Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Book I Read: Testimony by Robbie Robertson
I have to admit that I was on the fence about reading this book. The first time that the name Robbie Robertson meant anything to me was when his first solo album came out. It was eleven years after he'd left The Band and I loved it. Sure I'd heard music from The Band prior to then, but it was his self titled album that made me go out and buy their Big Pink album. When you start to snoop around in the story of The Band it doesn't take long before you start hearing the negative stories surrounding Robbie Robertson's inflated ego. Finally I decided to just dive in and see what he had to say. The day I ordered Testimony I saw that a Facebook friend posted that by the time they got to the end of the book they hated Robbie Robertson even more. Oh well, too late now.
So I went in to this book kind of like I did going in to a sequel to a favorite movie. Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when it's not. I actually enjoyed reading Testimony and sure, by the end of the book it kind of felt like Robbie Robertson's assertions to have done this or created that was akin to Al Gore claiming to have invented the computer. But still, there are some great tales to be told and The Band was always good for storytelling. I realized that the last two autobiographies I've read were about guitar players that started our ridiculously early in life. Just like Johnny Marr, Robbie Robertson knew music was for him in his early teens, and by the time he started playing with Ronnie Hawkins as a Hawk he was all of 15 or 16 years of age. Levon Helm was already manning the drums as a Hawk and the two of them hit it off like gangbusters. Robertson's life as a Hawk was an eye opener and an education. For all the hours spent playing between every bar in Canada and every bar in Arkansas and throughout the South, there were just as many hours spent with girls, drugs, fast cars and rounders. As the years flew by and members of the Hawks started dropping off, future members of The Band joined in. First Rick Danko, than Richard Manuel and lastly Garth Hudson. The band was tight from playing on a nightly basis, they had singers in Richard, Rick and Levon and they had a need to play some R & B rock n roll. They parted ways with Ronnie Hawkins and made their way into the world.
Surprisingly, this book pretty much begins and ends with The Band. Their journeys with Bob Dylan, going electric, life at Woodstock at The Big Pink, then life in LA. and The Last Waltz are all covered in detail. But when The Band comes to and end and the writing is on the wall, the book is over. I don't want to share too many of the stories that are told within Testimony, because I really think you should read this book yourself. If you listen to us on a regular basis on the morning show than you have already probably heard me go on and on about it. I am in the middle of reading Levon Helm's side of the story, with his book This Wheels On Fire: Levon Helm and The Story Of The Band. These are two men who were as close as brothers and if there were leaders of The Band, it was either one of these guys. Much like Johnny Marr in The Smiths, Robertson was tasked at doing a lot of the managing of the band, most of the songwriting and he would have you believe was responsible for most of the breaks that came The Band's way. Both Marr and Robertson were the first to leave their bands, and relationships with the other band members was strained at best.
My next review will probably consist of a he said he said comparison of The Band's history. From Testimony I take away the fact that Robbie Robertson loves movies, particularly foreign art house films. He loves music and the people who make it, and even though relationships with his band members may have been strained, he honestly loves and loved those guys. So as much as this is a story of a man's life, it is just as much a love story. Love of music and love of the people he made it with.