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Workin' on a mystery

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Listening to Robbie Robertson's "How to Be Clairvoyant" album (2011) on a chilly October day.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Singer/songwriter/musician Robbie Robertson is very much alive! I wish the 73-year old Canadian many more years of good health and creativity. In fact, I just saw that Martin Scorsese had Robertson handle the musical arranging for his new film The Irishman, to be released this week.

But in a dream I just had, Robertson had just released a memoir, with a red cover. I was in a class where Robertson’s  work with The Band, and his post-Band life and work was of keen importance. In the dream, I kept telling myself – presumably my present self – that Robbie Robertson was very much alive. Sure, he was an older gentleman, but was still active and creative and working with Scorsese. In fact, just last month, in Robertson’s native Canada, a new documentary titled Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, had premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to critical acclaim, although I would not learn this until after I awoke from this dream. I also learned he released a new album last month – Sinematic. (More on that in this interesting article in Variety)

Perhaps Robertson’s appearance in my dreamscape had something to do with the fact that while traveling to the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas a few weeks back (to promote my book Rock Catapult: 1966 – The Launch of Modern Rock & Roll) I noticed that Highway 49 around the hometown of The Band’s drummer, Levon Helm – Marvell, Arkansas – was called the Levon Helm Memorial Highway, since he had grown up in the area. An amazing singer and performer – I saw him perform with The Band in 1995 - Helm died in 2012.

And a friend had given me a copy of a book about The Band a few weeks before that. And so The Band and its members had clearly been on my mind.

But, I will admit that I had to doublecheck to make sure Robertson was still alive. And yes, he is. In fact, a quick check of the online wires and the Toronto native Robertson was getting all sorts of attention this autumn due to his

In a lengthy and honest Toronto Life profile on Robertson by Jason McBride, titled “Robbie Robertson’s Last Waltz,” Robertson was described as looking “tanned and tall and relaxed” and as if he had “just stepped off David Geffen’s yacht.”

Adds McBride: “Age diminishes us all, even Robbie Robertson—his once-notorious cheekbones are now buried in a fleshier face, and he walks with a pronounced, grandfatherly shuffle—but he’s still ridiculously handsome. He smiles easily, his teeth as straight and gleaming as piano keys. He talks easily, too, and slowly, his voice an almost voluptuous rasp. In conversation, he is as courteous as a courtesan, or as winkingly elusive as his long-time comrade, Bob Dylan. Asked how old his three kids are, he said, smiling, “The same age as me. I don’t get older, they do.”

Robertson has long been a controversial figure in rock n’ roll. An undeniably amazing songwriter – one of the best Canada has ever produced – he has a Lou Reed prickliness that has rubbed fans, foes and even his old bandmates (most of whom are now dead) the wrong way. But Robbie Robertson has always done it his way.

So, what of my dream? Looking at a book with a red cover about Robertson’s life (not Testimony, the autobiography he released in 2017) ? I think it has more to do with the fact that Robbie Robertson, who has been in the spotlight for over 50 years, is once again getting attention after releasing new music – a solo record and music for The Irishman – and that doc about his time with The Band. (His next project is providing music to Scorsese's next project - the film version of David Grann's book about murders in Oklahoma's Osage Nation - Killers of the Flower Moon, a musical film project Robertson  - who is of Mohawk and Cayuga Native Canadian descent - plans to go "deep" on. (Read Heide Brandes' 2017 article about Grann's book signing for Moon at Full Circle Books, here). 

Thankfully, it sounds like Robbie Robertson has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. 


Another music-related dream involved Michigan native and early 60’s rocker Del Shannon. His huge hit in 1961 – “Runaway” – has long bewitched listeners with its “discordant opening guitar chords, falsetto hook, eerie space-organ solo and a lyric that was beyond melancholy, filled with dread and paranoia,” as noted in Bob Stanley’s book Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”: The Story of Pop Music From Bill Haley to Beyonce.

Again, I find myself in a collegiate environment. And while the details of what was going on have faded in the past few days, I do remember how Shannon’s “Runaway” was providing the soundtrack in this eerie, gauzy place of learning. A family member was talking to me as Max Crook’s unearthly Musitron organ solo (a predecessor to Bob Moog's eerie Moog synthesizer) is playing adding to the disquieting strangeness of this dream sequence.  

At the same time, I realize that the late Tom Petty is appearing in the dream. Of course, Petty was a close friend of Del Shannon, helping to revive his career in the early 1980’s and Petty’s interest in having Del Shannon replace Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys, meant that more people would be hearing Del Shannon, alongside Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, the other Wilburys. But that was not to be. Del Shannon died on Feb. 8, 1990 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Santa Clarita, California.

The prior year, 1989, Tom Petty worked on his Full Moon Fever debut album, which was one of the first albums I ever purchased on compact disc. A driving song on the album, "Runnin' Down a Dream," has Petty singing, "Me and Del were singin', 'little runaway,' I was flyin' ..." But the line that grabbed me, following this dream, was the chorus: "Runnin' down a dream, that never would come to me / Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads / Runnin' down a dream ..." Those lines sync up with my dreamscape of late. Detailed dreams, many involving "flyin'," and water. A mystery I have continued to "work on."

Oddly, Santa Clarita, where Del Shannon spent his final days, has been coming up in the news the past few days. Santa Ana winds in the Santa Clarita area have led to devastating wildfires in that area, while a Santa Clarita-based congresswoman, Katie Hill, a Democrat, has resigned over an ethics investigation.

Not sure if any of this means a doggone thing. Just taking notes as I continue to "work on this mystery."

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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