Thursday, October 26, 2017

Pheaturing Robbie Robertson

Hey, kids, welcome to the Phile for a Thursday. How are you? It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so just let me know if there's anything I can do this month to further the cause of healthy breasts.
The NAACP has issued a national travel advisory warning African-American travelers against flying American Airlines after a "pattern of disturbing incidents" reported by African American passengers. "In light of these confrontations, we have today taken the action of issuing national advisory alerting travelers... especially African Americans... to exercise caution, in that booking and boarding flights on American Airlines could subject them disrespectful, discriminatory or unsafe conditions," reads the advisory. The civil rights organization said that recent incidents reported on American-Airlines flights suggest that the airline has a "corporate culture of racial insensitivity and possible racial bias." In a statement, American Airlines spokesperson Shannon Gilson said the company plans to invite NAACP representatives for a meeting at AA headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, The Root reports. "We are committed to having a meaningful dialogue about our airline and are ready to both listen and engage," she said. Yesterday morning, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker issued a public staff memo addressing the issue. "We were disappointed to learn of a travel advisory issued by the NAACP regarding American Airlines," reads the memo. It continues, "The mission statement of the NAACP states that it 'seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination.' That’s a mission that the people of American Airlines endorse and facilitate every day... we do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any kind." Parker added that the company has "reached out to the NAACP and are eager to meet with them to listen to their issues and concerns." Among the NAACP's concerns were a slew of recent incidents of "troublesome conduct" by American Airlines, they wrote in the advisory. They included these four examples, "An African-American man was required to relinquish his purchased seats aboard a flight from Washington, D.C. to Raleigh-Durham, merely because he responded to disrespectful and discriminatory comments directed toward him by two unruly white passengers; Despite having previously booked first-class tickets for herself and a traveling companion, an African-American woman’s seating assignment was switched to the coach section at the ticket counter, while her white companion remained assigned to a first-class seat; On a flight bound for New York from Miami, the pilot directed that an African-American woman be removed from the flight when she complained to the gate agent about having her seating assignment changed without her consent; and An African-American woman and her infant child were removed from a flight from Atlanta to New York City when the woman (incidentally a Harvard Law School student) asked that her stroller be retrieved from checked baggage before she would disembark. The NAACP concluded, "Historically, the NAACP has issued travel advisories when conditions on the ground pose a substantial risk of harm to black Americans, and we are concerned today that the examples cited herein may represent only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to American Airlines’ documented mistreatment of African-American customers." Over the past 24-hours, people have also taken to Twitter to share their own examples of racist behavior towards black passengers on American Airlines flights, many using the hashtag Happened2MeOnAA. As more than one person pointed out, the problem doesn't begin and end on board American Airlines flights. Women's March organizer Tamika D. Mallory, who was kicked off an American Airlines flight earlier this month over a "seat dispute," urged others to keep speaking out and sharing their stories. Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP, said the travel advisory will stand "until these and other concerns are addressed." Stay tuned.
Letters of Note, a British blog that collects and shares, well, letters of note, shared an old letter to the editor in their fiftieth anniversary issue that has a very familiar voice. A very familiar voice. A too familiar voice. The letter reads, "Based on the fact that I work for Donald Trump as his secretary... and therefore know him well... I think he treats women with great respect, contrary to what Julie Baumgold implied in her article... I do not believe any man in America gets more calls from women wanting to see him, meet him, or go out with him. The most beautiful women, the most successful women... all love Donald Trump." Does the insane use of superlatives remind you of anyone? A Google search fails to prove that Carolin Gallego is a real person who worked for Donald Trump. Back in the day, Trump posed as his own spokesman, an alter ego named John Barron, to plant stories and plug fluff pieces. He obviously loved this fake man so much he named his son after him. Is Carolin Gallego the new (old) John Barron? To think, if Carolin Gallego is real she could be the Mrs. Landingham in "The West Wing" right now.
Climate change has claimed another victim: Every wine drinker in the world. Thanks to extreme weather conditions like hail and droughts, the three major wine-producing companies are reporting low harvests. According to "People," Spain, Italy, and France have all harvested fewer grapes than normal. In fact, 2017 is about to be a historically low production year.  Compared to 2016, global production is down 8.2 percent. Considering the fact that those three countries provide half of the world's wine... and the United States' own wine-producing areas in Napa and Sonoma have just been decimated by wildfires... the news is enough to drive you to drink. Except you can't. "We still foresee a dramatic decline in wine availability going into 2018," Stephen Rannekleiv, a global business strategist, explained to CNNMoney. "We expect the decline [in consumption] to be felt most tangibly in the lower-priced tiers." Bulk wine prices have reportedly already risen, especially in Spanish and Italian wines. "It has not been uncommon for one of these three producers to have an off year, but rarely have we seen such poor harvests for all three simultaneously," Rannekleiv said. Naturally, the vinophiles (read: drunks) are not taking this news well. The good news: As of last year, there was a surplus of 2 billion liters of wine. How fast do you think we can drink that?
Spotify is a beautiful place where we can paint out our emotional landscapes through the gift of playlist. In this age of social media, we can even follow (and be followed by) others on Spotify in order to behold the melodies that make them pulse with emotion. In keeping with this notion, the Huffington Post writer Ashley Feinberg discovered what is assumed to be Ivanka Trump's public sex playlist. The slightly melancholic 21-minute soundtrack is perfectly curated for when Ivanka wants to get down and dirty with Jared Kushner after a long day of rescinding rights from poor people. Wait, you may be asking, how do we know it's Ivanka and Jared's sex playlist?! Well, there are a few big hints. For starters, the playlist was made on October 15th, and their 8 year anniversary is on October 25th. Secondly, the playlist is titled "991122" which is the HTML color of romantic red roses, or a pool of the blood of the poor this couple is decimating through bad politics. For further reference, her other recent public playlists had straightforward titles such as "Holiday Party," "Weekend Morning" and "Walk to Work." Sooo. The real question at hand is how could this playlist truly encapsulate anything BESIDES Jared and Ivanka's alleged "sex life?!" Or at least, 21 minutes of attempting orgasm before both partners remember their ability to feel was completely neutered when they signed away their souls to a dollar store version of the ghost of Reagan. Beyond the fact that all five songs provide a bleak, and wistful tone more appropriate for a private journaling session, mourning a divorce, or framing photos of dead lovers, there are more questions and speculations at hand. Is their sex so mechanic they know that foreplay, sex itself, and the post-coital lay will all be finished within 21 minutes?! After Adele's "When We Were Young" finishes (I honestly hope they never climax), are they ever confronted with visions of all the poor people they are trampling on?! When they're in the act, does Jared ever whisper "all this Kush is yours, baby?!" Good luck ever hearing John Legend the same after this discovery, James Blunt low-key signed up for this when he released the music video for "Beautiful" where he did a wistful, sanitized striptease to the rhythm of the falling snow. Truly, all of the musicians deserve better than this playlist. Hell, the concept of sex deserves better than this playlist. I'm going to go listen to D'Angelo and pray for peace in the Middle East now. Okay, I won't yet, but after I finish this blog I will. Haha.
You may remember her as the long-haired demon child in the 2002 remake of The Ring who emerges from a malfunctioning TV set to destroy you and everything you love. The woman who played little Samara Morgan is now 24 and her name is Daveigh Chase. She's still an actress, so don't be alarmed if she suddenly appears in your television. Her life seems really rad according to her Instagram page. And here she is staring at her dog, who looks very happy and not-haunted.

