of The Band. Although it’s a long book to cover 33 years, it’s an interesting story, even in the parts which aren’t to do with music, because of his unusual background. He was brought up by his mother and father in Toronto, but still paid regular visits to his mother’s Mohawk relatives on the Six Nations Reservation. When his parents divorced, he found out that his real father was a professional gambler who had died in a road accident; his father’s brother welcomes him into the family, but then turns out to be heavily involved in deals with the Mafia. He writes perceptively about all of this.
The main story is the music, though, and as he points out, he started out playing rock and roll just as it was starting, and he had a big role in some of the changes it went through. Lots of interesting stuff about the life of touring with Ronnie Hawkins, but the main character here is Levon Helm, who Robertson regarded as an elder brother and describes with great affection. There is no mention of Helm’s later very public contempt for him. He only comments on his surprise on how bitter Helm was towards Ronnie Hawkins when the Hawks split with him, as the two of them had been very close. So you’re left to decide for yourself if this was a recurring streak in Helm’s character.
It sags in the middle when it comes close to being a list of celebrities that he met through Dylan, but is fascinating on the actual touring with Dylan, then the retreat to Big Pink, becoming The Band, and the later decline. The “life on the road” which he wanted to leave, was clearly the drink and drugs that were dragging them down. The Band’s music might have been at odds with the excesses of sixties rock, but their lives clearly weren’t.
Length of Read:Long
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
Dylan’s Chronicles. Springsteen’s Born to Run. Any of the better rock autobiographies really.
One thing you’ve learned
Quinn the Eskimo is named after the character Inuk the Eskimo played by Anthony Quinn in The Savage Innocents.