#895: Toxicity

RECORD STORE TALES #895: Toxicity

I get it.  I understand why people are surprised.  When a guy like me boasts about owning about 4000 CDs, you kind of expect certain things.  Surely, one of those 4000 CDs has to be so-and-so, right?

I’m fond of the saying “better late than never”.  There are always a variety of reasons for missing an important band in my collection.  Sometimes a band’s image turned me off.   That was true of Skid Row for a year or two.  I couldn’t get past Rachel’s nose chain.  In other instances, they weren’t what I was into during a younger phase of my life.   But on a couple of occasions, I avoided bands because they reminded me of people that I didn’t want to be reminded of.

I’ll give you an example:  The Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd.  Even if he didn’t burn me out by playing Floyd every single shift, he was such a shitty worker.  It took me years to finally take the plunge on Pink Floyd.   But I did, and I have most of the albums now.  Certainly all the critical ones and then some.  I mean, I even own Ummagumma!

So, better late than never.  I have my whole life ahead of me to keep discovering your favourite bands that I haven’t got to yet.

Recently, I really discovered The Band.  It started with “The Shape I’m In”.  The local radio station changed up the songs they repeat every year or two.  Thanks to CanCon, there’s always at least one Band song.  Several years ago, they used to spin “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” frequently, but this year it’s been “The Shape I’m In”.  And suddenly I was grabbed like never before.

Maybe it’s that I’m not feeling in the best shape myself, mentally and physically.  Robbie Robertson’s lyrics weren’t written about someone like me, though.  “The Shape I’m In” was written for the late Richard Manuel, singer and piano player.  As I often do, I googled the track and read up.  Richard Manuel’s tragic life story struck a chord with me.  Drugs, alcohol, and ultimately suicide.  Every time the song came on the radio, it inspired me to read a little bit more about Richard Manuel, The Band, and the rest of their members.

I watched a bit of The Last Waltz on YouTube and was absolutely blown away.  The vocals!  The musicianship!  The keen lyrical throwbacks to a time before we were born.  It transports you!  This is what I love in music!  What took me so long?

The most toxic person in my life at the Record Store loved The Band.  I don’t know how often we listened to them at work, but I began to strongly associate The Band with this person.  I couldn’t look at a picture of Garth Hudson without a feeling of this person’s presence.  For some reason poor innocent Garth Hudson became the face of The Band in my loathing mind.  It really is unfortunate.  Some of you will read this and say “pffft, snowflake.”  We each respond to stress according to our strengths and what I dealt with at the Record Store drove others to quit when I just kept going as long as I could.

I didn’t know a lot about The Band, and I remember having a conversation with this person about who their lead vocalist was.  I assumed Robbie Robertson, since he was a big solo star in Canada in the late 80s.  I had no idea that they had three main singers, and my impression was that this person thought less of me that I didn’t know.  Either way, our conversations didn’t make me want to listen.  You attract more bees with honey rather than vinegar.  This person was vinegar to me.

On one of the Taranna trips with Aaron, I found Music From Big Pink (remastered) at Sonic Boom for $7.99.  It had “The Weight”, so I bought it.  Still, I only played it a couple times and then put it on a shelf.  It didn’t connect.  Yet.

Suddenly it’s 2021 and “The Shape I’m In” is speaking to me like nobody’s business.  I pulled out Music From Big Pink again, ordered a reissue of Stage Fright, and put The Last Waltz on my wishlist.

It’s not just Richard Manuel.  Yes, something about his voice is sweet and weary and powerful at once.  Rick Danko’s voice was also very special.  The high notes!  Wow.  And Levon Helm?  Watching him drum, he was so physical!  And singing so expressively all the while.  As for Robbie Robertson, the best word I saw used to describe his guitar playing was “stinging”.  That nails it!  But I owe the deepest apologies to Garth Hudson, whose inventive multi-instrumental wizardry is key to the sound of The Band.  Mr. Hudson, I am so sorry that I used to associate your visage with this evil person in my life.

Still, it’s Manuel’s story that I find myself reading most.  So heartbreaking, but his struggles are  common with so many people.  I empathize.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that he was from Stratford, just 30 minutes away.  In fact he’s buried there and I thought maybe it would be cool to visit his grave this summer.

