August 17, 2023


Robbie Robertson and The Last Waltz (Christopher Garbowski, 8/17/23, Voegelin View)

Neil Miniturn, author and editor of a major reference work on the documentary, wryly notes "rock & roll does not waltz." Rather it has a highly vivacious nature which is possibly among the reasons that even at its best it was not taken seriously for quite long. The journalist Martha Bayles was among the first to take rock seriously as an art form, arguing the form reached its peak in the mid-1970s. In her Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty & Meaning in American Popular Music (1996), she argues rock flourished when it creatively developed its roots in the blues, becoming more fascicle when it strayed too far from them. This view offers an academic argument for the accomplishment of The Band. The documentary also does more than just rock. Film critic J.P. Tellotte perceptively notes, "What The Last Waltz seems to celebrate . . . are fundamental human tensions, those between life and death, art and reality, the expressive spirit and those limitations it encounters in the self and in our far from expressive world."

At some points the documentary with its art even reaches out to the transcendent. An important song from the musical event helps demonstrate the connection between religion and rock at its peak. The film captures the inspired rendition of The Band's classic "The Weight," with the vocal support of the superlative Gospel group the Staples. The Gospel group did not have to depart from their m├ętier to any great degree in their stirring contribution to this rock song's performance, almost appropriating it from The Band, and demonstrating its debt to their spiritual musical tradition. Deeply moved by the effort and its poignant result one of the vocalists from the Staples at the very end of "The Weight" exclaims: "Beautiful!"

Posted by at August 17, 2023 8:08 AM