The Cover of the Week is “Whispering Pines” by The Band.
It seems like, what with all the beard-rock boys out there nowadays (no disparagement; I dig most beard rock and only wish I could grow a beard as well), The Band is undergoing a sort of renaissance. Levon Helm has gone from playing mid-sized clubs to theaters on his last tour. Garth Hudson and Levon have been enlisted to play on records by hipster indie rockers up in Woodstock since the early 1990s. Most American rock & rollers of a certain vintage grew up at least knowing the basic staples of the group on FM radio in the 1970s/early-80s, their famous work with Bob Dylan, and watching The Last Waltz every year or so. But now it seems like 20-something musicians are even cultivating that mustachioed-leather-blazer/vest-with-wide-brimmed-Stetson-and-silk-scarf look. Hey, good for them. If I could grow an ironic mustache I would as well. I, too, agree that the 1970s were the peak of rock & roll. That was the time to be in your 20s, not the goddamned 1980s. What a friggin’ waste of youth that decade was! Yeah, all the underground stuff and whatever -- don’t try and hold it up to the ‘70s.
Since the formation of Crown Victoria in 1999 or 2000 (can’t believe it has been that long), we have always played the Band song, “It Makes No Difference,” which has undergone a rebirth of its own. When Eddie Vedder came down to Toad a couple of years ago, it was one of the songs he sang with us. Pearl Jam had been playing it with their current opener at the time, My Morning Jacket. Here is a clip of Crown Vic doing performing it this past June at Toad. Thanks to Dan and Camille for recording it.
It Makes No Difference (Live at Toad)
(By the way, we just finished up the 3rd of 4 shows this month at the bar and I already miss the residency. I love playing the room. I love the audience that waits on line and packs it for 4 hours. We had a blast this past weekend with our stand-in drummer, Dave Brophy, heroically killing it back there all night. Sarah Borges and Lyle Brewer from Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles, as well as Nate Leavitt, Paul Blumenfeld and Josh B. all came up to join us on certain numbers.)
The real tragedy, if indeed there is a renaissance and re-appreciation of The Band’s music underway, is that Rick Danko and Richard Manuel are not still around to reap the benefits. The Band and members went through the 1980s darkly, their principal songwriter and guitarist never looking back after the first break-up, ostensibly the “Last” Waltz. The re-tooled band, minus Robbie Robertson, ended up playing small clubs, with Danko and Manuel battling demons and falling in and out of sobriety. Richard Manuel was by all accounts the gentle, warm, and delicate soul that came across in his music and in his public persona. He hanged himself in the bathroom of a godforsaken Quality Inn in Winter Park, Florida after a gig at the Cheek to Cheek Lounge in 1986. He was 42, the same age I am now.
This week’s cover is arguably his signature song. He also credibly sings “You Don’t Know Me” like he owns that one as well, but he apparently wrote most of “Whispering Pines.” I mean, anything the guy sang would wring out your heart and indeed, “Tears of Rage” is his other top-3 song. Of the white guys who were highly influenced by the vocals of Ray Charles, there is only Van, Joe Cocker, and perhaps the master, Manuel, who got it and made Ray’s style their own. But Richard had a devastating, haunting high-end of his range, as demonstrated on the Band’s original recording of “Whispering Pines.” It gets right to you.
Check out the Peter Viney article on the song at the excellent web site for The Band.
I’m not sure how I ended up with this version I have here. I’m not sure what to make of it, if I’m telling the truth. I think it’s good, but the song is so sacred to me and I can in no way sing like Richard. I hope it is something worthwhile. I don’t need no sycophants so feel free to let me know if it doesn’t do it for you. I’m a big boy.
Bill's Version of Whispering Pines mp3
My allmusic.com review from lo so many years back.