People can be toxic, and they can poison the things you associate with them, but here’s the cool thing.  Toxins can be worked out of the body.  Finally, it is time:  no more toxicity with The Band.  I welcome them into my heart.  They are now becoming part of my being, and that’s the best part.

58 comments

  1. It’s amazing what things one can associate. I saw The Last Waltz at the cinema. My reason for seeing it at the time was because Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr was in the film. However, The Band won me over that night.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m curious why the movie sucked. I read some criticisms…how the camera is on Robbie when other guys are singing or soloing. How Richard Manuel was hidden behind things and cameras couldn’t get a clear angle. But the music more than made up for all that stuff.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I don’t think Marty’s ever made a movie that sucked. He’s had a few that weren’t super great, but even Boxcar Bertha had its charms. How’s that for a deep cut?

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  2. Thanks for taking aim at Ummagumma, what a piece of shit album. I can’t believe they still had a record contract after that absolute abomination.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Um….Ummagumma was the highest charting Pink Floyd album up to that point. Why should any label have dropped them? Atom Heart Mother went to number 1 afterwards, suggesting that the public at the time certainly didn’t see Ummagumma as a disappointment or anything.

      It was also far from the only experimental record released around 1970, nor the most outrageous experiment either.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get what he means though, Ummagumma is not very commercial. Some might say not very listenable, I’ve certainly known people who’d like to chuck it out a window.

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      2. The live section is kind of cool, the second disc of fart noises at varying tape speeds, and the various members wanking off on their instruments is totally unlistenable. And I like abstract shit#

        Liked by 1 person

        1. At least that one had a vision, instead of being a bunch of English hippies fumbling around a recording studio with their asses at the mic.

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      3. I think Atom Heart Mother kind of sucks too. I know plenty of people love that one. To me they just seemed totally directionless and lost after Barrett went crazy. So everything from More to Atom Heart mostly sucks to my ears. Meddle is where they put it together and became a great prog band, and a band that more than a very specific group people would remember several years later.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice Mike. I have never gotten in to The Band either, but no toxicity issue, just they were old so why bother. But maybe it is time to explore as I have been reaching back lately and trying so many classic albums, it is probably time. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They were old — right. I mean the original band broke up before Star Wars was out, so they were never really on my radar! I knew who Robbie was because he was so big in Canada in the 80s. Somewhere Down the Crazy River — have you heard that one? Big hit here. Not for everybody, I know lots of people who hate Somewhere Down the Crazy River. I like it though!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember you buying that. I’m glad you got past that association, ‘cos the Band is the business! I love love love that group. Now we just gotta get you past Brent Hinds’ facial tattoos and into Mastodon! ;)

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  5. Interesting how u guys are digging up bands from the past. The Band have never been for me. Not so much solo Robbie either. But sometimes the time is just right. I recall maybe 15 years ago for some reason I got a hold of Desire and listened to it the whole summer through. Have liked Dylan since and before that I just couldn’t stand his voice at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. VH had toxins in that dynamic as so many bands are dysfunctional but out of it comes some great music.
    4000 CD’s lol. Don’t ever tell me you have noting to listen too. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now I can tell just by reading Wikipedia that they are not an “every album” kind of band. There’s a later decline. Would you say I should have everything up to the Last Waltz?

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      1. I think there’s some pretty good stuff buried among the post-Waltz stuff, but you have to put up with quite a lot of bang average and some fairly insipid stuff, too. Probably not worth investing in it, if I’m honest. I still have quite a few of the later albums, but I honestly haven’t listened to them in about 10 or 15 years.

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    1. They didn’t have a name! They were Dylan’s backing band…”the band”. When they put out their first album Music From Big Pink they STILL didn’t have a name! The name on the record contract was “The Crackers” but that was a joke. So they just went with The Band since that’s what they were!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was awesome. It only ran for a day or two in Toronto. The guy running the projector was having some tech difficulties at the start but thankfully he pulled it through. Good thing because it wasn’t as if we could come back.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I will invest in a really decent Last Waltz box set. What I have seen on Youtube sold me. I don’t care if it was redone in the studio, or what complaints Levon had… I liked what I saw.

          Theater though, wow, that would have been something.

          Liked by 1 person

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