Mission Immersion 16.2 – Stage Fright and Cahoots by The Band

Capitol 1970

“Strawberry Wine” (from Stage Fright) reminds me of the theme song for the hit 90’s TV sitcom Blossom. There is something inherently wrong with this, but it’s not my fault – no one has control over when they are brought into this world. I happened to hear the Blossom theme before “Strawberry Wine”, and I will never be able to reverse it. It’s a tragedy of epic proportions.

Just knowing that stupid theme song was probably spawned by The Band in some way makes me very irritated. It’s like when Phil Collins says his main influence is the Beatles – The Beatles will always be my favorite band, but I’ll always be a little irritated with them for getting so big as to spawn horrible shite like Phil Collins. Is it the wrong way of looking at things? Probably, but it still bugs me.

Both Stage Fright and Cahoots contain good – sometimes great – material, but both also suffer from the after pressure of the two classic albums that preceded them. No band, not even one as amazing as The Band, could ever live up to an album as good as either one of those right away – and the fact that there were two of them in a row likely made it even more difficult. Add to this all the personal and inner-band turmoil of the members, and what we had was a group of extremely talented musicians whose inspiration was waning.

The Band’s best songwriter, Richard Manuel, takes a noticeable artistic absence on these albums. More than all of The Band’s members, Manuel’s troubles with drugs and alcohol have come to define his artistic role in the group. Die-hard Band fans can’t talk about Manuel for more than a couple minutes without mentioning the “pain and sorrow” in his vocals, or the “yearning and longing” in his performances. Sure, they are talking about a great performer, but what they are really alluding to is the drugs. After all, this sort of lifestyle has been romanticized to the point that music fans almost associate drug addiction as a form of sacrifice the performer makes for his audience. In the case of Manuel, he not only sacrificed his health, but his motivation, ambition and imagination.

Capitol 1971

This era also marked the point when the Band started to become primarily an outlet for Robbie Robertson, and as he saw his band mates being overcome by addiction and personal problems, he took the lead in an almost dictatorial fashion. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Robertson is without question a gifted songwriter, it changed the dynamic of The Band in that it made them, well, LESS of a band.

“Life is a Carnival” and “4% Pantomime” (both from Cahoots, the latter of which was co-written with Van Morrison) are top-notch representations of the Band, as is their best Bob Dylan cover “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. But so much of the other material on Stage Fright and Cahoots sounds somewhat inconsequential when held up to the steadfastness of the first two records.

Stage Fright ***
Cahoots ***

Listening again? Yes.

I’m totally going to hell for this.

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