Creepiness rating: As long as the phone doesn't ring while she's on TV, I'm good.
Ever go to a public restroom and see something disturbing? How about a pair of earbuds on the floor?

Eww. This time of year there's a lot of scary stuff happening, but I think this might take the cake...

That's really scary. So, do you know your neighbors? I don't know mine, but if I did I would hope I'd never get a note like this person did...

Actually, I wouldn't leave shit on the ground like that anyway. There's one thing about me is that I follow rules, but some people take it just a little bit too far.

Hahaha. Here in Florida some people try to get some crazy stuff put on license plates. Like this...

Later hater? Is that what they're trying to say? That's clever. You know, if I had a TARDIS I would like to go to Kennedy Space Center and watch a space shuttle go up as I never got to see that. But knowing my luck, I'll end up in this crowd in 1996...

And I'll be there when the Challenger blew up. Ugh. So, all through this month I have been showing you pics of one of my favorite things... side boobs with tattoos. Check to out, kids...

Hallowen is five days away and you might be trying to figure out what to wear. Well, I can help. How about a sexy Sean Spicer?

There's some costumes I am already tired of seeing like a future Kardashian baby. Now that three separate Kardashians are expecting, there is a good chance that people are going to dress up as Khloe, Kylie or Kim's future offspring. You know what that means? Adults in diapers with overdrawn lips and butt pads. If you are looking for something scary to be for Halloween, this is it. Ha! Alright, so a little behind the magic of the Phile... I tried to Google "lamb broth" but instead Googled "lamb brother" and this came up...

Hahaha. I'm so stupid. So, my son and I were talking how we used to watch "Sesame Street" together when he was little. Man, that show has certainly changed over the years.

As Elmo explored the depths of Africa, he found many new interesting negro racers ripe for British rule.

When working on female patients' mouths, dentist John Hall told them he had a particular remedy to help stop the bleeding... he would then inject some white fluid into their mouths and tell them to swallow. As you've probably guessed by now, this white fluid wasn't Crest toothpaste; it was Hall's man juice. Six former patients testified against him, and his semen was found in several syringes. He ended up losing his dentistry license and spending four months in jail. Dr. Hall gained further notoriety when he attempted to open a new practice in Beliz, but thanks to the Interwebs, his past deeds were exposed, and he was shut down. Open wide, say ahhh...

