the band – the last waltz

not to be overly morose, but this one is for my dad, as i come to terms with his affliction. he and mum didn’t have the last waltz on album, but essentially everything else. i suspect it was because the performance happened in the year my sister was born and the recording wasn’t released until the year i was born; when they were well and truly back in australia, settling and probably already in that non-musical space that seems to happen to new parents.

there’s a lot of history in this recording. mostly the people and how amazing rock music came to be. it’s time to reiterate that i never have and never will like bob dylan, in spite (almost literally) of the close connection between him and the band.

my favourite songs of memory from my childhood are here and performed stunningly; up on cripple creek, the night they drove old dixie down, the weight (not from the concert), stagefright, it makes no difference, the shape i’m in. i know that a larger release of four cds came out – this is the two-disc re-release of the 1978 album. in reality, the show went for over five hours, and robbie robertson did a lot of ‘work’ on the performances before releasing anything.

of the non-band songs included, belonging to the guests, i most love helpless with neil young (another musician who has appeared many times as an influence in my collection, but whom i’ve never found). this latter thought can be explained clearly – the music from my parents’ age, especially ten years from before i was born, give or take, was vicariously loved only in what they loved. the bands and music that meant most to them also meant most to me. that makes sense.

i guess the other notable aspect of the last waltz was that the performance was directed and filmed by martin scorsese. cameramen included lászló kovács and vilmos zsigmond, two noted hungarian-born cinematographers. i remember seeing a documentary about their work, and how influential they were. it was an interesting cross-over; since done in different ways; between contemporary film and music.

there is no doubt that it’s a greater experience watching the film in a lot of ways. i remember seeing it in the theatre when it was first re-released a little over ten years ago, and being nostalgically moved. i’ll always remember it, because all around canberra was engulfed in bushfire at the time in what became a catastrophic few weeks. i recall the late afternoon sun being almost blood red in the haze, the heat, the smell permeating the cinema. it connected to older memories of ash wednesday bushfires where we live in the adelaide hills in the early 1980s. this music would inevitably have been spinning on dad’s record player. it was a very odd convergence of events.

i can’t help but be emotional now, in many aspects. i’ll always love my dad for countless reasons, but the music he loved was an amazing gift. when everyone else’s mum and dad listened to the seekers or cliff richard, or worse if you can believe it, mine gave me this.

without intending it, robertson and scorsese had captured the end not just of the band but of an entire rock ‘n’ roll era.


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