Levon Helm passed away yesterday from throat cancer.

He had been wrestling with it for some time, but as often happens, it doubled back around and got him anyway.

Levon had a storybook career in music. He was the original singing drummer in rock; a founding member of  The Band, an extraordinarily eclectic project from the ’60’s. He was proficient on several instruments.

About ten years ago, he wrote a book called ” This Wheel’s On Fire” which documented the early years of his career through the Band period, and well beyond. Should you ever happen to read it, you will find any concurrent viewings of ” The Last Waltz” ( the Scorcese- directed documentary of their farewell tour) in an entirely unanticipated light.

But you’d have to be a dinosaur, and a pretty old one at that, to even care.

The Band was a completely eclectic mix of early American roots music, with a seasoning of blues, ragtime, sacred harp, gospel….everything under the sun. All written and performed with an undeniable early- American authenticity.

Especially since they were Canadian.

Except for Levon. He was from Arkansas.

And all this happened in the ’60’s, a time when music consisted generally of over- indulgent guitar players who would likely ramble on endlessly in a guitar solo until someone shot them.

The Band was my first experience of  musicians who wrote and performed songs purely for the song’s sake. That was quite a revelation to a fledgeling over-indulger like me.

Unfortunately, Robbie Robertson always tried to position himself as a hot guitar player ( hence much of the footage in “The Last Waltz”). He was not, and is not. The posturing was unnecessary and harmful, and had much to do with The Band’s demise.

But in spite of a few negatives, The Band had a spectacularly successful run, and were widely influential. As with all superlative songwriters, a Band song only needed to be heard once or twice to be eternally cemented into your brainstem. Since hearing this news, ” Daniel and the Sacred Harp” has been running in my head non-stop; that’s fine with me, it’s one of my favorites.

Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson.

Absolute timeless magic.

Richard and Rick have already passed on, now joined by Levon.

Rest in peace, brothers.

We who remain behind are much diminished.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is so why you need to say yes when I ask you…in the post I am writing but have not yet published!(hopefully today) Cryptic yes. But you are no stranger to that. LOL
    This is a lovely piece of writing. This may sound a tad morbid but I just had a memory remnant of a movie in which the main characer wrote obituaries….your words here – a result of a bad thing, is at once such a good thing. A heartfelt, well written testament to an individual, a band, an era, music and magic…..

  2. […] of a clark, scott or roger).  The roger btw has his own place of original verbocity called The Secessionist Rag (damn! the clues are […]

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