This Wheel's on Fire

This Wheel's on Fire

Levon Helm and the Story of the Band

Book - 1993
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The Band, who backed Bob Dylan when he went electric in 1965 and then turned out a half-dozen albums of beautifully crafted, image-rich songs, is now regarded as one of the most influential rock groups of the '60s. But while their music evoked a Southern mythology, only their Arkansawyer drummer, Levon Helm, was the genuine article. From the cotton fields to Woodstock, from seeing Sonny Boy Williamson and Elvis Presley to playing for President Clinton, "This Wheel's on Fire" replays the tumultuous history of our times in Levon's own unforgettable folksy drawl. This edition is expanded with a new afterword by the authors.
Publisher: New York : William Morrow, c1993.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780688109066
0688109063
Characteristics: 320 p. :,ill., ports. ;,24 cm.
Additional Contributors: Davis, Stephen 1947-

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Mark_Daly Aug 14, 2017

Helm's rustic voice is incredibly entertaining, and captures the wild ride that was The Band's long road trip to fame. His contrary views on The Last Waltz and the group's breakup are delivered with back-country Arkansas frankness. Though styled as a memoir, Helm and his co-writer also quote generously from fresh interviews with the group's remaining members and friends.

THIS WHEEL'S ON FIRE is a tremendous memoir. The first half, up until the point where Levon ditches the rest of The Hawks who are backing Dylan on his historic first electric tour, is all good cheer and high times. And that continues through Helm's return to the boys in 1967 at Big Pink in West Saugerties to work on some of THE BASEMENT TAPES and then on to MUSIC FROM BIG PINK (1968) and THE BROWN ALBUM (1969), culminating in their appearance on Ed Sullivan, which is pretty much the zenith. It's downhill from there. Money and drugs (heroin, cocaine, pills) and women and bad feelings over Robbie Robertson monopolizing most of the writing credit take over the book's narrative. Only 15 or 20 pages from the end (Richard Manuel had already hanged himself) I suddenly felt catatonic. It was as if I had been drinking bottle after bottle of Grand Marnier and eating minute steaks cooked on an upturned electric iron, which Richard Manuel was said to have done in the days when he was living on Zuma Beach in Malibu at The Band's Shangri-La Studios. I couldn't fall asleep I was so disturbed and agitated. Here is a taste of what Levon, who died the spring of 2012, had to say about the early passing of The Band's bassist, Rick Danko: "I know he's in a better place and all that bullshit. My beef is that he didn't have to be there yet -- not at only fifty-six years old. Rick worked too hard. He wasn't that old and he wasn't that sick. He just worked himself to death. And the reason Rick had to work all the time was because he'd been fucked out of his money. People ask me about THE LAST WALTZ all the time. Rick Danko dying at fifty-six is what I think about THE LAST WALTZ. It was the biggest fuckin' rip-off that ever happened to The Band -- without a doubt. We held a big funeral for Rick, a hell of a thing. The Traums played, John Sebastian, other friends. I sat there with my daughter, kind of stunned, not really believing it was happening or that I was there. Robertson came from California; he didn't want to be here, but knew he had to be. He got up and spouted off a lot of self-serving tripe about how great Rick had sung the songs that he -- Robertson -- had written. It made me sick to hear. Then he worked the press a little, like a good Hollywood boy, and went back to Los Angeles. He knows he's got Rick Danko's money in his pocket. He knows that."

r
RapidRic
Mar 18, 2015

This is not just the autobiography of Levon Helm (1940 - 2012) but also the definitive autobiography of one of the most influential american rock band of all-time, The Band. Levon speaks his mind concerning his upbringing as the son of a cotton farmer near a small Arkansas city, how he came to believe that music would not just get him out of being a farmer but will help him speak to the world as well. Beginning by playing a guitar, he became fixed on playing drums and started playing in a rockabilly band in Canada and the South. In the mid 60's, Bob Dylan came calling and Levon & his group became Dylan's backup band named The Band. From 1968 - 1977, The Band recorded 7 studio albums, with Levon showing his musical talent as a most respected drummer, vocalist, mandolin player and a song writer. The original band broke up after the Martin Scorsese's movie "The Last Waltz" recorded their last gig, Levon acted in 4 movies, started his own All-Star band, bought the Band back together (with one original member missing), and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

If you want more information about Levon Helm and The Band, this is the book for you. Do you know that The Band was the main headliner act for the 1969 Woodstock Festival?

b
biblioholic
Apr 01, 2011

Wow. I am so clueless.

I never even heard of The Band til my then-secret love (later girlfriend, then wife, now ex-wife) took me to see "The Last Waltz". I was so captivated (by the film) that I built a fantasy around The Band.

And now Levon Helm comes along and bursts that bubble. It was a snake pit, in which four guys were in it just for the music, and one of them was business-savvy, and he took them all to the cleaners.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But the book did validate one conclusion I drew for myself thirty-five years ago. Neil Diamond did not belong there.

(RIP, Levon)

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