Ummm... hahahaha. If you spot the Mindphuck let me know.Alright, it's time to talk football with my good friend Jeff...

Me: Hey, Jeff, welcome to the Phile. How are you doing? How's the book coming along?

Jeff: Always good to be back on the Phile! The new book is coming along slowly. It's been a year since my last release, due to some personal issues but I'm working on it. In the mean time I redesigned some covers to give me own personal touch to them.

Me: So, I don't mind the Falcons, but did you see that they actually blamed the fog on the Patriots after losing Sunday night’s game? Falcons players actually seemed to believe that the Patriots choice to shoot fireworks into the fog. What do you think? I wouldn't be surprised if it was true. The fog did look bad...

Jeff: Wow, that is some pretty thick fog. One could easily CHOKE on such a fog.

Me: Hahahaha. I thought this was funny as well... Xavien Howard from the Dolphins slapped Bobby McCain on the ass so hard, he flew back five yards. I never understood all this ass slapping anyway in sports.

Jeff: Yeah, I've never quite understood the butt slapping aspect of sports. You are not alone in that! 

Me: What NFL news do you have, Jeff?

Jeff: The biggest injury news is Joe Thomas. The name might not sound familiar but then again most offensive linemen are not known. But he had an incredible streak of over 10,000 consecutive snaps without missing a play snapped after he injured his tricep. He's set for surgery and will start a new streak since he will be out for the rest of the season. Plus he's a Brown. So insult to injury, literally. The courts have ruled that Ezekial Elliot can play again this week. Fine by me. He's on my fantasy football team.

Me: Jeff, another team was taken over by Disney this week as well...

Me: I like it, what do you think?

Jeff: That''s not a bad logo. I'm not sure what Seattle would call themselves now. He's not a hawk.

Me: By the way, here's the list of the four most notable inactives so far, Jeff, in case you didn't know... Leonard Fournette, Devante Parker, Sam Bradford, and the Cleveland Browns. Hahaha. Did I get that right?

Jeff: You really should put the 49ers in there for the Browns. I mean they are pretty bad too. And the Colts too. The Colts have 2 wins, unlike Cleveland and San Fran but they are probably a worse team without QB Andrew Luck who still has yet to play this season.

Me: Okay, let's et down to serious business... you were in the lead by 9 I think. How did we do this past weekend?

Jeff: We both went 1-1 this week. But the Steelers are tied for the best record in the American Conference with a win over the Bengals while the Giants... well the Giants aren't the 49ers? They lost again this week. So my lead grows to 10. Neither of us are doing well in the predictions part, I'm only 7-7. There's still a half season to go though!

Me: Ugh. Okay, let's do this week's picks. I say Seahawks win by 5 and Bucs by 2. What do you say?

Jeff: My picks are Eagles by 7 and Vikings by 10.

Me: Okay, I'll see you back here next Thursday, Jeff. Have a good Halloween. Take care.

Jeff: Have a wicked good time on Halloween!

Donald Trump, with his firm grasp on the nuances of geopolitics, and the China question that has been a sensitive dynamic in many an administration, knows why he has "the best relationship" with the Chinese president. No, it's not because Trump manufactures all his hats there. It's because they're both called "president." Last night in an interview in the safe space of "Lou Dobbs Tonight" on Fox Business Network, Trump marveled at Xi's recent power grab in which China's ruling Communist Party "formally lifted Xi’s status to China’s most powerful ruler in decades by writing his name and dogma into the party’s constitution alongside the party founders." Mazel tov! Trump, likely fuming with jealousy that Xi gets to do that, described his relationship with the newly all-powerful Xi. "People say we have the best relationship of any president-president, because he’s called president also," he went on to say. "Now some people might call him the king of China. But he’s called president." Trump also described Xi's recent elevation as something that has "really virtually never happened in China," which is, um, not the case. A certain Chairman Mao had the near-authoritarian grasp on the Communist Party of China back in the day. The "president-president" take sure sounds like a fourth grader's book report, and I give it an F. Two weeks until Mr. President and Xiānshēng President get to hang out IRL!

Robert Gillaume 
November 30th, 1927 — October 24th, 2017
He was a beloved, scandal-free, African-American actor with a career that spanned more than fifty years. Pisses me off.

Fats Domino 
February 26th, 1928 — October 24th, 2017
A stark reminder of the tragedy that awaits those who find excitement on hills made of any sort of berry.

Okay, this is sooooo fucking cool. If you would of told me in 2008 when I started interviewing people here on the Phile that I'd be interviewing today's pheatured guest I'd think you were full of shit. He's a songwriter, film composer, producer, actor, and author "Testimony," the 68th book to be pheatured in the Phile's Book Club. Please welcome to the Phile, the one and only... Robbie Robertson!

Me: Holy shit! Robbie, welcome to the Phile, sir. How are you?

