“A Game of Catch Among Friends”–Guest Post from Ewan Munro

Some months ago The Great Gray Bridge posted a humor sketch by Ewan Munro, called “My Father the Returner.” Here’s a new guest post by Ewan, an illustrated story called “A Game of Catch Among Friends.” Credit and acknowledgment for the evocative photos below goes to Barry Feinstein.

A Game of Catch Among Friends

The wild-haired man stood, his feet close together like he was standing in a line of infantry, gazing at the three children who played with a ball. Their English voices echoed across the cobblestones of the back street as the stick-like creature approached them. He wore black sunglasses over his eyes like he was trying to conceal a darker purpose and was clad in entirely ebony attire. The boys were filled with a curious sense of wonderment towards the creature who stood like a watchful sentinel. Though short of stature he was gangly and thin, his dark suit crinkling around his shoulders. With a shuddering movement the creature moved toward the boys and a nasal cry escaped his lips.

“Can I toss your ball?” he asked, extending a bony hand, his long fingernails flecked with bits of tobacco. The boys were wary at first; they dreaded the possibility of losing their red sphere.

“Okay,” the eldest boy said and handed the ball to the creature. He felt it in his palm, admired the smooth surface and tossed it into the sky. The boys gasped and ran to meet it as it returned to earth. It bounced across the stones into the doorway of a brick building. The frizzy haired man chased it down with lightning quick vigor and reached it before the children.

“How about again, man!” he shouted, his glasses bouncing on his nose, flinging the ball into the outstretched arms of the smallest boy.

“I’ll run for it!” The boy tossed it towards the creature as he bounded down the row of houses. He caught it in his spider-like hands.

“You’ve got a nice arm, kid.”

“Can we play hide-and-go-seek?” the boys asked as they pointed towards the industrial outcroppings of the back street.

“The world is a land of hide-and-go-seek, everyone is disappearing all around us,” he responded to the boys who stared quizzically back at him. As they were locked in strange awe of each other a loud noise clamored behind them. Six men approached carrying musical instruments in black cases. The tallest man, who was heavy-set and wore wire-framed glasses, shouted toward the creature.

“Hey, Bobby! We have to get to the theater in an hour. Let’s get in the car!”

“Okay, Albert, me and my comrades are just finishing up a game,” he parried and laughed gleefully as he wrenched the red sphere from the hands of the middle boy. He bounced it down the street at a galloping speed as if he was trying to flee from dangerous captors. The boys followed suit as they scurried in among the dilapidated buildings.

As the men at the far end of the street grew restless the children sensed their play was nearing a close.

“What’s your name?” the little blonde boy asked.

“Just call me, Mr. Jones,” he chuckled as he adjusted his sunglasses. He paused for a moment, became serious and for the first time removed the inky spectacles. His eyes were rimmed with tiredness, red and weary looking, but there was an obvious sparkle that exuded rebellion and wisdom.

“My name is Bob Dylan,” he extended his gaunt hand and gave a shake to each boy. In succession the children introduced themselves:

“I’m Rupert.”



The bulky man in the wire-rimmed glasses hustled over. “It’s time to leave.”

“Farewell, comrades, maybe I’ll see you again on Desolation Row,” he chuckled loudly into the air and waved as he went to join the men carrying the instrument cases. The boys stared towards the fleeting, frizzy haired man, longing for the play that had passed. They did not know it then but their friends and spouses would later doubt the fantastical story of the time a wild-haired visitor came to their cobbled street.

A Sweet Farewell to Levon Helm

The NY Times reports that this past Thursday more than 2,000 fans, friends, and admirers of Levon Helm flocked to Woodstock, NY, to pay tribute to the late drummer, singer, and all around good man. Levon’s family prepared the palm card shown here with his picture and dates to hand out to the sad celebrants. What struck me in this story and other accounts I’ve read are the tales of his contributions to the local community–playing on the Town Green, inviting locals to attend concerts at the Ramble free of charge, and other kindnesses. He is missed by so many.

In honor of The Band’s creative musical enterprise, here’s a great video clip that combines a studio performance of “King Harvest Has Surely Come” with “Long Black Veil.” The late Richard Manuel sings lead on the first, and the late Rick Danko on the second song. Levon is drumming and harmonizing throughout, with Garth Hudson sweetening the heady sound and Robbie Robertston adding lots of tasty lead licks.

