Sunday, October 28, 2012

Disasters: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

The Band: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (YouTube Video link)
[purchase the '69 album @ Amazon]

How about this saying: One man’s misfortune is another man’s gain. Agree?

I got started on this train of thought (no pun initially intended) on account of my choice for a “Disaster” song. Although my current formal US residence is in the Northwest, I spent a fair amount of time in Greensboro, NC. There, I imbibed a certain amount of Dixie air, where no small number of US citizen fly the Confederate flag to this day. As Robbie Robertson (of The Band) remarked: there is a pain, a sadness there [to this day, about the loss to the North].

Robertson says he had the music in his mind, and from there did extensive research about the events he relates in the song. The South had all but lost the war, and Vergil Caine is telling us about the hardships of re-supplying the Confederate army by train in “the winter of ‘65”. Suffering? Certainly. Disaster? Depends on your point of view. For General Robert E. Lee, despite his defeat, it could have been a lot worse: he is still revered as a great American – curiously, even in the North, despite his “treason”. For countless landholders (and young men) of the South, the war and defeat spelled disaster that has not been forgotten or forgiven to this day.
In this YouTube video, we've got drummer Levon Helm doing the lead vocals. As you ought to know, we lost him to cancer this past spring of 2012. Knowing that he grew up in the South, I can't help but wonder if it didn't play at least some role in the strength and conviction behind his rendition of the song.

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