Much to the chagrin of some of my closest friends and one of my siblings, I did not own a copy of Music From Big Pink until recently. I’ve always liked The Band, but it’s taken me awhile to really get into them and understand them. They’re not an easy group to get into, because with a few exceptions they’re so engrained in Americana. I feel (and perhaps I am being presumptuous here) in order to understand the genius of The Band, you have to know a little bit about Americana and where their influences came from.
The Band first came to my attention about 10 years ago, when my brother introduced me to them. (This is also the same brother who introduced me to Bob Dylan, though at first I didn’t know the two had a deep connection.) When I heard the sound blasting of the speakers, it sounded like a group of guys playing together on a porch, whiskey bottles at their feet. This was not my idea of what I thought was “rock music” and I kept hoping that he would turn on something else. (I imagine what this what a lot of listeners thought in 1968 at the height of psychedelia.)
When I became obsessed with Bob Dylan (by this time I knew of their connection), my brother recommended to The Basement Tapes to me (probably hoping that I would grow to like The Band as a result.) That sounded weird, out of time – just like the music by The Band that he played me before, but this time with Bob Dylan singing. Suffice to say, I didn’t get it and was particularly keen to try either.
As I started listening to more and more of Dylan’s early folk albums, I became interested in his influences. I got a copy of The American Folk Anthology (aka The Harry Smith Anthology), and became fascinated by how much could be said with just a voice and guitar. And it wasn’t just the lyrics that blew me away, but it was the way these guys sang. These were stories of America, and not just guys sitting around on a porch. This was a way of life, and it was soon to be forgot.
For me, The Band suddenly made a lot of sense. They took Americana and roots music and made it contemporary. Yet, even now it sounds like its existed for all time, and does not exist in any particular time.