I just finished reading This Wheel’s on Fire, which is Levon Helm’s autobiography and his version of The Band’s story.
He chose to start the story near the end, and then go back to the beginning. We begin by walking into Richard Manuel’s bathroom with Levon, hearing Manuel’s wife scream, visualizing the sight of Richard’s hanged body. Heartbreaking.
The entire story was very well written (Levon cowrote it with Stephen Davis). It had tons of funny moments and gave insight into lots of things I’d been interested in. The history of The Band, of course; stories about other musicians that their lives were interwoven with, like Bob Dylan; and a really interesting portrait of the Canadian music scene of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s from the perspective of an Arkansas boy.
Levon made some bold claims, some passionate claims, with regards to the almost dictator-like role Robbie Robertson and The Band’s management started to take once fame hit. In Levon’s opinion, The Last Waltz should never have happened. That was also kind of sad, because Levon readily admits that when Robbie first got involved with them (Robbie was fifteen years old at the time), they were close friends.
Well, anyway: this first song is one of my all time favourites of theirs. It’s a song that really gives every member a chance to shine in true equality - an element that was really important to them when everything started, ten years or more before fame. You see Robbie Robertson’s incredible songwriting and his undoubtable skill on his instrument. It’s such a bottom heavy song that Rick Danko’s bass and Levon Helm’s vocals and drumming really hold their own. Garth Hudson’s technical skill with the organ takes the whole thing to a higher level, and of course, Richard Manuel. Who sings like that anymore? On a good day, on a sober day, he could tear you in half with that voice of his.
King Harvest has Surely Come by The Band