Robbie: Hello, Jason. I'm pretty damn good, how about you? So, what do we do?

Me: I'm great now. I'll just ask you a bunch of questions if that's okay.

Robbie: Sure. I read your blog, great stuff.

Me: Shit! Wow! Ummm... thanks. So... your book "Testimony" is the 68th book to be pheatured on the Phile's Book Club and it's such a great book, sir. You talk about a lot of your younger days in the book, but has your songwriting changed over the year?

Robbie: The songwriting process has always for me never been a process that is predictable or I understand really. From a very age I've learned to get it anyway I can. So sometimes it is what you would think it would be. Sit down at an instrument like a piano, or a guitar or a keyboard or something and I start messing around until something feels good. Then if something comes to mind all of a sudden some words appearing that's the obvious. That happens on rare occasions. And I think perhaps when I think about it maybe a little bit more years ago than it does now. There are so many other ways to go about it as time goes on. And then there's the next most obvious way that it happens is you find something musically that feels good. This has been going for a long time for me. You feel something and it's either rhythmic and it could be on a drum machine and you think ahhh, something about that makes me want to do something. Makes me want to explore some chord changes or some riffs and so I join in, go along. If you happen to find the beginning of a structure then you follow that path and you stay with it. Sometimes you're doing it and it's okay where you are but it doesn't go anywhere and you usually drift off and lose your attention span. Where this is going is to build something musically. A foundation that you think I can write something to this. I can write some words to this. It either feels good enough or the structure, or the chord changes, something is inspiring enough. Now, this reminds me and it goes back the the early days of tin pan alley or when they would be the guy who would write the music usually on a piano. He would write some chord changes and a melody and then another guy that he works with would write words to that. It's very, very common. A lot of times songwriting is a two man job. The Gershwin Brothers... George writes a thing and says, "Ira, get over here. I think I've got something." Now in some cases they don't have anybody to call in and write the part so you got to do it all yourself. And sometimes a lot of songwriters ONLY want to do it themselves. For example, Paul Simon... I think for the most part he make a track. It isn't just a guitar or melody where he writes some words to that. He makes a track and the track is inspiring enough to write to. He kicks around ideas that sound good, feel good. You look at your notebook where you've written down some songwriting clues could be a big thing. Then there is all the other ways. I don't know where any of this is coming from. Sometimes you just think of a title of a sing and that's enough of a clue to go on. Sometimes you find three little notes that when you play them a certain way it just cries out to keep going. You keep doing that and then you do something against that. That's the origin of it. We could talk for hours about these origins, about these clues that sets something off. So for me it's always been that I just try to stay in this place of being receptive. Being open. It's almost a bit of a game of trying to catch yourself off guard like you're walking by the piano and you see it in the side of your eye... all of a sudden you jump down and you start playing something. You don't know what you're going to play or why you're going to play it but you are just hoping that you trip over the right mistake. A lot of times it could be something like that like I don't want to tell the muse I'm going to write a song. I want to sneak up on her and surprise her and then maybe I won;t get stuck in that place of the usual we know what you are going to try to do and we are not going to give you any ideas. We are just going to let you struggle and beat your head against the wall. That's what we are trying to avoid. So, anyway to this day all of these years I love this process. You throw a hook in the water and you see if you can catch something.

Me: Robbie, that was probably the longest answer I have ever received on the Phile. Hahaha. Your process seems kind of evolved over the years. You obviously had that ability from such an early age. I read in the book the two songs you write for Ronnie Hawkins when you were just 15-years-old. Do you think you had those skills even then?

Robbie: I don't know if it was skills. I think it might've been more of a hunger. Before I wrote those songs for Ronnie Hawkins I was like a lot of young guitar players. We would hear a record and think that's such a cool guitar part on that. I've got to learn it. We'd play that part on the record over and over and we'd go over it on the guitar and we try to find it. And we do it just the way we're hearing it. Well, for me sometimes I would hear it. Sometimes I would lose patience with it. I couldn't quite do what the guy was doing. So, I would say the heck with it. I'll just make up my own. So I would then go off and find something that inspired me to do something that was original. Not because of originality but because of frustration. And lacking some kind of skills. But you do think in time I'll be able to master that. Sometimes I'll be playing with another guitar guy and he'd figured it out and he would show it to me and that would be a shirt cut. But in the meantime I already found another riff of my own. And I loved that feeling, I was drawn to that. That's what I mean by you get it anyway you can.

Me: Ronnie Hawkins took you to the Brill Building early on. What was that like, sir?

