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Kids and Teen Blog

Tag: Robbie Robertson

The Storyteller’s Son: Sebastian Robertson

by Alisha
Kids + Music / October 21, 2014

 

As the bus pulled off the dirt road of the reservation to the pavement of the highway back to Toronto, Robbie would stare out the window, waving good-bye. "Hey, Ma, I wanna be the storyteller one day."

Sebastian Robertson, a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, lives in Los Angeles where he works as a composer. He has written music for major television series and is the head writer for a music library, We the People, which he owns and operates. More recently, he has become an author with the publication of Legends, Icons & Rebels in 2013 and more recently, Rock and Roll Highway: The Robbie Robertson Story. His new title, released today, is a heartwarming tribute to his father, Robbie Robertson, the famed songwriter and guitarist who discovered his love of music and storytelling on a First Nations reservation in southern Ontario. Dedicated, talented and driven to succeed, Robertson rose quickly through the ranks to perform alongside rock-and-roll legends as a teenager. Written for children ages 6 to 11, Rock and Roll Highway is a story that will inspire young and old alike. In an e-mail interview yesterday, Sebastian shared his thoughts on music, reading, and his relationship with a Canadian legend.

Your close relationship with your father is evident in the telling of his life story. How much were you influenced, if at all, by your father’s reputation, when you were young? As a successful composer and musician in your own right, how have you been able to carve out your own identity, separate yet complementary to his own?

As a kid I didn’t really understand my father’s fame or profession all that well. By the time I was born he had ceased touring and he really kept his work life and home life separate. I just thought it was really cool when people would ask for his autograph. That gave me a sense of pride. As far as my own work is concerned I forged a new path in an area of music that is separate from my dad. Not on purpose, but because I was pulled in another direction and found it to be the most fulfilling for me. However, he’s an amazing guy to be able to bounce ideas off of and we’ve collaborated on a number of projects.

One of the most powerful moments depicted in Rock and Roll Highway is your father’s decision, as a teen, to sell his beloved guitar and amplifier in order to buy a bus ticket and join Ronnie Hawkins in the American south. His sense of mission, and at such a young age, is unusual but I am intrigued by the amount of synchronicity, almost destiny, that plays out in the book. It’s as if Robbie was always at the right place at the right time and that fate was always one step ahead of him. But when did Robbie first know, really know, that music would be his life’s work?

My dad spent a lot of time with his mother’s relatives and they were terrific storytellers and quite musical too. He was bitten by the music bug and immediately knew he was going to completely give himself to the process. At the age of nine, he got his first guitar and after a few lessons, he taught himself the rest. This clearly is an unusual amount of commitment and discipline for a young boy but it speaks to his talent and success.

Your previous book, Legends, Icons & Rebels, profiles the musical legacies of popular music's most influential voices, and is accompanied by two CDs that include recordings by Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, and many others. The book, aimed at pre-teens, was recently nominated for a 2015 Red Maple Non-Fiction award. (Congratulations!) With the publication of Rock and Roll Legend, you appear to be carving a path for yourself as a writer of music history books for young people. Where does your desire to preserve—and celebratemusical history originate from? And why young people (as opposed to an adult audience)?

First off I’m honored by the nomination and also that I have the opportunity to share an art form with those I believe to be the most open minded, honest and interesting peoples of our world, children. When I play music for my son, Donovan who is nine, he approaches it with no judgment or baggage, just curiosity. This allows him to appreciate everything from Curtis Mayfield, Billie Holiday to Iggy Azalea and M83. This is what I consider a perfect audience.

In the book, you describe the incredible support and love Robbie received from his relatives. At a young age, he and his mother would often visit the Six Nations Indian Reservation located two hours north of Toronto, his hometown. “It was here where it all began; it was here where the rhythm, melodies, and storytelling of Robbie’s First Nation relatives captured his imagination.” It’s apparent that his ancestral legacy played a part in developing his intense connection to music. What do you consider to be your father’s most important legacy? And as a musician and writer, and most importantly, as a father, what do you hope your legacy will be to your own son?

For me, his most important legacy will always be as a loving, kind, generous and devoted father. I’ll never forget his handcrafted, early morning western omelettes before a big 8:30 am little league game. I’ll never forget the compassion when I miss-stepped as boy and into my teens. My goal and my legacy are simple: To be the best friend, son, father and husband I can be.

In your own Q & A section at the back of Rock and Roll Highway, your father mentions a love of reading and particularly enjoyed the classics by Steinbeck and Faulkner when he was on the road. He also reveals he was inspired by these books, saying “…some of the songs I wrote were about historical times and events, and the reading I was doing really helped me paint pictures with the lyrics and expand my vocabulary.” How much of your own work as a television music composer is inspired by the books you read—and who are some of your favourite writers?

When I started out playing in bands, reading was an integral part of the writing process. I have always felt that you needed to read in order to write. I was greatly impacted by Steinbeck but also loved authors of “darker” literature, like Camus, and specifically enjoyed Hunger by Knut Hamsun, The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy and some of Aleister Crowley’s works. I suppose these books stay with you forever and impact any creative endeavor you give yourself to.