I’m too sad even to write about this now, but until I can…
Me too, Richard. Manuel, Danko, now Levon, best of them all in many ways
Did either of you Richards ever see Levon at one of his Midnight Rambles?
Yes, three times—they were very special. Incredibly intimate—you could sit a yard from the stage, wonderful musicians, and a real sense of community. Unlike any other musical gathering I’ve ever attended.
Tell us more, RT (for I assume ‘Richard’ is you) — was this when Levon couldn’t sing so played drums only? Did you get to talk to him after the shows?
Actually, that was me before.
Levon was singing at the Rambles I attended (I also saw him once at the Beacon theater in New York–still great, but not as special as seeing him play in his living room). His voice was clearly damaged and his range limited, but he sang with a lot of soul and it was recognizably him.
We did not get to talk to him–there was always a sense of protectiveness on the part of the people who were organizing/playing in the Ramble, and they really encouraged people to cheer their hearts out for Levon when he took the stage–I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that there was an almost tangible sense that it was something of a miracle that he was still playing and singing, and that he was pretty fragile.
That said, it was an incredibly intimate space–maybe 10 to 15 rows of about 15 seats apiece, plus a balcony. In the garage attendees brought food to share–for free–and you parked on Levon’s lawn. I remember using the bathroom and taking a few moments just to look at the Band memorabilia that was hanging on the walls…
And of course the music was fantastic. All the musicians were clearly friends and lots of them seemed to be neighbors as well. Donald Fagen, who I believe is married to Levon’s ex-wife, sat in on a few songs at one of the Rambles I attended–for a Steely Dan fan such as myself, that was amazing…
And Levon himself was amazing–clearly frail in some ways, but pounding those drums and singing any number of songs, particularly Ophelia and Ain’t No Cane on the Bayou, which is a wonderful song. You could see the joy he took in playing music and being alive, and that added a spiritual element to the evenings that really lifted them above even the setting and the high caliber of the music…. It was just a wonderful thing, and I felt and still feel very privileged that I was able to see him play like that. This was a man who had become so vulnerable that he let strangers into his home, and then he transformed those strangers, if only for a night, into a community. I’m grateful to him for that.
VEry cool…. appreciate you describing it like this. Should make it a separate post on the blog!
Thank you, Richard, and I hope we’ll hear more! No I never did see him in Woodstock or anywhere, but listened a lot,
Levon in particular along with Danko and Manuel–and Emmylou, Neil Young, Van and Bob to name a few–but not Robertson, made The Last Waltz the great movie that it is.
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