Archive for January 2009
I was listening to Marc Cohn’s fine Listening to Levon this morning and it occurred to me how influential The Band was for the relatively brief period it existed. Despite recording only a two handfuls of albums, and with no comparable individual successes after they broke up, Cohn can make a first name reference in the first cut on Join the Parade and know that his audience understands who he is talking about.
I saw The Band live twice. Once in Seattle in the late 1960′s, and again with Dylan in Chicago in the mid-1970′s. As a live act, they were utterly professional. Lead singing was passed around during songs – sometimes during stanzas in songs – with a panache that could only come from decades of live performances. Occasionally, they’d even change instruments in mid-song. And they could bring the house down with The Weight or The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. In the Seattle concert, their equipment popped some circuit breaker somewhere, darkening the stadium. Levon Helm filled the time with an extended drum solo that was the highlight of the show. Rock critic Jon Carroll was right: Levon Helm was “the only drummer who can make you cry.”
Which is why I find The Last Waltz, an otherwise excellent rock documentary, painful to watch. You can see The Band coming apart in too many places. Scorese’s decision to focus on Robbie Robertson may or may not have been the final blow. Helm certainly thought it was, and says as much in his terrific biography, This Wheel’s on Fire. Sure, it was a farewell concert anyway, but I think the stresses were magnified and made irreconcilable by the filming. They forever went their separate ways.
And, individually, they made some nice music but none of it touched their best stuff as a group. Robertson, whose singing makes me cringe, had a couple of okay albums. The “re-united” Band – an oxymoron if there ever was one – made some nice music. And Levon Helm won a Grammy in 2007 for Dirt Farmer, after a bout with throat cancer. But it’s all much less than a poor live show in their prime, And it’s bittersweet. Manuel and Danko are dead. Robertson performs occasionally, but hasn’t shown anything new in a long time.
The sum was greater than the parts. But for a few years, the music of The Band changed a lot of folks’ lives, mine included. Sure, we’re lucky to have what we do, but it’s still a damned shame.
If I were your advisor – and I’m deeply grateful I’m not – I’d tell you that a low, business-like profile might be a good thing right now.
- Alaska is in a pretty bleak financial position, and it’s getting worse. Why not devote some of those highly touted skills to solving those crises? People in Alaska’s villages – your constituents – are being forced to choose between heating oil and food, and you’re blaming the media for being unfair to you?
- Your daughter’s mother-in-law – assuming those impulsive kids ever marry – is a junkie and indicted for felony drug sales.
- Trip? You let someone name a junkie’s grandchild “Trip”? What, if it had been a girl would you have named her “Crystal”?
- Lose the fake accent. We didn’t hear the “ya’lls” and “you betchas” before you met John McCain.
- Lose the Caroline Kennedy attacks. She wants to be a U.S. senator, a statewide office. Decided by folks in New York. You ran for Vice President, a nation-wide office. Decided by all the voters in the country. Think it through.
- Lose the per diem for staying at home. Even if it’s legal – and allow me to reserve doubts on that – it’s unethical. And being ethical, or better still just doing the right thing, was your gubernatorial platform. Taking per diem for living at home is sleazy and petty.
- The state capitol is in Juneau, not Wasilla. Spend some more time there.
- And stay away from turkeys.
I could go on but I suspect that if I ever had your attention, I’ve lost it my now. I nicknamed you “Governor Lipstick” immediately after you were elected. Not because of any pitbull metaphor (a joke you stole, by the way), but because it described the apparent depth of your grasp of the issues facing Alaska. You haven’t anything to change my mind.
Oh yeah, I’m an Alaskan, a registered Independent, and badly embarrassed by your antics. The same way I’m embarrassed by Mike Gravel. The best thing to do just now is your job. Govern.
For the first time in 20 years, Interior Alaska is locked in a deep, long cold snap. For readers from warmer climes, that means temperatures lower the -35 degrees F, sometimes down to -55 degrees F, lasting longer than a week. Because there is so little daylight – less than four hours – and the solar angle is so low – the sun only 7 degrees above the horizon – there’s no warming during daylight.
Then there is ice fog. When the temperature is lower than -35 or so, water vapor freezes out of the air and hangs as a dense, whitish-grey fog, opaque and thick. Car exhaust, smoke stack emissions and open water all contribute. Every day activities become difficult, even dangerous. Driving, in particular is a real challenge.
And yet in all this, even when it is too grey and dank to take decent photos, a few species of songbirds succeed and even prosper. We get flocks of a hundred or more Common Redpolls at our feeders, along with a few Hoary Redpolls, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees and the occasional Ruffed Grouse. Redpolls weigh just 13-14 grams, less than half an ounce, yet can maintain a body temperature of 104 degrees, a “thermal wall” of nearly 160 degrees. Part of the Redpoll’s strategy for coping with the temperature is to fluff out feathers until they look like colored golf balls.
So even in the dark, freezing winters of Alaska, there are little bits of amazement. I sit in the comfort of my den, warm and comfortable, whining about inadequate light for photography, while these little birds survive
16 hours of unbelievable cold without any food except what is in them at dark. And then fly to find food in the pitiful dawn light. It certainly amazes me. How can birds be less than amazing?
All the same, I wish there was more light for photography.