I never used to be very good with silence. I once admitted this in a therapy session and the therapist’s reaction annoyed me. I wanted to talk about why that might be but she insisted that we sat in silence for five minutes. Which cost me £3.50 Luckily, my Mum never left a silence go unfilled and, over the years, I think this helped form a lot of my friendships. I liked people who filled a silence and they liked people who listened.
Over the past few years and especially in “the current unpleasantness”, video calls have been more common. Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Teams etc. The advantage has been that a number of people can join in a video call but I have found it interesting to observe people’s behaviour when more than two people are taking part. It seems that a silence is really difficult on a video call; some people feel a need to fill a silence and others completely freeze. A ten second silence can seem like five minutes.
Today, I helped to deliver another Zoom workshop on “Learn To Listen Like A Samaritan”. At one point, I had to enact a role play with another Samaritan. I played the part of an arrogant, condescending non-listener who kept on interrupting and pushing forward my own agenda. It was curiously liberating although it was a bit humiliating to appear to be a complete idiot to fourteen very able and impressive delegates. Luckily, I got the chance to slightly redeem myself when, towards the end of the workshop, I enacted a better version of the role play, demonstrating my ability to ask open questions, summarise, reflect, react, clarify and offer short words of encouragement. I was also able to demonstrate the power of silence. Before I started this second role play I explained to the delegates that I would be making use of silence and they weren’t to worry. I wasn’t suffering from stage fright.
Here’s something tragic, which I wouldn’t admit to anyone. Whenever I take part in one of these training sessions, I carefully arrange the background. Sitting in the small bedroom, I don’t really have a chance but to show a selection of CDs behind me but I normally tidy up and leave something impressive lying around in case anybody out there thinks I’m cool. It’s exactly the same as carrying “Shooting At The Moon” under my arm on my way to school in 1970. The 36 CD box set of “Bob Dylan Live In 1966” always looks impressive but today, knowing that I was going to briefly mention stage fright, I thought I’d leave a clue for the eagle eyed and my copy of “Stage Fright” was clearly visible over my right shoulder. At the end of the session, all the delegates complimented me on my amazing collection and noted how cleverly I’d woven the title of The Band’s third album into the workshop. They gave me three cheers and I’m meeting them all for a slap up meal tomorrow night. Nothing in the last two sentences is true.
The Band had three utterly amazing, soulful, emotional and beautiful singers. Levon Helm gets two lead vocals on this album and shares vocals on three other songs. For Richard Manuel the ratio is three and three. I think my favourite singer in The Band is Rick Danko and he gets one and three. Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson don’t sing any vocals.
The musical mood of the album is very positive and upbeat. By contrast, Barney Hoskins wrote that the lyrical content covers melancholy, anxiety and fatigue. For example, “The Shape I’m In” which was written by Robbie Roberston is, according to Barney Hoskins, “a first person account of winding up on Skid Row, positing the sanctuary of rural life against the aggravation of hustling on the street.” Robbie Robertson has said that the song is about Richard Manuel who sings lead vocals. It’s a catchy tune, there’s a great organ playing from Garth Hudson, brilliant understated guitar from Robbie Robertson and the harmonies are joyous. Some of the lyrics are “I’ve just spent 60 days in the jail house for the crime of having no dough. Now here I am back out on the street for the crime of having nowhere to go”.
“W.S. Walcott Medicine Show” was written by Robbie Robertson (who wrote seven songs on the album as well as co-writing the other three songs). The lyrics are based on stories told by Levon Helm who was the only American in The Band, having grown up in Arkansas. It’s a genuinely happy celebration of life in a former time. The melody is infectious, the lead vocals by Levon Helm and Rick Danko are outstanding and there is some great saxophone playing from Garth Hudson.
My favourite song on the album is the title track, “Stage Fright”. The song was written by Robbie Robertson and Rick Dank sings lead vocals. Although some people have wondered if the song refers to Bob Dylan’s reluctance to perform at this time, it is, according to Barney Hoskins, about Robbie Robertson’s acute stage fright prior to the Band’s first live show in 1969. This stage fright is not on display in the clip from “The Last Waltz” which has everything you could possibly wish from a Band song including Levon Helm’s amazing drumming.
“Your brow is sweatin’ and your mouth gets dry
Fancy people go driftin’ by
The moment of truth is right at hand
Just one more nightmare you can stand“