If you haven’t read my posts following Levon’s death over te past week, you may read them here and here.

Finally, it seems right to add a few lyrics from Bob Dylan, famously sung by Levon in “The Weight.”

Crazy chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog.
He said, “i will fix your rack, if you’ll take jack, my dog.”
I said, “wait a minute, chester, you know I’m a peaceful man.”
He said, “that’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can.”

Take a load off fanny, take a load for free;
Take a load off fanny, and (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

Catch a cannon ball now, t’take me down the line
My bag is sinkin’ low and I do believe it’s time.
To get back to miss fanny, you know she’s the only one.
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone.

The NY Times Leaves out Levon, Twice

It often takes me a few days to catch up to the weekend papers, so today, on glancing at the New York Times of Saturday, April 21, I was glad to see they’d featured Bob Dylan’s eulogy for Levon Helm that I also cited on this blog in Reflecting on The Band’s Break-up and Levon’s Death. Oddly, with the benefit of time passing, I often discover mistakes in the paper days after publication, as happened some months ago with Times coverage of the Romneys’ horses.  Sure enough, as I began to read last Saturday’s story I was surprised to see that the photograph of Dylan and The Band they used with their item didn’t actually include Levon in it. Clearly, others had noticed the error before me, because on the Times website I’ve found this correction accompanying the article where the erroneous photo has been removed.

Because of an editing error, a report in the “Arts, Briefly” column on Saturday about Bob Dylan’s recollections of collaborating with Levon Helm, the drummer and singer who died last week at 71, erroneously included Mr. Helm among the musicians pictured at a 1974 performance. Another drummer, who was not identified, was shown with the group; Mr. Helm was not pictured.

As corrections too often do, this one piles error on top of error, with the reference to “another drummer” an additional mistake. First, the bearded person seated in a hat, who the Times wanted readers at first to incorrectly assume was Levon, is not some anonymous walk-on, but actually Richard Manuel, member of The Band going back to their earliest days when they were called The Hawks. Manuel ordinarily played piano (the instrument he is actually seated at in the Times photo), but would slide over to drums when Levon played mandolin or guitar. Unfortunately, as can be seen in my photos of the item, it had no caption at all, and the Times didn’t ID any of the musicians, apparently content to let readers infer that Levon Helm was in the shot. Had the brief carried a caption this error-riddled series of cascading confusions might’ve never been set in motion, or maybe it would have anyway, since it’s obvious that whoever was editing this section of the paper knew little about The Band. To sum it up, the person vaguely implied in the Times brief to be Levon was not him, and the person described in the correction was not at the drums in the photo, but at the piano. Presumably, Levon was on stage, seated at his drum kit, out of the frame of Times photographer Larry Morris’s lens, or was cropped out of the image at some point.

As journalist and author Craig Silverman points out in his fine book, Regret the Error, which I edited and published with him in 2008, media errors are often quite avoidable, and the Times‘ multiple failures here surely fall into that category. As shown in the extensive coverage of Levon’s terminal illness and death, it is clear that there are scores of photos of Bob Dylan and The Band that include him, such as the one shown below from the Los Angeles Times. It’s a pity they couldn’t have found one like it that included Levon, either in the print edition, or at worst, even later, online where no photo now appears. An error in an obituary or a eulogy is one of the most serious mistakes a media outfit can make, and the Times royally messed up here. They owe their readers better, both in print, and online.
// click through to see all photos and captions . . .

Reflecting on The Band’s Break-up and Levon’s Death

Among the pieces of journalism and commentary I’ve read about Levon Helm since word of his terminal condition was released by his family last week, and then since his death on Thursday, this one by Mark Guarino is the best yet. I recommend you read it, for it captures the injustice that accompanied The Band’s dissolution, and how Robbie Robertson and the businesspeople around him really did treat his four bandmates inequitably. According to Levon, in his memoir This Wheel’s on Fire, Robbie claimed all the publishing royalties on most of their songs, compositions that had famously been workshopped by all five of them, beginning at the Big Pink house, and in later sessions. For the sake of argument, even if Robbie believed he was genuinely responsible for most of the songwriting, why not assert a claim on a larger share of the royalties and then split the remaining percentage four ways? Instead, he just walked away with it all on most of their repertoire and by the time Levon received his cancer diagnosis in 1998, he had to declare personal bankruptcy and nearly lost his house. I know Robbie came to his bedside this week, and if Levon really reconciled with him that’s great, but it’s hard not to see Robbie’s visit as some self-serving absolution. It certainly adds to the sadness of Levon’s passing to say this, but I believe it’s true.

