The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

12 12 2008

A great clip of a pretty much perfect song from a superb film, The Last Waltz.  Written by a Canadian (Robbie Robertson), but given voice by a son of the south (Levon Helm), this song by The Band nails it – however you want to defne it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jREUrbGGrgM

Go here for a great discussion of the song by musicians and historians.

Saw the clip on Publius.  Check out his post.

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15 responses

12 12 2008
Kevin

Awesome post. You just gave me a wonderful idea for a lesson plan.

12 12 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Glad to help, Kevin. Good things happen when you follow the links – they’re what make blogs blogs!

I’m a hardcore, unrepentant Union man (a northerner by birth and the grace of God), but this song gives me goosebumps. No excuses, no justifications, no rationalizations – simply expressive of defeat, devastation, lamentation, and determination.

I hope you’ll share your lesson plan at some point.

12 12 2008
Mike Peters

Harry,

I wrote a review of Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” for my college newspaper & was blown away by The Band’s performance, especially Levon’s vocals on “The Weight” & :The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down.”

As you know, there has been much discussion re: the lyrics. Critics have commented that Richmond didn’t fall on May 10 or “Marse Robert” was never in Tennessee. Neither scenario bothers me. But I am haunted by the version put out on the radio waves by New Yorker Joan Baez. A Yankee woman playing Virgil Caine? As my granddad used to say, “Son, that dog don’t hunt.”

Mike

12 12 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Mike,

Follow the link to the discussion of the song – there are some names there you will recognize, and much will be cleared up about the lyrics.

12 12 2008
historythruthelookingglass

Loved this post — any time you can link history and music you have a winner!

Take care,
Aly

BTW, I just finished “Young Men and Fire,” and it’s maybe not in my top 10, but I definitely won’t be forgetting it soon. I’ll do more on it later….

12 12 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Aly,

The thing I love about this song – it’s not about anything other than desolation, devastation, regret, loss. There’s no attempt to justify what brought it all about, nothing about the righteousness of a cause or the oppression of or by a people – it’s completely in the moment, but it explains a lot. It is was it is.

“Young Men and Fire” will grow on you – just allow yourself to think on it. One of the things I love about it is that it shows how history can be done right, even without footnotes. Purists will gnash their teeth, but by inserting himself into the story, Mclean makes it all the more real. I see no reasons why we can’t do the same thing. A CW parallel is Svenson’s “Battlefield”

12 12 2008
Rea Andrew Redd

Harry,

I saw the film when it first came out. I was in DC, young and in love.
The music cd and dvd is in my collection and will be played on the widescreen at home over the holidays, along with Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby. I’ll be first in line for the BlueRay-HD copy.

Rea Andrew Redd

12 12 2008
Harry Smeltzer

I thought I responded to this already, Rea. Seems to have gone missing in cyberspace, though. I don’t own the disc, but The Last Waltz is one of those films that sucks you in if you run across it while surfing. Like Patton. It’s hard to believe that Helm and Robertson are pushing 70 now!

12 12 2008
Susan Sweet

Harry I have loved this song for years. Thanks for posting the video. It has been a while since I saw the movie. Stoneman in the song later became the commander of the Drum Barracks here in Wilmington California. He was one of the last commanders of the post.

Susan

12 12 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks for sharing that, Susan.

12 12 2008
Josh M.

The link to The Band’s website is very interesting and gave me a little more to think about regarding the song. This song is a great way to generate class discussions, especially when discussing memory and the Lost Cause.

13 12 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Josh,

Wow, this is the second comment I’ve lost in two days. Anyway, while I see your point about the song and its uses for teaching about the Lost Cause, for me the song is anything but Lost Cause-ish. It doesn’t try to justify or even explain what brought Virgil to this lowly state. It simply recognizes the circumstances, mourns the loss, determines to carry on. That to me a is the beauty of the song.

13 12 2008
Josh M.

Harry,

I see your point. I am not sure the Lost Cause is the best term to describe what I am trying to say. Unfortunatly my brain has been fried from the semester and it’s taking me longer to articulate what I am trying to say, but I will post a follow up on my own blog soon.

I’m just glad that something on my blog was able to generate a discussion. Thanks for checking out my post.

13 12 2008
brian

Thanks for posting the clip, Harry. Always loved that song and Mr Helm’s voice doing it. He’s back from the brink making music again, too.

13 12 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Brian. In light of your most recent on Behind AotW, I’m wondering if this article doesn’t qualify as a “vanity post”.

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