Robbie: It was like the reputation of this place. It was like the temple of song. When I got there, I remember it so clearly, because when you go into this building the doors in it are like glass and gold. And immediately when you're walking in you go ooohhhh. You really think that's there's something very, every special about that. Because this songwriter thing had bit me at such an early age... I was writing song when I was 12-years-old. I had that yearning to create in that kind of way where that comes from, whatever it is. So, by now I'm 15 and at the Brill Building. This is where the guys and the women come every day and they write songs and sent them out to the whole wide world. Wow. What can possibly be better than that? That was the feeling I went in there with. Then to be introduced to Otis Blackwell. Otis Blackwell had written "Don't Be Cruel" for Elvis Presley and "Great Balls of Fire" for Jerry Lee Lewis. My God. So, anyway Otis Blackwell goes over to a little piano he had in his writing room in the back of the building, waves me over and then he played me a couple of little tunes he was working on. They were fabulous but I knew they weren't exactly what Ronnie was looking for. But I had met the great Otis Blackwell. Then I go to another room and it's Doc Thomas and Mort Shuman and they are fascinating guys. They're great characters as well as amazing songwriters. They're thinking about it with one another, talking about Ronnie Hawkins. Ronnie Hawkins was an extremely lovable character and very funny. When I met them he said, "I want you to know there is no difference between Elvis Presley and me. Except for looks and talent." So, these guys just thought this guy is an amazing character so they were like what would be great to write for this guy. They kick around a few ideas in front of me and I see bait of their process. They both write words and they both write music. But they're constantly willing to switch places. Doc says, "What about if we wrote a song about craziness?" Because they're thinking about Ronnie and what would be truthful and he had a wonderful loose craziness about him. Then Mort says, "I know, but he's from Arkansas. We should write some of those songs like "Kansas City," but about Arkansas in this case. They were asking me things as they were going along. "Do you think Ronnie would like this?" I was doing my best to give them the feedback that they were looking for. They said, "Okay, just give us a little bit of time." I was like these are the guys that wrote "'Save the Last Dance for Me'"? They want some time? Take all the time you want if you're going to write something that amazing. And then I go into the next room and its Leiber and Stoller. These guys... there's something about the feeling with them that they got some kind of a system down. They've got a routine and that's how it works. Jerry Leiber, he was kind of the word master guy. He was thinking of catchy phrases... these are the guys who wrote "Hound Dog" and "Kansas City" for that matter. Mike Stoller, he was the kind of guy that would find that feel good thing on the piano and it would be something that Jerry would say, "Whoa, wait a minute. Play that. Bring it up a key. Let's see. That's great. Okay." Anyway, to see their process was quite magical. and I thought, God, look at that. Leiber and Stoller are playing songs for me. I'm so honored and just having the opportunity to be there. I can't help it and I said, "That was great. Do you have another one?" They would think for a minute and Mike would play around and Jerry would say, "Oh, yeah." They would play a little bit of something else. Perhaps unfinished. All of a sudden Jerry Leiber said, "Wait, who are you again?" They're playing these songs, I'm a kid and I'm asking them for more. So anyway they kind of busted me on the spot and I said, "Oh, you know, I'm with Ronnie Hawkins." And they were like, "Okay, okay, sure." Then I went on to do other things and I'd be involved with Leiber and Stoller on a project here or there, then the Band happened and Leiber and Stoller thought they were a part of that and so did Doc and Mort and I was the one guy in the Hawks and in the Band because of my songwriting hunger and appreciation that I stayed friends with them and in touch with them for all of their lives.

Me: Wow! I got to interview Mike Stoller here on the Phile awhile back, that was another big thrill. Okay, so, what was it like being in your first band... Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks?

Robbie: Well, when Ronnie Hawkins decided to try me out to become one of the Hawks when I was 16. I went down to Arkansas and ultimately the Mississippi Delta where I thought this is where rock and roll grows out of the ground. When I went from Toronto, Canada down to the Mississippi Delta it made such an impression on my 16-year-old soul that it overwhelmed me, it took over me, and I thought my job was to absorb as much as I could as fast as I could. First of all, to become part of this group, 'cause I went down there with serious handicaps and limitations. First of all I was 16-years-old I was way to young to play in any of the places that Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks played. Next of all, I was inexperienced. I didn't have near the musicianship experience these other guys in the Hawks had. Ronnie Hawkins was always looking to put together this amazing group he possibly could. And then lastly I was from Canada. There's no Canadians in rockabilly bands. You don't do that. It's unheard of. So I had so much to overcome. I really, really wanted to make this work. I really wanted to make this happen. So, I thought a major part of this is I have to become one of them. I have to absorb and take on this southern essence down into my soul so they didn't look at me and think I was an imposter or something. Plus, I was going to work harder and master whoever I needed to do musically to try and impress. I had all of these things going but because we were down in the south playing the chitlin circuit down there, I needed to wrap myself in this as deeply as I possibly could. 

Me: So, what was it like writing for The Band, sir? A little different I guess, right?

