Jemima Surrender

The Band weren’t so big in their heyday.  Maybe they were just a bit too ahead of the game.  By time the Englishmen had soaked up their influence, the Band had run out of creative gas.  Robbie Robertson could write music in the STYLE of his great works, he just couldn’t create any new ones.

In ’68, only hipsters were listening to underground FM radio.  Most markets didn’t even have a free format station.  It was still about hits on AM.  You learned about bands like the Band from friends.  It was like the Internet today, word of mouth, but MUCH slower.  By today’s standards, most of the album rock groups of the sixties would have been dropped before their second records, because they just didn’t sell.  There was no assumption that records would be universal, that everybody would own them.  That really didn’t happen until ’75, with Fleetwood Mac.  When suddenly hipdom and the mainstream merged, and that album sold and sold, fueled by endless singles on AM radio and constant airplay on FM.  And by time "Rumours" hit, FUGETTABOUTIT!  Suddenly, record companies realized the safer you made something, the more people it appealed to, the more copies you could sell.  Until the public figured out the joke.  Corporate rock killed the scene, disco replaced it, and if it weren’t for MTV one wonders whether there EVER would have been a rock renaissance.

Oh, by the early seventies FM bands were selling out everywhere.  Still, they didn’t see a million people a tour.  Oh, the business was PROFITABLE, but there weren’t the elephant bucks reaped by today’s hit acts.  It was a very good living.  You could afford drugs and you could screw all the groupies you could handle, for free.  You see rock music existed not quite on the fringe, but in an alternative sphere, akin to the one that video games are just emerging from.  You know a scene is over when profits start drying up.  And if you’ve been checking out Electronic Arts’ stock, you know that the heyday is past, a company playing it safe rather than renegade has stalled.

So, the Band could do good business on the road.  But, it was about singles.  Which, they ultimately delivered, with "Up On Cripple Creek", which they could never follow up.  So, they had their moment in the sun, but then went back to marginality.  With "Stage Fright".  If an act released "Stage Fright" as a follow-up today, they’d be hailed as the best in the business, alas that record, without a hit, was a comedown after the act’s second record, the eponymously titled "The Band".

Many people believe "Music From Big Pink" is the best.  Then again, these are the same people who believe "This Was" is the best Jethro Tull album and Eric Clapton has never eclipsed the work he did with John Mayall.  For those of us less iconoclastic, not worried about impressing our buddies, we go with the second record.

"Across The Great Divide" is just a man yelping in crackerville until twenty seconds in, when Levon hits his drum and the whole band joins in, when it becomes a jaunt, a party, encompassing the frontier vibe better than not only "Heaven’s Gate", but "Deadwood".

But, it’s eclipsed by "Rag Mama Rag", the track that follows it.  It’s the singing fiddles, with just enough edge to remove them from the city.  The song is DOWN HOME!  These backwoods folk are having MUCH more fun than the urbanites.  But what really sells the track is the bridge:

Hail stones beatin’ on the roof
The bourbon is a hundred proof
It’s you and me and the telephone
Our destiny is quite well known
We don’t need to sit and brag
All we gotta do is rag
Mama rag, mama rag

It’s like the "Beverly Hillbillies" with sex!

It’s like that Don Henley song…

I’m not easy to live with
I know that it’s true
You’re no picnic either, babe
And that’s one of the things I love about you

You can’t deny it, despite all the arguing, despite the ups and downs, we belong TOGETHER!  Come over, throw off your clothes, strip off your undergarments, jump under the covers and let’s FOOL AROUND!

Then comes the hit.  For Joan Baez.  She lightened up "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", whereas you hear the world-weariness in the original, it’s like the soldiers have been fighting all day, and they’re just worn out.

This is the kind of thing the Stones used to do.  Start an album with three killers.

But my favorite track is the one that ends the second side.  "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)" is a better union movie than "Norma Rae", never mind its second-rate brethren.  You don’t hear a rich man singing about the plight of the worker, this track SOUNDS like the workers.  And, it gets under your skin like a day of manual labor.

And I love "Look Out Cleveland" on the second side too.  The raging piano intro, and the boozy feel.  Hell, don’t you love ANY song that starts with the chorus?

I was in a rush today from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills.  I decided to hop on the freeway for a few exits to speed my arrival.  And when I got off the 10 at Overland, after I rounded the exit bend and stopped at the sign, I heard the opening track of side two of "The Band" and suddenly all was right with the world.

Funny, despite having a marginal sales career almost forty years ago, the Band has survived.  Because those initial records were authentic.  They were not made with the audience in mind.  They were fully-realized OUTSIDE the system and then presented to us.  And those of us who were exposed to them LOVED the peek into another world.  God, that’s why we wanted backstage access, we wanted to meet these people who played by their own rules, who didn’t care about the bullshit of society.

The Band didn’t wear outfits.  It wasn’t about look, but MUSIC!  Shit, if you can play it doesn’t matter WHAT you look like.

And nobody told them what to play.  You couldn’t tell anybody what to play back then.  You felt privileged to just ride on the coattails of their art.  You gave them the money and told them to EXPLORE!  There was no market research, no focus groups, you just plugged in your instruments and played what felt right, your only desire being to DO YOUR BEST!

"Jemima Surrender" is a minor Band track.  On a classic album.

We didn’t want the single, we wanted the whole enchilada.  And, after purchasing an album, we devoured it.  Ate it till the grooves turned grey.  We knew every note.  So, when we hear one of these tracks today, we’re jetted right back to where we used to be, who we used to be.

Classic rock radio doesn’t even play "Up On Cripple Creek".  Which is why I must applaud Lee Abrams’ programming philosophy at XM.  The hits aren’t even ON Deep Tracks.  That’s a whole other station.  For those with casual tastes.  Deep Tracks is for fans.  The kind of people who read the paper every Sunday to see who was coming to town, who lined up to buy tickets, to a group seance the likes of which haven’t been seen since.

Jemima surrender, I’m gonna give it to you
Ain’t no pretender gonna ride in my canoe

Ever get titillated, turned on, feel like you’re following your member like a divining rod?  Then you know what this song sounds like.

But you don’t want to put it in indiscriminately.  You want someone on the same page, who’s gonna get physical with ABANDON!

Jemima surrender, I’m gonna give it to you
I’ll bring over my Fender
And I’ll play all night for you

What do today’s acts do to seduce girls?  Bust a move and crank up the autotune?  Don’t you know girls fall for MUSICIANS?  I do.  Because I can recite the legion who wouldn’t screw me because I can’t PLAY!

Jemima surrender, I’m gonna give it to you
Ain’t no pretender gonna see my tattoo

Oh, he’s determined.  He’s being up front.  But he wants her to know that not JUST anybody can play.  Sure, he’s horny, but not for someone indiscriminate, but HER!  But his fishing expedition isn’t hooking her.

I hand you my rod and you hand me that line
That’s what you do

Oh, we LOVE the cheesy sexual metaphor.  This is not a sophisticate.  There’s no private plane, no tux.  Just a guy with his personality and desire.

And underneath it is this ROLLICKING tune.  Which is enough to seduce her in its own right.  The piano is tinkling.  The guitar is picking.  And the horns are adding bump and grind EMPHASIS!

You know she gave it up when this song ended.

This is a read-only blog. E-mail comments directly to Bob.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.