TRUMP BAD! Yawn, right? This is the type of headline you could find on The Borowitz Report — in fact, you might find it on there later. Anyway, Trump is a dumpster and he is in India today visiting their Taj Mahal and his own Trump Taj Mahal casino went bankrupt a few years ago, and putting together those facts was very clever of me and will be clever of The New Yorker later today when they do it. Yada yada yada.
But what I really want to talk about is the band The Band. They’re probably best known as being Dylan’s touring band after he went electric, but they were an incredible group in their own right and uniquely featured five absolute musical geniuses who shared songwriting, singing, and multi-instrumental duties. I saw a documentary about them over the weekend that was told primarily through an interview with their de facto leader Robbie Robertson. It was good and featured amazing live performances of the group, but was ultimately so focused on Robertson (who produced it) and his “leadership” within the group that it didn’t give viewers a real understanding of what made The Band so dynamic: That there were no weak links in the band. That each member was as important as the next.
I keep thinking about the documentary and am bothered because it’s an attempt by Robertson to tell a one-sided story about the group that steals away the stories and contributions of his (now mostly dead) bandmates. It is a film that only benefits his legacy and his ability to profit off of The Band’s catalog in the same transparent way the Queen movie hid all of the things that made Freddie Mercury interesting in order to market Queen to the next generation.
Maybe this all isn’t a bad thing because the story of The Band as told by Robbie Robertson and the story of Queen as told by its remaining members is certainly more accessible and friendly than the reality. But also maybe it is bad. Very bad. History is told by the winners, and Robertson and the Queen fellows won by living long enough to tell an uncontradicted story about their groups that transforms their complicated stories into blemish-free marketing tools for their brands.
Donald Trump is the President, but is also a brand who has demonstrated a willingness to portray an image of himself as President or populist or businessman that we know has no connection to reality. So what is there to do to make sure the history of Trump’s atrocities — the children in cages, the anti-democratic corruption, the xenophobia– does not get sanded over with time? If history is written by the winners — and Trump uncontrovertibly keeps winning — are we destined to take our kids to Donald J. Trump elementary schools in the future? Not if we commit ourselves to remember what is happening and what this feels like now. This is an instance where us losers need to be the ones that ultimately tell his story.