christopher james

Poems and prattle

Tag: The Band

Goodbye Levon

Sad news indeed with the death of the mighty Levon Helm; I loved his voice and drumming with The Band and his performance in The Last Waltz stands endless re-watchings. We are lucky that Martin Scorcese who directed that film of the Band’s last concert was prescient enough to realise their lasting importance.

Levon Helm: 1940-2012

Levon’s wild, gritty singing on Ophelia, Up on Cripple Creak, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and The Weight will live forever. The conviction, authenticity and feel is just perfect – and astute of Robbie Robertson to admit there was someone in the band who could sing his songs better than he could. I wrote a poem in The Invention of Butterfly called The Levon Helm Fresco Cycle, which you can check out at some point. It imagines a time in the distant future the faces of Band members are faded frescos on the side of crumblings buildings. Their music will last that long. Levon Helm 1940-2012.

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The Bob Dylan Sat Nav

To begin with, he is young and sarcastic. So where do you wanna go? he says. Take the fourth turning on the left, but don’t let people tell you what to do, man. The fields fall away like dreams. The sky furrows its brow and there’s rain all the way to Leicester Forest East. I knew a chick once, she used to cry every time she heard Beethoven. I bought her a Monkees record and taught her to dance.  

 Just past Nottingham, he starts speaking with the smooth croon of a country singer. He seems to know what I’m thinking; Leave the roundabout at the third exit and don’t deny me the capacity to change. At Scotch Corner, I get out and buy a copy of The Best of Joan Baez. When I get back to the car, I find him making a long distance phone call to a girl in a red skirt in New Orleans. Why not come back in an hour or so? He says. And by the way, can you check the oil?

 I tell him we’re going north – I knew a girl there once, she kept catching colds. Take the first road on the right and stop putting sugar in your coffee – you’re missing the whole point. He coughs. Say, don’t you ever get lonely? Let’s make some friends, We draw alongside a brunette driving a tiny sports car. Bob feeds me chat up lines and tells me to keep smiling. What are you afraid of man? That you might feel alive? Paint your face white, stop at a different town every night and drink Grand Marnier. Sit on top of the car and recite some Shakespeare. Hey, don’t you think it’s time we got some snacks?

By Gateshead, he’s found God. You thought about where all this came from? The Angel of the North stands like a sentinel. By Edinburgh he’s weary. All this driving gets me down. It reminds me of my second marriage. We park up and let the engine cool and I stick Blonde on Blonde on the stereo. He sings along for a while in his cracked voice. I should have put Blind Willie McTell on Infidels, and used a full band on John Wesley Harding. The Devil has all the best tunes, but Slow Train Coming still had great production values.  

He tells me to pull off the main road, then after half a mile seems to change his mind. Turn the car around, he sighs, there’s nothing down this lane except loneliness and heartache. Between the Trussocks and Loch Lomand he goes completely quiet; the silver pools collect in the valley like oil on a garage floor. The river flexes below us like new guitar strings.  

What kind of car is this anyway? He says, a Citroen? I knew a French girl once; she knew too much. She had yellow hair and thing about Christopher Marlowe. We pull off the road to find a pub and pick two hitchhikers, old men with old guitars who sing in croaky harmony and smell of whisky. That’s not bad for a pick up band, says Bob. I drop them off on a track leading back to the pub. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel he mutters, I haven’t seen them in a while.

On the outskirts of Glasgow, a police car appears in the rear view mirror. Let me do the talking, he says. We make the coast and watch the Largs Ferry nose through the water. By the time we reach the islands, he becomes distracted. Continue straight on he mumbles. The sky goes dark and horses gallop alongside us. I get out to take in the view then see the handbrake release. The car slips towards the black waters of the bay. Don’t remember me this way, I hear him say and don’t forget to buckle up. You’ll have to find your own way home.