Monday, April 11, 2011
Urgh... the point of this post, if indeed there is any, has just been lost by the fact that for some reason I cannot get the embedding code for The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" clip from YouTube, the live version from The Last Waltz. You can blame Martin Scorcese, Robbie Robertson, some company stooge... whoever it is, their thirst for intellectual copyright extends to YouTube clips. Fuck 'em. You can see it here if you want. Maybe a click to another site is too much effort in this day and age. I'm not attempting to compare the New York Dolls with The Band: they're poles apart. You know that, and if I attempted to draw the longest bow in music history and throw 'em in the same basket, I'd be laughed outta here. I guess the only comparison I was going to draw was the fact that I believe the two clips in question, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", from The Band's 1976 concert captured on film c/o Scorcese, and the live clip above by the 'Dolls, which I'm pretty sure is from German TV ca. 1973, remain right up the top of the heap, or near enough, of my fave ever live clips captured on film. They're both perfect encapsulations of bands - great bands - being much more than the mere sum of their parts.
Strangely enough, the first ever "punk" record I bought was one by the NY Dolls: a bootleg split 12" EP twixt the 'Dolls and the Sex Pistols by the name of After The Storm. It consisted of early demos by both bands and I bought it mostly because it was cheap and it featured the 'Pistols. I was aware of the NY Dolls, primarily - or I should say solely - because of the 'Pistols, and their inclusion on the disc fascinated me. I didn't buy another 'Dolls record for another 15 years, mainly because my brother had their albums, which I could and would borrow if I wanted to, and also because the 'Dolls, great as they were, I put in the same basket as the Ramones: there seemed very little reason to actually buy their records when I'd heard their damn songs so often, and would continue to do so at pubs, clubs, friends' places or on the radio. I don't hear 'em at all on the radio these days, but you get the point. My purchase of their two studio LPs from the '70s was a belated revelation. In my own hands, copies to own and devour for days on end and in the privacy of my own abode, their genius got under my skin. I've been meaning to write a lengthy piece on the band for over 7 years now, and yet it's never happened. That's for the same reason that I've barely mentioned the Stooges: it's all been done before and I don't think I could possibly come up with a new and/or interesting spin on either band. But here I am writing about 'em. About a year ago I wound up in an online debate on a certain social networking site (take a wild guess) on the topic of the 'Dolls Vs. The Stooges. At that point in time I was siding w/ the former. I stand by that seemingly crazy position today. For me, it's clips like the above which proves my point (there is no point: it's simply an opinion). Friends howled in rage that I could think such a thing. After all, the Stooges were not only the greatest rock & roll band of all time (I even stated exactly that in this ancient, dated and slightly embarrassing article many moons ago), hell, they were above and beyond rock & roll. Their three LPs - Stooges, Funhouse and Raw Power - took rock to a whole new, supersonic level, deconstructing it and placing it all back toegther again as a new form. They were - and remain - the template for any rock band worth giving a damn about from the past 40 years. And the 'Dolls... well, great as they were, they were also simply a great rock & roll band, never reaching to the beyond in the way the Stooges did. I agree. But I also haven't listened to the Stooges much the last 10 years. Then again, I haven't listened to Miles Davis or the Minutemen all that much the last 10 years either, and that's for the same reason: every single note they played is ingrained in my brain. This isn't an argument, and to skip the topic, you really should watch this clip. The band is in full bloom and a magnificent portal for the disparate personalities which made up the band, and an excellent combination of Thunders' guitar heroics, Johanson's smart (as opposed to smart-arsed) lyrical sleaze and the visual backdrop of Jerry Nolan's over-the-top drumming efforts, Syl Sylvain's high camp and the statuesque, like he's taken too much cough syrup, figure of Arthur Kane. For me it remains what a rock & roll band should be. There's variations on the theme which are just as good - completely different bands like Can or the Meat Puppets, bands with distinct personalities within the group dynamic which make up their greatness - but for me the visual/audio aspects of the 'Dolls performing "Looking For A Kiss" on TV remains just about unbeatable. Did you make sense of any of that?
The Band... this now remains an afterthought. Again, if you wish to see the clip, go here. I bought The Band's first two LPs back in the late '90s sometime: they're the only two you really need. They were cheap, they were there, they were secondhand and everyone told me I should own them. They made little sense to me until I saw The Last Waltz for the first time in 2005. Seeing the way the band interacted on stage as a unit put the pieces of the puzzle together. I revisited the albums in question and held them high as indeed the genius every boring dickhead had been telling me they were for the prior decade. I think it was Levon Helms' ability to perform some tricky percussive moves - especially those rolls just before he breaks into the chorus of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" - whilst flawlessly singing rather wordy songs in a note-perfect manner which first impressed me. Without sounding like a tech-head windbag - such people belong in a very large hole many miles from me - it struck me that the band, all seasoned musos - had practiced their craft to a fine art without sucking out its soul. The way the diferent personalities engaged with each other and delivered the songs - great songs - impressed the hell out of me. It was all about the music, maaan, and shouldn't it be? The Band, as hinted by their very name, wanted to strip away and distance itself from rock & roll's increasing pretension at their inception, though by the mid '70s - hell, probably earlier than that - Robbie Robertson's monstrous ego took hold and the band began to split at the seams. Still, this 1976 concert, their very last, captures a band w/ way more spirit than most, and li'l Marty Scorcese managed to make one of the best concert films of them all, captured in widescreen on quality film stock. The Band sold a zillion records in their day and are much loved by boring idiots the world over, but that doesn't diminish any of their musical achievements. I've been known in years past to drunkenly torture friends who were unfortunate enough to stop by my place and intoxicate all present by drunkenly playing my Last Waltz DVD to their eternal dismay. Well, now I can do it all over again. You just gotta click that button.