rip robbie robertson

The news that Robbie Robertson died hit me hard. Although he's not the last surviving member of The Band (Garth Hudson recently turned 86), he was my last surviving deep connection to music that is so close to my heart. 

I rarely feel a famous person's death in a personal way. Usually I think that's sad or what a shame, they were so young or I know they were sick for a long time. Thoughts, not feelings. I could compare this to how I feel when an acquaintance I only know briefly loses a family member. It's sad, and I care, but I'm not affected emotionally. 

Once in a while, I can honestly say that the death of a famous person has brought me grief. This was one of those times. 

It also makes me think of times like this -- which will be much worse, much deeper -- that lie ahead. The deaths of a generation of musicians who had huge cultural impacts has already started. A few whose deaths I will genuinely grieve are on the horizon.

To put down in pixels what Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, The Band, and "The Last Waltz" have meant to me through the years somehow reduces it to cliche. The film, especially, weaves its way through my life, from skipping school to see it at Radio City Music Hall (twice!) in 1978, to introducing Allan to it in the 1980s, when it quickly became a touchstone of a shared love, to first buying the soundtrack on LP and then on DVD. I know every frame of that movie, every moment. I've obsessed on every shot and every note.

I don't even want to attempt to explain this. Anything I could write would be a cheap imitation, a fifth-generation photocopy, a lifeless cliche. It would reduce something profound into mere words. 

I love to read and think about art -- books, film, paintings, architecture, all of it. But at the same time, all my life I've shied away from too much analysis, too much intellectualizing, about the art that means the most to me. I experience the art that I love best in a place that has no words.*

Robbie's music brought great joy to my life, and also meaning. I love that later in life, he openly embraced his Indigenous heritage. He was a great-looking man at every age. And his music, well, it will always be alive for me.

There are some famous people who, even though you've never met them (or if you did, you were a handshake or an autograph among millions), you truly feel they are part of your life. Almost like an extended family, in that their presence feels so real to you. Robbie Robertson was one of those people for me.

* I recently read two books that explore, among other things, how art makes us feel: The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

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