Sunday, August 4, 2019

Music From Big Pink - Including a Rental Update - The Seeds of Woodstock 2

Americana was in its infancy with the Dead's Anthem of the Sun. If that is indeed the case, then The Band's Music from Big Pink was when Americana got up and ran (yeah, yeah, I get it, they're Canadian). In the current age of bands like Lord Huron and The Fleet Foxes, among the best of Americana in 2018, it's interesting to trace its history all the way back to 1968. To say the least, Music from Big Pink was unexpected. Here was the definition of electric folk: guitars, a stand-up bass, a Farfisa pump organ and the brass of a Salvation Army band. Music from Big Pink was as if Sergeant Pepper really had a lonely-hearts band.

When the album's producer, John Simon, tried to interpret what the band was after, Robbie Robertson said he wanted it to sound just like it did "in the basement," referring to the practice sessions with Dylan. Oh, the Big Pink, by the way, was a house in the Catskills in New York not far from Woodstock, and also the home of The Basement Tapes.

My wife always surprises me at Christmas. Of course, as a collector, she will always include in my stash an LP, something I'd never dream of getting for myself. Last year it was a mint, mono Pet Sounds. This year it was a "Very Good" Beatles White Album, with the poster and the portraits. Somehow, though, she knew (telekinesis) that I wanted Music From Big Pink from The Band, coincidentally released 50 years ago this month.

What's interesting about the Big Pink is the fact that you either love it OR you've never heard of it. Eric Clapton said he listened to it every day and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd put it right up there with Sgt. Pepper as the most influential record in rock. He went on to say the album was fundamental to everything that happened after it.

The Band, of course, was Bob Dylan's backup for the controversial electric tour, but when they went off on their own, Dylan stepped to the side. When it was first thought that Dylan would add to the band's incredible harmonies, instead his contribution was merely the wonderful cover art, the painting distinctly Dylanesque. Interestingly, there are six men in Dylan's painting, not just the five members of the band. And there's an elephant. Big Pink is masterful and brilliant for everything it's not: overly long, drug-addled, pretentious or silly. 50 years later it maintains a laid-back simplicity that still sounds fresh (and my copy is mint).

Al Kooper, the founder of Blood, Sweat and Tears, in a rave review for Rolling Stone, said the album was recorded in approximately two weeks and that there were "people who would work their lives away in vain and not touch it." If you've heard it, you already know; if you haven't, what are you waiting for?

"It was a complete evolution of our musicality," Robbie Robertson said. "It was the point we came to very naturally after starting out playing the Chitlin' Circuit down south, all the way up to Canada with Ronnie Hawkins, and then backing Bob all over the world on that crazy tour. It was our collective musical experience that was a gathering of music that we made, of the places that we went, of characters that we saw." Maybe that's the key to the LPs longevity: it's real, tangible, it's about the things we do for love and because of it. It's about living in a big pink house. It's about discovering who we are through who they were, and it still works today.

Interestingly, you can stay at Big Pink today. Located at 56 Parnassus Lane (formerly 2188 Stoll Road) in West Saugerties, NY. (Available for $471 per night at The house was newly built when Rick Danko, collaborating with Bob Dylan at the time, found it as a rental. It was to this house that Bob Dylan would eventually retreat to write and experiment with new material in the home's huge basement. The house became known locally as "Big Pink" for its pink siding. 

Music From Big Pink truly enhances my vinyl collection, but it is, of course, all about the timelessness of an LP that just turned 50.

Dylan's association with Woodstock and The Band's Big Pink were the indirect catalyst for the three day Aquarian festival but truly inspired its locale, despite the concert ultimately taking place 50 miles south in Bethel Woods.


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