THE LAST, LAST AND MAYBE THE FINAL WALTZ
The so-called and now infamous Last Waltz was held on Thanksgiving Day 197? at the Wintergarden in San Francisco, recorded on celluloid for posterity by renown film director Martin Scorsese, and captured the spirit of the era – the end of the Sixties, the Age of Aquarius.
While it began with a spirit of newfound freedom and hope, peace and celebration, it ended in despair, riots, assassination, war, fear and resentment of authority and the government that continues today.
Not just a concert, they actually served dinner, and the performances were exemplary – with Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, …. Ronnie Hawkins, and Bob Dylan, ….. all getting a piece of the action behind the Band – Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manual, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson, who Jersey Shore tourists and residents knew as Levon & the Hawks when they were the house band at Tony Marts in Somers Point, NJ in the summer of ’65.
Where the band went from there sort of mirrors where we went as a society, with ups and downs, successes and failures, renown and notoriety, disgrace and death, and now, at least for the survivors, a time to remember and reflect on what was and what might have been.
The original Last Waltz, as the late Levon Helm recalled in his autobiographical memoir This Wheels on Fire, was Robbie Robertson’s idea, to play one last big concert with all their friends at the Wintergarden, where they first performed as The Band. And Robertson did indeed end his touring days, as he realized the rigors of the road was taking its toll on him and the band. But the others didn’t stop, and after awhile, regrouped without Robertson, and the road did take its toll, first on Richard Manual, who hung himself in a Florida motel bathroom.
Then Rick Danko, after playing a final farewell performance at the Somers Point Good Old Days picnic, passed away before his time. Levon Helm however, although slowed by throat cancer, overcame the disease to play and sing again, often in a makeshift studio in his Woodstock, New York barn. Levon often came to Somers Point to perform with his band, that included his daughter, playing at the Bubba Mac Shack and finally getting a casino headline gig of his own in Atlantic City. Helm also had a cameo role as the aging expert sniper in the movie The Shooter before he also passed away, leaving Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson as the surviving members of The Band.
And now Garth is headlining a Last Last Waltz on Saturday after Thanksgiving at The Trocadero in Philadelphia, a benefit show for Philadelphia school children.