Saturday, December 20, 2008

Richard Manuel:

My favorite member of The Band. He was another one of those artistic geniuses with a tortured soul. As Eric Clapton said about him:

For me he was the true light of the Band. The other guys were fantastic talents, of course, but there was something of the holy madman about Richard. He was raw. When he sang in that high falsetto the hair on my neck would stand on end. Not many people can do that.

I agree. Most males have falsettos that are unlistenable, at least for more than a few seconds. Which is why most male vocalists usually break into falsetto for brief bits either for effect or to reach a necessary high note. Think of how annoying the The Bee Gees continued falsetto vocals can be!

But not Richard. He had a falsetto that you could listen to...that you'd want to listen to for the whole song. Here's "Whispering Pines":

When asked in Martin Scorsese's monumental documentary of The Band's finale "The Last Waltz" why they were calling it quits seemingly in their prime, Robbie Robertson aptly noted how "the road" took many of the great ones, describing it as a "goddamn impossible way of life."

And how sadly prophetic he turned out to be. The Band reunited sans Robbie in the early 80s. Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986 at age 42. Bassist Rick Danko, who had long struggled with addiction (for instance, he was busted with heroin in 1997) died in 1999 at age 56. It was kind of sad; Danko was a thin handsome guy when The Band was in its prime. But he had put on a tremendous amount of weight shortly before his death.

When I saw The Band in the mid-90s, at Waterfront Stadium in Trenton, NJ, Manuel was dead, Danko was alive, and Robertson of course, had ceased to tour with them. Besides Danko, drummer Levon Helm (you've probably seen him in movies) and keyboardist Garth Hudson were the original members still touring. Not only were they great but Stephen Seagal joined them on stage for a few songs (he was filming a movie where he played in a band; and Seagal really did play the instruments).

Here is an article on Richard that shows him warts and all. From the article:

Manuel's carelessness often amused his friends and fellow musicians. He was notorious for crashing his Ferrari, and he once gave himself third-degree burns while trying to light a gas grill. But his habits were no laughing matter. When he moved out of a house in Malibu, he left behind 2,000 empty bottles of Grand Marnier, his favorite poison.

After the Band broke up in 1976, Manuel quit drinking and met his second wife, Arlie Litvak. (His first wife left him to become a Jehovah's Witness.) For a while, he was determined. "He said if he ever started drinking again, he'd kill himself," Litvak has said.

By the mid-'80s, however, with the Band (minus Robertson) reunited, the singer had fallen off the wagon. Some blame his disappointment that the Band was playing small markets, small venues; others believe he thought he was letting his bandmates down. After a gig in Winter Park, Fla., Manuel and his wife retired to their room at a Quality Inn, where he polished off a bottle of Grand Marnier, finished the last of his cocaine and went to sleep. In the morning, Litvak got up and went out in search of breakfast. When she returned, she went into the bathroom for the first time that day. There she found her husband, hanging by his belt from the shower curtain rod. It took Helm and Danko five minutes to haul the body down.

Ugh. Imagine having to do that. On a personal note I was born in Winter Park, Fla.

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