The Band

the band

They began as the Hawks, changed their names to the Candian Squires, the Crackers, the Honkies, and then finally settled on just calling themselves "The Band"; By the time they had finally found a name, these five musicians - one from Arkansas and the rest from Canada - had already been playing together for over eight years.

For the beginning, what set the group apart was their collective anonymity. They didn't have a front man--instead, they seemed to be a group of multitalented equals who contributed in whatever way they could. Robbie Robertson is credited with many of the songs, but Richard Manuel wrote some important ones as well. Levon Helm had been in the group for longer than any of the others and conveyed a sense of authority because of this and the fact that he was the sole band member from south of the Canadian border. The classically-trained Garth Hudson was always seen to be the best musician in the group, which was no small feat. At one point, he even gave the other members music lessons, though this was in most part a cover story for his parents - being a music teacher was much more respectable than being a rock musician. Rick Danko was clearly the leader in having fun.

Even on the albums, its hard to tell who is in charge. Lead vocals would get passed around along with instruments, and songs would form while working together as a collective, although this would become a point of dispute much later on. The group seemed to find a unity at a time when America was being torn apart by conflicts of the 60s.

A second thing that set them apart - especially from the psychedelic groups that were all the rage at the time - was their attraction to the images, stories, archetypes and myths of America. As critic Greil Marcus said in his groundbreaking book Mystery Train:

Many Americans [during the '60s] had spent the best part of the decade teaching themselves to feel like exiles in their own country: The Band, particularly the songwriters Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel, understood this and were sure that it was a mistake. They had come here by choice, after all. 

Looking across the border, The Band saw an image of America that was fascinating, and yet wasalmost completely ignored by its own people. For The Band, it was time to bring the exiles home.

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