Some time ago a friend of mine asked me to prepare a list of my ten all time favourite songs. Where I’m concerned, such a list varies from one day to the next but one song is constant – Stage Fright by The Band.
It’s the way Rick Danko sings it… it’s like he’s feeling the angst of every single word in that song. And it’s Robbie Robertson’s staccato guitar. And it’s Garth Hudson’s Lowrey organ – I guess it’s that every part of this song is sublime! (to quote the movie The Castle, “it’s the whole vibe!”).
goin’ to the movies
So, it’s 1978 and Martin Scorsese is a 36 year old film director. He’s had a massive hit with Taxi Driver starring Robert de Niro and Jodie Foster. But his next movie, New York, New York bombs.
Scorsese goes into deep depression and struggles with cocaine addiction. Somehow he finds the energy to create The Last Waltz, a documentary chronicling the final concert by Canadian rock icons, The Band.
in the middle of the movie, the lights go on
Okay, this is so long ago (1978) that they still paused the movie halfway through for an intermission. Of course, everything is made so much better now, especially bladders, so that they don’t need to do that anymore. (and they don’t sing the National Anthem at the beginning either!).
I’m sitting there with my ice cream and the most amazing song begins. First Richard Manuel plays four bars on the piano, then four bars of Garth Hudson’s organ with a little bit of horn thrown in, then the bands cranks up and Rick Danko sings – and you can feel the goosebumps popping out on your arms.
philosophising – a commentary on life?
I’ve always felt Stage Fright is more than a simple commentary on band life. It’s a commentary on all of life in general;
[The doctor said],
“You can make it in your disguise,
Just never show the fear that’s in your eyes.”
On one level Stage Fright is about a simple farming kid who obviously has talent. He’s plucked from small town life and is given stardom. He suddenly finds himself in the spotlight and it terrifies him but, “when we get to the end, he wants to start all over again.”
On another level Stage Fright is about the fears we all have in life and the way we often work so hard to make things work but, underneath the exterior that fools most, we feel scared and frail.
If you’ve never heard this song, make sure you watch the clip at the end of this entry.
a note on the band
It seems sad to me that The Band was often made to look like Robbie Robertson’s back-up band. In actual fact, the five Band members were all amazingly accomplished and talented musicians in their own right. And Robbie, as talented as he was, was arguably, not the most musical of them.
Sadly, Richard Manuel died after committing suicide while on tour with The Band in 1986 and Rick Danko died of drug-induced heart failure in 1999.
stage fright fax
- Stage Fright is the title track of the Band’s third album.
- In his book, Across the Great Divide, Levon Helm (drummer for The Band) denies this song is about an occurrence of Stage Fright that immobilized guitarist Robbie Robertson. There was even a rumour that Robbie at times suffered so badly from stage fright that he travelled with a hypnotist – it seems there is little truth to this.
- The Band’s members were multi-instrumentalists. On the album Stage Fright, all five play at least two instruments(but not at the same time!).
- Stage Fright was engineered by up and coming musician, Todd Rundgren.
- The Band were originally known as The Hawks and backed Ronnie Hawkins. They then became Bob Dylan’s backing band for a while.
- The Band were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked them #50 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2008, they received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
- Stage Fright lyrics
What was the first music movie you went to – please, let’s NOT count The Sound of Music!
This version is not from the movie The Last Waltz. Tracks from the movie are copyright and can’t be embedded on sites like this. So, if you want to see the fabulous movie version, use this link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny3QDKCdqPY&playnext=1&list=PL2F1250A66AB26DDE
otherwise, here’s a later live version: