Wednesday, February 1, 2012


THIS WHEEL’S ON FIRE: Levon Helm And The Story Of The Band’ by...(yup, you guessed it)...Levon Helm.

[Cool photo borrowed from The Nicole Nelch Blog]

It’s a 300+ page book that was given to me for Christmas by my good friend The Flyin’ Aardvark. (The Flyin’ Aard knows what this boy wants!) And I had probably finished reading the book a week or two after unwrapping it on Christmas Day.

Levon Helm was always my favorite member of THE BAND. And I liked his down-home name so much that I even borrowed the first half of it for a short story I wrote in 1994. The character was a small-town newspaper journalist named Levon Rendman whose research leads him to discover that the local legend is actually more myth than fact and when he publishes the “nonfiction” version - thinking the inhabitants of this “wide spot in the road” will appreciate learning the truth - he unexpectedly finds himself both dogged and ostracized by the community to the point that he up and moves his family out of the state.

Levon Rendman . . . Rendman. Get it? He tears the local legend apart – rends it – and suffers the consequences.

Anyway, whatever.

I found Levon Helm’s story of The Band plenty interesting. I’ll tell you this much: Robbie Robertson does not come off looking too good in this band biography. Hoo-Wee! Talk about getting hit with a heavy wordstick!

But this blog bit is not about Robbie Robertson, The Band, nor even Levon Helm; this blog bit is about Grand Marnier, or “GraMar” as I sometimes call it (because we are such close friends).

Grand Marnier is an 80-proof liqueur made in France from cognac and the essence of oranges. It’s pretty much the only thing that keeps me from despising the French to the degree that I should and would like to.

Grand Marnier (you can call it “GraMar” too, if you like it as much as I do) has, in two ways, figured prominently in Rock ‘N’ Roll – a high point, and also one of Rock’s real low points.


Well, it’s not news to anyone who has followed ‘STUFFS’ for awhile to learn that I feel the cover of Nils Lofgren’s debut solo LP is the best that Rock ‘N’ Roll has ever given us.

It’s a bottle of Grand Marnier our hero is tilting in that album cover photo.

I’ve already written about this a couple times and I’m not going to repeat myself yet again. If you’re interested in learning WHY I think ‘Nils Lofgren’ is the best Rock ‘N’ Roll album cover and how I think it probably inspired my own ‘Statue Of Liberty’ picture [see photo at the top of this blog!] you can read the older blog bits titled ‘Music’s All-Time 15 Best Album Covers’ and ‘Yakkin’ With Rock Stars Nils ‘N’ Norman’. (I’ll include links again at the bottom.)

OK, the “high” point has already been covered. That brings us to the other.


Richard Manuel was a member of The Band. He was primarily a keyboardist but he could play just about anything, including drums. He was also one of The Band’s songwriting vocalists.

[Richard Manuel is at the far left in this album cover photo.]

Unfortunately, on March 4, 1986, Richard Manuel committed suicide by hanging himself in a Florida motel bathroom. It seems the last drink Manuel ever consumed was Grand Marnier, as Levon Helm tells us in his book that when he entered Manuel’s room on that morning, there was an empty GraMar bottle on the dresser.

Now if that’s all there was to this, I wouldn’t have bothered composing a blog bit about it. You see, among the many other interesting things I learned by reading ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ is that Richard Manuel was a Grand Marnier hound!

[Warning: What’s coming next is rather sad.]

On page 246, Helm tells of how Manuel, at one point, moved into a bungalow on Zuma Beach in Malibu, near the Shangri-La recording studio. (My grade school, junior high school, and high school buddy Eric used to live just a few blocks from Shangri-La and I remember him showing it to me on one of my many weekend visits to his Malibu house.)

At any rate, Manuel’s Zuma Beach bungalow was originally a shed where TV’s talking horse Mr. Ed used to live. Levon writes: “We had Mr. Ed’s stable converted to a bungalow, and Richard moved in and basically stayed there for the next year, drinking seven or eight bottles of Grand Marnier...a day, relying on the sugar in the liqueur to keep his weight up.”

HOKEY-SMOKE! Seven or eight bottles a day? If I had seven or eight GLASSES of GraMar I’d be gassed! At 80-proof, Grand Marnier is the same strength as most whiskey, vodka, and tequila. Some hard alcohol is a little stronger, such as absinthe and most gin. But 80-proof is the standard “adult dose”. 7,8/80/7? (7 or 8 bottles of 80-proof 7 days a week?) Sheesh! It’s a wonder Manuel lived long enough to hang himself!

Levon later tells us that when they finally managed to get Manuel to move out of Mr. Ed’s Zuma Beach stable, it took “a couple of days to clean out the two thousand Grand Marnier bottles they found.”
[Page 277]

If only I could AFFORD that much GraMar! That stuffs ain’t cheap. I’ll tell you this much though: it’s a helluva high. I’m not surprised that Richard Manuel (and Nils Lofgren) liked it so much. The chemical reaction is different for everyone, of course, but various alcoholic drinks provide various effects.

Examples: Beer usually just makes me sluggish; tequila makes me crazy; wine and GraMar make me happy; gin just tastes good; and vodka . . . well, vodka, I just won’t touch the stuffs - that’s for Rooskies in Commieville.

So, anyway, now you know the Highs and the Lows of Grand Marnier in Rock ‘N’ Roll history.

Hmmm... "Thought I’d something more to say".

~ Stephen T. McCarthy


‘Music’s All-Time 15 Best Album Covers’

‘Yakkin’ With Rock Stars Nils ‘N’ Norman’

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.


julie fedderson said...

Tequila makes me wake up in closets naked. Which I guess isn't a bad thing, unless you aren't familiar with the closet. You need to write articles for a music mag, Stephen. Always enjoy your perspective.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Thanks, JULIE! ~
I would write them if they would pay me. [;o)}

Sounds like tequila makes you crazy too! Although perhaps not quite as crazy as it makes me: I would rather wake up naked in a closet than be awake all night in a Mexican jail.

The worst scenario of all, however, would be a combination of your tequila craziness and mine: Waking up naked in a Mexican jail! Now that would be way too...

Incidentally... although I knew few if any readers would catch it, the last line in this blog bit is also the last line in a song found on Pink Floyd's famous 'Dark Side Of The Moon' album. (I'm always tryin' to adhere to the theme. Ha!)

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Rae said...

I've rocked a rolled to a bit of Grand Mar in my younger days! Loved B-52's! Wow- that brings back memories of listening to the cover band at the Holiday Inn and feeling the "burn". hmmmm...Might just have to renew that friendship this Superbowl weekend...

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Just don't drink 7 or 8 bottles of the stuffs. That's what I would suggest you not do. Ha!

I like it best in this little silver cup I own. I drop in a couple big ice cubes, pour the GraMar over the ice and just let it sit awhile until it's chilled and nicely diluted. Mmmm-Mmmm, good! (Better'n Campbell's soup.)

Who you picking and/or rooting for in the Super Bowl?

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

That must of been 7 or 8 of those little airplane bottles. How can anyone drink 7 or 8 bottles in a day? I can barely get past 1 brandy snifter of the stuff. It sure is good though.

Wrote By Rote
Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

I know, right?! Sheesh! But I'm sure it wasn't airline bottles.

You know me, I'm not REALLY an A-List Lush! I just play one on... my blogs. Yeah, I could probably drink a few blokes under the table BUT... seven or eight bottles of 80-proof 7 days a week?!?! That makes me look like a teetotaler!

How does one keep from upchucking the previous bottles?

But Richard Manuel wasn't the only one. Warren Zevon was in his league as well, and so was Ernest Hemingway.

In fact, Hemingway may have been the worst of the lot. Decades ago I read somewhere that Hemingway drank SO MUCH and SO OFTEN that he literally was unable to fall asleep. It messed with his sleeping pattern so badly that for years he never slept a wink.

He learned that he could get by if he would just lie down with his eyes closed and rest for a couple hours at a time. Apparently he took a number of these "rest periods" throughout the day and managed to stay alive by that method.

But, damn! Wouldn't you think that at the point you literally were unable to sleep - EVER! - you'd figure out it was time to address the problem? Or, anyway, cut back to just 5 or 6 bottles of 80-proof per day?

I enjoy learning about dudes like that because, by comparison, it makes me appear to have everything under control.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'