#2 — “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (1969) by The Band
When I spoke to Robertson more recently, he added, “It just seemed to fit in with the combination of flavors in the music and the time period we were dealing with at that time. It was like that record was in sepia tone or something. To this day, people ask me, ‘Whatever possessed you to write that song?’ And the answer is, I don’t really know; it’s the only thing I could think of at the time.” (Robertson says the group’s resident Southerner, Levon Helm, nixed a verse about Abraham Lincoln. The song’s Robert E. Lee reference — more appropriate to Virgil Caine’s viewpoint — survived.)
When I was part of the Reagan-era no-nukes movement, we youngsters used to make fun of our older, hippie comrades by skipping behind them during marches, singing the “Aaaaand… aaaannnd… AAANNNDDDD” part from “The Weight.”
They didn’t get it. But to us, those three notes embodied the entire Age of Aquarius, which we thought of as corny ancient history.
And indeed, for many people, The Band are the 60s — the 1860s, that is.
Their Southern fried rock contemporaries, Creedence Clearwater Revival, have been called “Andrew Jackson’s house band.” With “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” The Band could’ve landed that job in the Jefferson Davis “administration.”
But The Band’s apparent determination to look like Lincoln assassination “wanted” posters wasn’t just a flaky fashion statement, or a smug one, like the hippies’ later embrace of that morbid hicksville sideshow Wisconsin Death Trip.
Quite the opposite. Maybe The Band was, consciously or otherwise, trying to recalibrate their furious, spoiled generation’s perspective.
There were race riots (the “Red Summer of 1919″), worker insurrections, and an Italian anarchist terrorist campaign aimed directly at the elites. The worst incident in US labour history was the West Virginia Mine War of 1920—21, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Although it started as a workers’ dispute, the Mine War eventually turned into the largest armed insurrection that the US has ever seen, the Civil War excepted. Between 10,000 and 15,000 miners armed with rifles battled against thousands of strikebreakers and sheriff deputies. … Add to all this the rise of the Soviet Union and the wave of socialist revolutions that swept Europe after the First World War, triggering the Red Scare of 1921, and you get a sense of the atmosphere. Quantitative data indicate that this period was the most violent in US history, second only to the Civil War. It was much, much worse than the 1960s.