Before moving last year, I lived in Saugerties, ust down the road a country mile from Woodstock. Tucked back in a dark hollow a few miles from my home, was what I've always considered to be the Graceland of the North -- a modest pink ranch house where The Band made it's first record, "Music from Big Pink," in 1967. (It's located in West Saugerties. Yep, Big Pink isn't actually in Woodstock either). My favorite running route took me past the house, and I could almost hear the music when I jogged by, my pace quickening to the imagined rhythm of Robertson's understated guitar riffs, Helm's hillbilly howl, Hudson's supernatural organ arias, Richard Manuel's sad falsetto -- and Danko's whisky voice begging his love, "Don't leave me alone in the twilight, 'cause twilight is the loneliest time of day . . . "
My guess is that those raucous echoes have quieted since Rick Danko, a founding member of The Band whose heartbreaking voice and fretless bass drove some of the group's finest songs, died in his sleep Dec. 10, just a few miles away from the cradle of all that great music.
The Band rose to fame backing Dylan when he went electric and then struck out on its own. The group's first album was hailed as a revelation.
I was too young to appreciate the band in its heyday. But in 1978, after I saw "The Last Waltz," a documentary of the group's farewell concert years two years earlier, I went out and got my hands on every Band album I could find. Among other things, they saved me from disco.
Sadly, the members of the band were not immune to their times. Egos, booze and drugs diluted the power of the music after their third or fourth album, and it was probably for the best that they faded away. The group re-formed a few years later without Robertson. Then tragedy struck when Manuel committed suicide in 1986. Danko, Helm and Hudson occasionally carried on as The Band, joined by other musicians, but the glory days were over.
Danko was well-known in Woodstock, and by all accounts he was a good guy. Perhaps he never really made it out of the sixties -- there were busts for drunk driving and drug possession, notably heroin. He and his friends in The Band often played frequent dates up and down the Hudson River, appearing in small bars that were a quarter-decade and a million miles from the big arenas they once had head-lined. I lived in the Hudson Valley for five years and told myself a hundred times that I had to see those guys before they got too old to play or died. But I never made it.
When I heard of Danko's death and realized I have forever missed my chance to see The Band, one of Dylan's lyrics from that joyous bash rang in my head: "Lost time is not found again."