Robbie: Years later when we get this house called Big Pink I think now I'm going to write these songs I've been wanting to write all these years. But we've been on the road non-stop and I wasn't really good at writing on the fly. I needed to be somewhere that and some kind of setting that I felt like I didn't need to pack and move on to the next place. I started to think about songwriting up there near Woodstock, New York. We got this sanctuary. Now I can do what my dreams been, because I've been writing songs for the Hawks and everything. We'd be going into the studio on Tuesday and by Wednesday night I would have to think of something for us to record the next day. I felt the frustration of never being able to settle in and do what I needed to do. So, when we get this place up there, like I said, it's like a dream for me, hen I reach in and want to write the songs could imagine The Band recording, I know these guys, I know what they could play better than anybody. I know what they can sing better than anybody. So I've got to write the script. I've got to write something that is tailor made for these different guys. I had to sit back and think I know what to do here. Now, if he comes in and sings the high part in the chorus and Rick starts to sing the melody there that's going to work. So, I knew all of these things and I could taylor make stuff for our little workshop. It was kind of a setting of a workshop that we would go in and it was MY job was to cast these songs amongst these guys in this group. I loved that process and they loved this process.

Me: Your lyrics were always like telling a very clear story like in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" where the songs starts with "Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train." What came first, the lyrics or the music?

Robbie: I wrote that on the piano and I wrote these chords and I was humming a melody in my head. I didn't know where this music was going to take me. One day I sat down to go over these chords again and this chorus came to me. Probably in the back of my mind I'm thinking I want to write a song that Levon Helm can sing better than anybody in the world. So, I'm leaning in that direction and I had this chorus and I played it for Levon and he said, "Son, I think you're getting somewhere with this. That's beautiful." And I said, "I decided I want to write this from the southern side on the Civil War." He was kind of like, "Whoa! Really? You know, I'm thinking songs have a lighter story to them." It was an usual thought at the time so I said, "But I need to know more. I'm going to look up things on the Civil War." I'm from Canada, they don't teach things about the Civil War in Canada. He said, "I'll drive you over to the Woodstock library." I went over there and I got a couple of books but it was hard to find something that was written from the southern point of view. It was written from the northern point of view. I had to make it up. I said to Levon, "Is there anything that I need to know? Is there any clues?" and he said, "Just don't mention Abraham Lincoln." I said, "Oh, really." "Yeah, because he was against segregation and wanted to unify the country. From the southern point of view they didn't like Abraham Lincoln." I was like, "Oh, okay. We won't be bringing that up then." So, anyway, just with a little bit of research I was trying to make a little movie in writing "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." I did that in quite a few songs I wrote 'cause I was a movie buff myself. As much as I could be, being on the road and everything back then. I was using this process... I found this place where I could buy movie scripts of movies that I loved. There was this book store on 47th street in NYC so I can buy the script for an Ingmar Bergman movie or a Fellini movie, Kurosawa movie, or John Ford, or Howard Hawks, or Orson Wells... I loved this because it revealed a mystery because when I was watching a movie I thought how in the hell did they think of that? What made them blah, blah, blah? When I read the scripts I would go ah-ha. It took me into a world that ended up becoming part of the songwriting process.

Me: Did you write any songs from your own experiences, or all about other people and situations? 

Robbie: Yeah, "Life is a Carnival" was about my own experience. The old underbelly of Americana was something that I was fascinated with and worked at a carnival when I was a kid in a couple of different situations. I was just drawn to that. Most people are. We have this fascination of the mystique of the underbelly. We usually like to look at it from a distance because you don't want to get to much in the middle of it. In my one personal story I got in the middle of these things. Sometimes over my head. The world if gangsters, the mafia, and carnivals and all kind of underbelly places that I was intrigued with. That you're in movies, that you are in books, you are imagining what these things would be. So, my imagination was never on simmer. I was always trying to write songs about these things outside the usual. Of course Bob Dylan helped kick down those doors for songwriters. The length of the song doesn't have to be what it always was. Subject matters don't always have to be what they always were. He could get away with writing songs about how pissed off he was which was funny. But he had written those story songs too in the early days about all kinds of things. That also raised the bar and everybody was able to feel like they had less limitations. Or idea of songwriting.

Me: When my dad used to play The Band's music at our house I always thought it sounded so serious with railways, and unions and all this important stuff. Speaking of Bob Dylan, he is such a legend and almost a mystical character but the description in your book made he seem so normal. What was he like?

Robbie: We went through a lot together. We were good buddies and we had a great time having all kinds of musical experiences together on many, many different levels. Everything that one could imagine. After we did that tour when I first hooked up with him, I guess it started around September of '65, and the beginning of 1966. After that tour which we got through alive so to speak we were ready for anything after that. We played all over the world and people booed us and threw stuff at us avery night. At the same time we came to the conclusion that what we were doing was good. And you're going to have to deal with it, we ain't going no where you know. Eventually the world came around so it's one of those things when you're in the middle of doing stuff you don't really understand that you're going to be looked back upon. We did understand that we were in the middle of a musical revolution and we had to see it through.

Me: Robbie, who were your influences musically, because with The Band's music there was a mix of a lot of different music, right?

Robbie: One of the things that I think we subconsciously understood was in all our traveling around and going to places and being in contact with many different musicalities... it could be anything from middle eastern belly dancer music to road houses and honky tonks in the south. We were exposed to so many things and then being at palace where you said, "wait a minute, did you hear that?" And we had to go check it out and there would be people singing in a church. There was this thing called scared harp singing and old heart singing and shape heart singing. We would hear these things from Canada all the way down to New Orleans. All of this stuff and mixing it together. In New York City with music that was on the street, things that you would hear in back room of places that would inspire "Rag Mama Rag." A big part of music at one time was ragtime. It's beautiful and it's got a feel to it, and its got a certain celebration of life. We got to get in on this. So you just keep absorbing and absorbing... in our minds, it was like wood shedding. It was like learning your craft, being abler to bring all these musicalities in. Then you heard this mountain music and it was oh, My God, these people, what they're doing with their voices. The sound of that mandolin... what?! So, all these elements kept creeping into our gumbo of music that we picked up from the side of the road. You got to remember we were together for six or seven years before we made music from Big Pink. All of our experience from the chitlin circuit and everything else that you can possibly throw into this pot... and then Bob Dylan and all the musicalities... a lot of things in "The Basement Tapes" he turned us onto from his background that I couldn't tell on some of these songs whether he wrote it or whether it was a creation of song that I didn't know about. So, that was really interesting to. Then when we made our music all these pieces creeped into it naturally and Garth Hudson is a musicologist and did have the ability to incorporate his playing to just about anything you could imagine.

Me: You wrote so many songs for The Band... do you have a favorite, sir?

Robbie: "Ophelia" is one of my favorite songs I ever wrote. What happened in that was we recorded this song at our studio in Malibu... Shangri-La. we go in and I've written this song and its got some old fashiony chord changes to it but we're playing it with a feel that doesn't make it old fashioned at all. It's some kind of fresh thing. We go and record this song and Levon sounds great singing it and we sound great playing it... we cut it and we get a track that we really like. Garth has played some interesting stuff on it. Then something inside of me was saying there's much more in the flavor of this song that you don't know whether it's New Orleansy, or what the hell it is, it's got a thing to it. I said to Garth, "Why don't you see what comes to you and adding some horns to this?" It just the nature of the music seems to be crying out for some of that. Garth says, "Okay, let me see what I can come up with." So, on the track he is playing horns that he doesn't play usually but he's good at it. He's doing a combination of horns and synthesizer but this is early synthesizer kind of stuff. I don't know what the hell is going on here but it's really good whatever it is. Anyway Garth starts this thing and he plays horns and he's doing the whole thing by himself. He'll add this and he'll add that and he'll put this with that and he has this little combination of a kind of horn section from mars. It's weird. It's not tying to be anything unusual... it's just Garth. There's something true to what he hears. So I come back to the studio to hear what he's doing and I think oh, My God, this might've been one of the greatest things that Garth Hudson ever done. It blew me away. It made my guitar playing on it great, it made me look good. Anyway, I was just thrilled to pieces with the outcome of that track. I just wrote this song for Rick Danko to sing called "It Makes No Difference" and I knew he could sing the hell out of this song. Garth pulls out this little saxophone... first of all he didn't even know what it was, except it looked junior. So, anyway, he plays this and it's the cherry on the cake. Absolutely amazing.

Me: In the book you tell a great story about "Acadian Driftwood," which is really cool. Can you tell us a little about it?

Robbie: Sure. That's another little movie. I remember when I first got the words, the story to this song, I've written to for Levon. It's a long story and a long song and it's a whole involved thing and I played it for him and boy, I could tell it just thrilled him to pieces. And he said, "That's some songwriting there, son."

Me: I have to talk about the song from The Color of Money, "It's In the Way That You Use It." I know it's an Eric Clapton song, but I love that song and found to you had something to do with it, am I right?

Robbie: Well, Eric's an old buddy of mine and when Martin Scorsese asked me to score The Color of Money it was a very, very usual process. I was in heaven because I told Marty, "Listen, there's a sleaziness to the pool hall world in this. And I think some kind modernistic type of blues could work with this. That's what I would write." I was trying to find what I was looking for and I would sit at a keyboard and I would hum and play and hum a melody sometimes with a drum beat of what I was thing about, of what I was getting at. And Marty would takes these things and started to put them into the movie. And said, "No, no, no, no. I'm writing a sketch of the idea then I'd want to do it with the musicians and everything" And Marty was like, "No, no, it's really unusual and it's working well. Just having this man humming the melodies and playing along with it, I've never heard that before." So he said, "Who would you want to work with?" And I said, "I want to have Gil Evans, the brilliant great Gil Evans, orchestra the background music that goes with these things that I'm humming and I would like to have Willie Dixon on my team too, one of my favorite songwriters that ever exited." Marty was like, "Wow! You mean Gil Evans that did all that stuff with Miles Davis?" And I said, "Yeah, he's from Canada, too. He's from Toronto as well." So, we ended up doing this music together and then Marty was saying, "For songs in the movie..." I said, "I'll do one with Willie." And he said, "Who else would you like to do one with?" And I said, "Eric Clapton. We should ask Eric to see what he could come up with." Marty loves Derek and the Dominoes and he said, "Oh, great." So, anyway, Eric writes a song for it and sends it to us and Marty says, "It sounds good. It could work but he's doing rule number one... you must never do." And I said, "Whoa, what is that?" He says, "In the song he's telling what's going to happen next in the movie. You can't do that." I said, "Let me listen to this and see what we can come up with." So, I listened to it and I called Eric and over the phone I sang a new thing to him for the song. And he said, "Oh, man, I love this." I explained to him what the situation was and he said, "Oh, my God, you're right. I wasn't thinking about that at all." So, anyway, we ended up on that song doing a long distance collaboration in it. We came up with some things over the phone and Eric finished it up and it turned out to be a really cool track.

