categories: Cocktail Hour
Jimmy and Peter fox had attic rooms in their house on South Avenue, New Canaan, CT, and up there under the eaves we listened to music and told stories and smoked various substances, ate elaborate snacks. One afternoon after I’d turned 16–this would have been in 1968– Jim showed me a new album he’d gotten and put it on his turntable ready to play. First, though, we had to work his hash pipe a while–temple balls from Thailand (very popular, coming back with the kids who’d been fighting in Vietnam). You didn’t just listen to a new album without preparation. I studied the album cover. The painting, Jim told me, a pleasing Gauguinesque watercolor, was painted by Bob Dylan. Whoa. And The Band had been Dylan’s band. Holy shit. On the back side was the title: “Music from Big Pink,” simple photo of an
imposing pink house, taken from below. This was the house The Band lived in (maybe), and the recording studio was up there, and Dylan had written there and recorded. It was in West Saugerties, New York. We took a lot of stock in knowing these things and I paid close attention. Maybe one day we’d drive over there and see. My ears grew warm with the hashish and my breath grew important and I could feel my hair. You didn’t listen to an album in order–not the first time. You listened song by song because if you just played it your attention would wander the way it would on a long driving trip and you’d miss everything after the second song, or maybe third. We had a lot of theories like that and talked them over endlessly.
Finally, Jimmy put the needle in the proper groove and played me “Tears of Rage.” I’d never heard such a keening. Jimmy played it again. “Tears of Rage” was sung by Richard Manuel (co-written with Dylan!). Later, Levon Helm said it was the best performance Manuel had ever given. And he did it in the studio. Jimmy Fox was the first kid I knew to have that album. Pretty soon everyone would have it. But that afternoon it was new and fresh and so moving that I couldn’t stop hearing it for weeks, then years.
The next song Jimmy laid on me was “The Weight.”
That was Levon Helm singing, first I’d ever heard of him. Pretty soon, same, everyone would know him. A drummer, singing! And “The Weight” was in the movie “Easy Rider” just that next year. Those slow rhythms, the emotional voices, the falsetto, the songs of loss and sorrow. It all really spoke to us, kids waiting to turn 18 and get drafted, unless we could avoid it.
“The Weight.” Levon Helm sang that.