Robbie Robertson, “He Don’t Live Here No More” from How to Become Clairvoyant (2011): Across the Great Divide

A rollicking rebuke of the libertine demons that stole too many old pals, at least on its surface, “He Don’t Live Here No More” heralded Robbie Robertson’s first solo release in more than a decade. More importantly, it recalled his own unwillingness to go into that same dark night.

“I was higher than a lost kite — too far gone,” Robertson wails, channelling departed souls like Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, former mates in the Band — even as he made a more personal admission, it seemed. “Outside, they was beating on the door. I said, he don’t live here no more.”

Robertson had, of course, worked to distance himself from the swirl of hedonism around him in the late 1970s, but no one was immune to its dark charms. There must have been so many times when it seemed the Band would be lost, that it all would be lost, to their various appetites. “It was a lifestyle of the time that most of my friends went through,” Robertson said in a pre-release materials. “Some came out the other side, and for some, the train ran off the tracks.”

By the time he got around to 2011’s How To Become Clairvoyant, both Danko and Manuel had passed, though in neither case directly because of drugs. Still, Robertson could look back — could look even beside him to collaborator Eric Clapton — and see how close everyone had been to that knife’s edge.

Clapton, who wrote or co-wrote three other songs on How To Become Clairvoyant, adds a roving, high-register harmony, while co-producer Marius de Vries provides some very understated keyboard work. More than anything, though, this a guitar record, with a nasty hook and a bad attitude. In keeping with the gnarled anger bubbling just below the surface, Robertson’s solo turn is this searing rebuke, performed with bristling force on a gut-string.

That completes a statement which is hard-eyed, unflenching, and free of the nostalgia that often surrounds songs about this period — even on “When the Night was Young,” from elsewhere on this same album. There’s no romance here, only blunt truth telling. Robertson, with one round-house punch, frames his survivor’s tale even as he seems to offer some insight into why he left the Band behind in the first place.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso