Robbie Robertson, who died Wednesday (Aug. 9) on the age of 80, was a highway warrior, songwriter and guitar hero who helped form rock’s late-sixties golden age in The Band, supplied or curated music for a lot of of Martin Scorsese’s movies and made a number of vital solo albums. Over time, he additionally emerged as one in every of rock’s most influential storytellers — myth-maker could be a greater phrase, though he advised true tales with dramatic resonance — first in Scorsese’s live performance movie The Final Waltz, later within the guide Testimony: A Memoir and the Band documentary As soon as Had been Brothers, and all through his profession as one of the crucial compelling raconteurs within the historical past of widespread music.
Robertson spent the primary a part of his profession backing up Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan after which, with The Band, writing and enjoying songs rooted in American mythology. The tales had been his, however the characters appeared so entrenched within the panorama that it appeared like they’d been ready for him to sing about them — Carmen and the Satan, Virgil Caine, the person with the stage fright. Many of those songs sketch out complete tales in small particulars — if you might want to ask why Carmen and the Satan are strolling aspect by aspect, you’re lacking the purpose, however you’ll be able to see it’s dangerous information from a mile away.
Over the course of his time in The Band, Robertson appeared to age right into a sort of mythic character in his personal proper, and in The Final Waltz, made about The Band’s farewell to the touring life and the star-studded live performance they performed to commemorate it, he began to look at rock’s personal myths. “The road has taken a lot of the great ones,” he says within the film. “It’s a goddamn impossible way of life.” Alongside along with his bandmates, Robertson turned barstool tales about freeway motels and dodgy dive bars into widescreen epics. “Sixteen years on the road is long enough,” he says elsewhere within the film, all of 33 on the time. “Twenty years is unthinkable.”
Greater than some other work of the time, The Final Waltz provides the primary characters of rock’s second chapter the possibility to take a bow simply as punk and disco took the stage. The live performance, famously held on the Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day, 1976 — full with a turkey dinner and an orchestra for formal dancing — featured not solely Band collaborator Bob Dylan, but in addition a Beatle (Ringo Starr), a Rolling Stone (Ron Wooden), a Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter (Joni Mitchell), a New Orleans pianist (Dr. John), a blues nice (Muddy Waters) and a rock star who could have been celebrating the seventies in an eighties fashion (Neil Younger, who in response to unconfirmed legend had a visual particle of cocaine in his nostril that needed to be edited out). The movie recounted the story of rock, proper as much as the purpose when it splintered into sub-genres.
Robertson understood this imaginative and prescient higher than his bandmates, who appeared to have discovered his idea pretentious. (The truth that he had a magnetic onscreen charisma that they lacked most likely didn’t assist, both.) “We were in the moment — we were playing songs we had hardly played before with people from Joni Mitchell to Muddy Waters — and all we could think about was trying to rise to the occasion,” Robertson advised me in a 2016 interview. Over time, the film turned its personal fable, to the purpose that there have been tribute concert events commemorating what was basically meant to be its personal sort of tribute live performance. (The movie resonated a lot with me that in 1998 I purchased the film poster, which has adopted me to each residence or workplace I’ve had since — a reminder of the music I grew up listening to that by then had come to look a bit old style.)
Robertson’s first solo album, launched in 1987, additionally appeared shrouded in fable — each figuratively in songs like “Somewhere Down that Crazy River” and actually in co-producer Daniel Lanois’ haunted, reverb-heavy manufacturing. At a time when mainstream rock was rising slicker, Robertson discovered a technique to keep some thriller, partly due to a listing of visitor musicians that included U2, Peter Gabriel, Maria McKee and two former members of The Band. He adopted that with the New Orleans-themed Storyville (in 1991), initiatives that explored Native American music and what was then referred to as electronica (Music for The Native People in 1994 and Contact from the Underworld of Redboy in 1998), and far later two extra solo albums (How one can Develop into Clairvoyant in 2011 and Sinematic in 2019).
In between these final two solo albums, Robertson revealed one of many best-ever music memoirs, Testimony, partly as a result of he was there greater than anybody else who remembers and he remembered greater than anybody else who was there. Even this choice he solid in phrases that loomed bigger than life. “I just couldn’t carry around all of these stories anymore,” he advised me within the 2016 interview. “There were too many and they got too heavy.” This sounds true sufficient, but it surely’s an unusually dramatic technique to discuss — you’ll be able to virtually image the person weighed down by his recollections, like a personality out of one of many Scorsese films for which he supplied music.
Within the guide, Robertson tells his story with the identical eye for element and epic sweep he utilized in his songwriting. “It’s a cinematic piece of work and I had to structure the scenes so they fold into one another; as opposed to, then in February this happened, and in March that happened,” he stated in 2016. Once we spoke, he talked about writing a second guide, dedicated to his later profession — and it’s exhausting to not want he had lived to finish it.
Robertson had an unbelievable reminiscence, and it says loads about who he was that he even had a mythic — and true — rationalization for it. In Testimony, he writes about how his delivery father’s mom was a bootlegger who stored addresses and telephone numbers in her head for security. “My birth father,” he advised me, “went on to become a gambler and won because he was a card counter.” You couldn’t make these things up in the event you tried — and Robertson by no means wanted to.