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.