Stage Fright – The Band – 1970

Stage Fright - The Band Album CoverThe Band’s Stage Fright is a song many people will have never heard of but it is – my opinion – one of, if not the, most passionately sung ongs of all time.

 stage fright

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

The BandIt 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

today’s question:

What was the first music movie you went to – please, let’s NOT count The Sound of Music!

 the video:

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:

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4 Responses to Stage Fright – The Band – 1970

  1. Piggy says:

    My first movie was Milo and Otis – still remember it to this day!

  2. Angela Pearce says:

    I just got this movie out on dvd a couple of weeks ago. Good stuff.

  3. wozza says:

    Well it definitely wasn’t SOM (coz I’ve never seen it!). It was a Marx Brothers movie – at the Victory Cinema in Greenlane (long defunct). A DAY AT THE RACES. Yes I know it came out in 1937 – long before I was born, but it was shown as a rerun in the early 60s and my parents took me and my brother to see it. At various times in the movie, Harpo and Chico played their instruments (Harp and piano) and Groucho sang. Magic!! And I still love the bros.

    What was yours?

    BTW Stage Fright didn’t provoke that reaction in me – Muddy Waters (Mannish Boy) and Van the man (Caravan) did though. And the movie is pretty uneven – Neil Diamond?? What was Robbie thinking????

  4. Greg.K. says:

    Funny you mention Neil Diamond – that is a long, long debated point about the movie – should Neil Diamond have been there? Levon Helm was not happy about him being there because he says he had no musical connection with The Band.
    There is a ‘myth’ that when Neil Diamond left the stage he passed Bob Dylan and said, “Follow that.” Bobbie answered, “What do I have to do, go on stage and fall asleep?”

    My first musical film apart from the aforementioned SoM (which I saw live not as a movie)? Joe Cocker, Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Awesome – blog coming sometime on The Letter. BTW I have that movie on video – you gave it to me!

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