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nostalgia for the possibility of nostalgia

August 18, 2009, 11:01 am

Coates writes,

I was thinking about … Richmond yesterday, and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” For those who are unfamiliar, the song is a mournful ballad about the fall of Richmond and Petersburg. I’m told that it’s a great song, and I don’t so much doubt this, as I doubt my own magnanimity.

I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect him to be that magnanimous. I love the song, myself, or have loved it — but I’ve always kept my fingers crossed, as it were, rather than take in the text fully. As if nostalgia for the Lost Cause could be simply a lyrical attitude, a costume to put on and then take off. But I don’t think that’s tenable. True, the song doesn’t go as far into that mythology as the radically (and deliberately) offensive “Brown Sugar”; but I think I’ve passed the point where I can forget that the Cause has a bearing on current life.

Still, what a piece of music: to pick just one detail, the way the downbeat on “the niiiight” spreads out over a full long beat itself. The clips on Youtube are mainly from later performances, e.g. in “The Last Waltz”, so here, in valediction, is one with the original LP version of the song — and, naturally, appropriate visuals. Possibly NSFW.

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