JANUARY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 1
"Let me ask you--now that 'The Last Waltz' is over, what are you going to do?"
The question is posed to singer/bassist Rick Danko by director Martin Scorcese. It is "The Last Waltz," the 1976 film that chronicles the break-up of The Band.
"I don't know," goes the response. "Just make music, you know..."
With that, Danko gingerly cues a recording of a new song. Its plaintive opening strains play. Danko closes his eyes. He bows his head. He smiles slightly, part bashful joy, part childlike pride.
It's twenty three years later, and a similar query is posed, the last question in the last interview Rick Danko will give. It is December 7th, 1999, three days before he, at 56, will die in his sleep.
"What is in the future for you at this point?"
Danko doesn't hesitate. "I'm just making music, you know?"
With the late 1990s formation of his own record company, two live albums released in as many years, and three recording projects scheduled for the upcoming months, he's surely being a bit modest. Struck down, in fact, during his second prime, it would seem Rick Danko's music-making might just have begun.
Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Ron Wood, Ronnie Hawkins, Doug Sahm, Dr. John, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters. It's a litany of legend, the best of the best, perhaps the most lasting names in the industry. Rick Danko, little known as he may be, belongs on the bill, not because they were friends and collaborators of his but because they were his company, his peers, in the cream of our musical crop.
But rock scholarship--not to mention pop perception--is occasionally remiss, and the death of Rick Danko seems to be passing too quietly behind us. Yet in these historic and newsworthy days, our millennia segueing before us, it seems all the more appropriate to celebrate our archetypes and our ideals; the second half of the twentieth century, after all, provided us a rich heritage of popular music, some of which supercedes its very form to add fabric to the greater American thread.
To wit, The Band. These days, their music belongs more to legend than to a playlist, and it is sparsely heard. But songs like "The Weight," "Caledonia Mission," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "When You Awake," and "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" are much more than pop fodder, much more than some of the most striking and original music produced in the last 50 years. In the proper context of American art, the music of Rick Danko and The Band totals more than just melody and verse; as a symbolic sum, the songs form a question to our national character, a mirror to our sky and land, a hand to our collective heart.
[ CONTINUED: The Voice ]
RICK CONNELLY is the staff television writer for Renaissance Online Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
PICTURES copyright © Elliot Landy and The Band.