I wrote this thing about The Band, and I said,
Levon had the vision, and Robbie wrote the songs, and Garth made the sound, and Richard had a contradiction of a voice, but Rick made The Band.
I was writing about how much I love Rick’s song, Sip the Wine, and how he wasn’t the leader, but he held them together. If The Band did have a leader, it was Levon. He couldn’t be the frontman, not from behind the drums, and he was happy to let Richard and Rick sing, too. He didn’t write the songs, but every song Robbie wrote was for Levon.
The two of them fought, a lot, and I think they really hated each other for a long time in the middle, but maybe Levon never realised how much those songs were Robbie’s love letters to the place Levon called home. The Band was 4/5ths Canadian, but their music is pure Americana. Levon is the reason why.
He pushed them to break away from Ronnie Hawkins and make it on their own. He pushed again to get them out from under Dylan. He hated The Last Waltz because it looked like Scorsese’s vision of the band, not their own. When you look at how he spent the last years of his life, playing the Midnight Rambles in his barn with his friends, Levon was probably happiest when The Band was those five guys in a big pink house in New York.
Tonight, watch this performance of Don’t Do It, recorded at their 1971 New Year’s Eve show that became Rock of Ages, instead of The Last Waltz. Better yet, get together with some friends and make some music of your own. The best part of this video is the end, when the audience starts to cheer. Levon gets up from the drums, but instead of taking a bow, he points to the horn section and makes sure they get the applause they deserve. That was Levon, and that was The Band.