Now, as many articles have pointed out, Levon did mount a great second act with the Midnight Ramble, the Grammy-winning albums, and playing and singing with his daughter Amy. But that happiness stands in sharp contrast to the fact that nothing like that happened for Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, and this is where Guarino’s Christian Science Monitor, “Levon Helm and The Band: a rock parable of fame, betrayal, and redemption” is most valuable.

Manuel’s post-breakup troubles ended with his 1986 suicide, during a revival tour of The Band sans Robbie. Guarino tells us that Levon is the one who found him after he’d hanged himself. As for Danko, he died at fifty-one from complications of heart disease. Guarino, quoting from the memoir, reminds us of Levon’s words: “If Rick’s money wasn’t in their pockets, I don’t think Rick would have died because Rick worked himself to death.… He wasn’t that old and he wasn’t that sick. He just worked himself to death. And the reason Rick had to work all the time was because he’d been [expletive] out of his money.” To be fair, it should be admitted too that a hard-partying lifestyle would have contributed to Manuel’s and Danko’s early demise (see Danko’s stoned moments with Janis Joplin in the rolling concert film “Festival Express,” if you have any doubt how much Rick loved getting high), but it doesn’t change the fact that playing half-empty dives to keep making a living, for a musician who once played to 600,000 at Watkins Glen with the Allmans and The Dead in ’73 (which I personally attended*), had to have depressed him and Manuel to a point where continued substance abuse was, if not inevitable, unsurprising.

All this sadness acknowledged, it is comforting to see how sadness brings us all together, bridging intervening years. After posting on Facebook and Twitter over the past week, I’ve heard from high school friends, such as Seth Foldy of Friends School and hometown Cleveland pals, like Eric Broder. Eric referred me to the Drive-by-Truckers’ Danko-Manuel song, with its haunted lyrics, “Got to sinking in the place where I once stood/Now I ain’t living like I should . . . Richard Manuel is dead”.

It was fitting to me that the family’s first message about Levon’s illness, while originating with his wife and Amy (who I had the privilege of hearing sing a few months ago with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings**, a performance I wrote about here), was immediately passed along on social media by “Bob Dylan and The Band.” And then, after Levon died, this appeared on “He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation. This is just so sad to talk about. I still can remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together. I’m going to miss him, as I’m sure a whole lot of others will too.”

In honor of The Band and Bob Dylan, and yesterday’s Record Store Day, I’ve taken photos of all my LPs and CDs coming from their great musical enterprise, even Robbie’s first solo album. (click on thumbnails for full panorama of album images

* From that great weekend, I recall that a heavy thunderstorm with distant bolts of lightning let loose on the Saturday night, and The Band, then playing, had to flee the stage out of safety concerns. When the downpour had ebbed, Garth Hudson came out first and sat at his organ beneath a protective little canopy, launching into an unforgettable rendition of the solo that opens “Chest Fever, a song on “Music From Big Pink,” “Chest Fever.” These moments are forever captured on one of the CDs photographed below, “The Band- Live at Watkins Glen.”

**From Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Colin Linden, who knew and had played music with Levon, was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi on the CBC Radio program ‘Q’ the day after his friend’s death, as was Garth Hudson, conversations that can be heard via this link.  // see more . . . for footnotes and photos. . .

Three Years Ago Today

On January 14, 2009, I was laid off as the editorial director of Sterling Publishing’s Union Square Press, an imprint of narrative nonfiction books I had been recruited to run two years earlier. I recall the anxiety I felt upon being summoned to the office of the HR director; the sick-making sensation that shot through my gut upon receiving the news; that my email was shut off by the time I returned to my office; and the way I was instructed to leave Sterling’s office for the final time, informed that whatever personal effects I couldn’t grab then would be shipped to my home. If you’ve never had this happen to you, I must say it is not something you can prepare yourself for. Even though I was not surprised to get laid off in the middle of the worst financial crisis in eighty years, it nonetheless registered as a deep shock. Later that dark week, I sent an email to all my contacts, headed “Moving on From Sterling,” for that’s what I had already begun to do. In the weeks that followed, I incorporated a business in the state of New York, Philip Turner Book Productions LLC, and began cultivating clients for what would be my new editorial services business. // more. . .