Me: When we moved to Florida in 1987 it was around the time that your self-titled solo album came out and my dad purchased it on CD. Well, I borrowed it and played it more than he did I think. I love that album. I have to ask you about a few songs before you go. What is the story behind "Somewhere Down the Crazy River"?

Robbie: I had started to write a song on a very unusual instrument. It's called an omnichord... it's an electronic instrument and Daniel Lanois and I think Brian Eno had found this instrument somewhere and Daniel told me about it and I got it and it immediately inspired me. I started to write these chord changes on it because when you put your fingers in funny places and it would do something and I thought oh, that's interesting. So I started writing this track and then we laid it down in the studio with the musicians that I was working with... Manu Katche the drummer and Tony Levin.... we laid down this track and it had a real swampy, sexy vibe to it. So, then in the studio, and I don't know what I'm going to do with this song melodically after this, or lyrically. We just had a real cool vibe going on with it. We were sitting in the studio and listening to the track because Daniel was saying, "Well, what are you going to sing to it?" He put a microphone in front of me. I didn't know what I was going to sing to it. When the track was playing I started to tell him a story about an experience I had down south. Going to this place called Nick's Cafe, down there, it's down in Helen, Arkansas. But it was reminding me of times I spent in New Orleans and there was this girl who I met in New Orleans who whenever she got frustrated with anything had this expression. She'd say, "Oh, hang the rich." You cold only get away with this in the south I tell you. So, I was telling him this story and they were recording it which I didn't know at the same time. Daniel says, "Let's play this back. That story is fantastic." So, we heard that back that was like oh, okay, I'll write a chorus, a melody thing and I'll tell the story in the verses. I was having these guys in the group The Bo-Deans sing the background vocals for me. When I sang "somewhere down the crazy river" I had Sammy Bo-Dean just repeat that after me. The whole thing was just a vibe that came together. We didn't know that it was going to turn out to be what it was at all. We had nothing to compare it to, so we didn't know what we had but we knew we were grooving on it.

Me: And of course that album that the original version of "Testimony" with U2 playing on it... 

Robbie: Yeah, Daniel Lanois was working with U2 recording "The Joshua Tree" at the same time. U2 were on the road doing that whole album live by the way.

Me: I know, I just saw them a few months ago in Miami. So, Robbie, I always ask my Canadian guests if they are fans of one of my favorite bands Barenaked Ladies... are you a fan?

Robbie: I am, yeah, and their singers last name is Robertson as well, but we are not related.

Me: Haha. I have one ore song to ask you about is "This Is Where I Get Off" from your last album. It sounds like you are talking about The Band on that one, am I right?

Robbie: Yeah, there's no question about that. I even talk about the guys... we weren't going to go our separate ways, then one thing happens, then another thing happens and it pushes you in a certain direction. And at some point with these guys that I loved and I had such a joyous experience with... you have to find your own survival musically and personally and at some point we had to say good-bye. We never did, we never said good-bye. We just said I'm going to go over here for awhile. Someone else said, "I'm going to go over there for awhile." And then it was like we never came back. When I talk about "this is where I get off, this is where I move on" I was absolutely reflecting on some experiences in life and a big one for me was leaving The Band behind.

Me: Robbie, this has been so fascinating. You have been amazing. I can't thank you enough. I have a million questions for you. Haha.

Robbie: It was really fun talking to you, Jason. Now I want to keep reading your blog. Jason, it was really a pleasure. All the best to you. Thank you so much.

Me: Cool! Wow! Go ahead and mention your website and I hope you'll come back on the Phile again soon.

Robbie: Bye, bye.

Holy. Shit. That was great. That about does it for this entry of the Phile. Thanks to my guests Jeff Trelewicz and of course Robbie Robertson. The Phile will be back on Monday with Phile Alum Ian Margolycz from The Velvet Ants. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

Not if it pleases me. No, you can't stop me, not if it pleases me. - Graham Parker

No comments: