________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 39 . . . . June 12, 2015


Rock & Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story.

Sebastian Robertson. Illustrated by Adam Gustavson.
New York, NY: Henry Holt (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2014.
40 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-8050-9473-2.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Jeff Nielsen.

*** /4


Summers, holidays, and many weekends were spent at the Six Nations Indian Reservation where Robbie's mother had been born and raised. Robbie and his mom would take a two-hour bus ride from Toronto up to the reservation. It was here that it all began; it was here where the rhythm, melodies and storytelling of Robbie's First nations relatives captured his imagination.


Rock n' roll scion Sebastian Robertson has followed up his book, Legends Icons and Rebels: Music That Changed The World, with one that focuses solely on his father, Robbie Robertson, a member of The Band. While a broad timeline is included at the back of Rock & Roll Highway, as it was in Legends Icons and Rebels, the book sticks to Robbie's life from birth to the break-up of The Band in 1976. The story is told in episodes, all titled after Robertson songs, that marry gorgeous and lush illustrations by Adam Gustavson with detailed biographical paragraphs.

     The narrative is of a young Jewish-Mohawk man who loves stories and music. Readers journey with Robertson through his first guitar, his first exposure to rock & roll, his first meetings with Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. Readers also follow the steps that Robertson, together with The Band, took from Big Pink to LA to Watkins Glen to The Winterland Ballroom where the camera of Martin Scorsese immortalized their journey's end.

     The paintings of Gustason carry the story perfectly. The vivid colours throughout and the sudden shifts in perspective, particularly a scene where readers find themselves looking out from the inside of a Martin D28 guitar with Robertson staring in to find inspiration on the words written inside. Such attention to detail and perspective give new life to a tale familiar to many.

     While Mr. Robertson the younger does the narrative of his father justice, there are times when the paragraphs threaten to overwhelm the images. The text, well-written as it is, feels like part of a work for older children while the images appeal to a broader variety of ages. Perhaps that was Robertson's intention, but it may limit the book's appeal to younger readers.

     If one question has bedevilled those who try to chronicle The Band, it has been "who is at the centre of the story"? For Martin Scorsese, Sebastian Robertson and many a rock critic, the answer has been that Robbie Robertson was the linchpin of The Band. This cuts against the original narrative of The Band as a singular organic unit who sang, played and wrote as an ensemble. The book struggles with this issue, but, being as it is titled "Robbie Robertson's Story", not "The Band's Story", it's no surprise that the final image is of Robertson standing at centre stage while what readers can make out of his Band-mates are relegated to the edges of the image. Perhaps the story of The Band is too big for one small book; after all, Robertson needs a lot of text to do justice to just one Band member. Perhaps readers can look forward to books for a younger audience that so successfully tell the stories of Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko in the future.

     While such a beautiful book on such an important subject would certainly be a welcome addition to any classroom or library, the ideal audience for this is children old enough to read longer paragraphs but not embarrassed to be seen reading what looks like a picture book.


Jeff Nielsen teaches high school English in Ste. Anne, MN, and had been known to claim that "music ruined my life".

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

CM Home | Next Review | Table of Contents for This Issue - June 12, 2015 | Back Issues | Search | CM Archive | Profiles Archive