The Last Waltz:
A Love Story
I think it was around 1991- my chronology is fuzzy for so much of my life - but that is certainly the ball park anyway - that I rented a large stereo from Rent-A-Center that had a turntable AND a cassette deck. This was in preparation for my cross country move from Southern Illinois to Montana. I needed to get my vinyl collection onto tapes so I could listen to them in my car! Also, I was considering the reality that I would probably have to put a lot of my record collection into storage somewhere. I was loading everything I owned into my 1977 Bug. Yes, this is a true story. I know, it seems made up. So. That included 2 guitars, a mountain bike, a few pair of cowboy boots and some clothes, my tapes (which were numerous), important books and other random stuff. I had been living in a small apartment up the hill from the Mississippi River. I loved it. I didn’t have a phone for a while, but I had a notebook on my door for people to leave messages. Usually they said “Kate - get a damn phone”….. One day about 2 weeks before I left, I had invited friends over and sold everything else I owned to get some dough for the trip. This wasn’t like “going away to college move”, I was actually moving to Montana. Cue Zappa. I had around 700 bucks. I had taken my car down to the local VW guy (every town used to have one, and they were all characters). He was a little white haired cajun dude who was so sure that my car would make it that he promised to fly out to fix it if it broke down on the road. He was right. I might have been in first gear by the time I hit the top of those mountain passes, but I made it.
Whenever I moved to a new town, region, place I always employed three traditional first stops. The local music store, the local record store and the local hoot/open-mic night. Usually all on the first day, and at least within the first week I will have hit them all more than once. This is the best way to make new pals and hook into the local music scene. Case in point: When I landed in NE, I met many of the musician friends I know to this day at the Press Room, Stone Church and Biddy’s open mic’s. I was a young mom by that point, so I wasn’t as active as a lot of other musicians were during that era - but a lot of those people are still in my life and some of you are reading this right now. Bruce Pingree and Paul LeBrun were among the first to encourage and book me as a result - and remain dear friends.
Anyway - getting to my point about The Last Waltz.
I had been a fan of the Band for years by that time, owned pretty much every record, but had never actually seen the film. My late teens were entirely unstable so maybe that had something to do with it - not sure. Sometimes I had a place to live, sometimes I didn’t…those are a bunch of other stories. So anyway just randomly I was a latecomer to viewing it.
So. The open mic I ended up spending a bunch of nights in Montana at was held in a joint called Maxwell’s. I also ended up working there. It was attached in the back to another joint called the Palace, a 24 hour keno bar and also a place I worked. I wrote a song about The Palace years later, which actually is a favorite of my own songs (and I literally am my own worst critic ). I met a bunch of people and was starting to have some pals and play gigs. One of my new buddies, Aaron, invited me over to watch the Last Waltz at his apartment. I was like cool I’ve never seen it! He looked at me like I had 27 heads. I just smiled and shrugged. Later I realized it was a “date” - which was a bummer. I always really just wanted to just hang out with the guys. But I wanted to “be” one of the guys, not a girlfriend. I often I missed those social cues. I got to see the movie however, so it was a win.
I’m not going to say the movie changed my life or anything dramatic like that. What I am going to say is that the movie, and the artists/music involved in it, simply became one of the main soundtracks to my life. Maybe even the loudest and most important one. Certainly one of the longest lasting ones and all of that music had - and still has - a massive impact on my soul.
Fast forward a few minutes. I’ve got two young kids to raise pretty much on my own. I was around 29. Far from where I grew up, far from Montana even. It was terrifying and rewarding all the same, but those are a bunch of other stories. We were always poor (in the monetary sense) but the kids were always exposed to music (so, rich in the artistic sense). Either I was playing in the kitchen, teaching lessons in the living room while they were playing in the kitchen (in numerous different apartments), or we were listening to something on the stereo. I took them to gigs. We didn’t do much in the way of TV, however I allowed a small selection of movies/videos. What was at the top of the list? Yep. The Last Waltz. Now, they will both tell you that at first they - like Aaron from Montana - looked at me like I had 27 heads. “Mom, why are we watching this?”. Spencer (almost 21) must have been like 4 the first time he saw it. Mikala (24) to this day laughs when we talk about how I wouldn’t allow her to watch the Little Mermaid, but instead we’d watch The Last Waltz.
And it continued, for years. We’ve all seen it hundreds of times. I still own and listen to records by most of the artists represented. My children were literally raised with that same soundtrack, and they actually are grateful for it. On Mikala’s first trip to Nashville, one of her favorite moments was seeing the Emmylou Harris Posters on the wall at the Ryman. This music informs so much of that girl’s soul. I can still vividly see her dancing around the kitchen as a child to this music. She now studies and performs as a dancer, and listens to anything and everything - including that soundtrack, still. Since they were teenagers they have been plotting getting tattoos together. One would get “two young kids” and the other would get “might start a ruckus”. Not even kidding. Seems made up. It’s not. Came up again recently, this might be the year. (I think there is still an argument about who gets which). Spencer has regaled me with tales of being on the road with his own band, and using the method described by the guys in the movie to steal food from the convenience store. Hilarious and heartwarming at the same time. He also cites Levon as one of his most important influences as a drummer (and musician in general); Levon will come up often in discussions when we are talking shop. It makes me smile every time. This is a kid who currently plays punk and black metal. But he’s still got that soundtrack in him.
All three of us do.
So, yeah. That’s my love story for The Last Waltz. Shit is real, man. Big love.