Take a load off, Levon.
Levon Helm died today. There will be many eloquent eulogies written over the next few days and rightfully so. There have been few bands as truly gifted as The Band.
While Robbie Robertson might have been “the heart” of The Band, Levon Helm was indeed The Soul. It’s late so I won’t take you down the whole path that is The Band. If you don’t know them, get thee to a nunnery – or at least iTunes right now (especially, you War Babies). Just download “The Last Waltz.” Better yet, get the movie and you can see – and hear – what Scorsese captured on that day in November of ’76. A few weeks ago, I was in bed flipping through some mindless TV and came across “The Last Waltz.” It’s the concert version of those Saturday afternoon TBS movies that if you stumble across them, well, you’re stuck there til the end (e.g. “A Few Good Men, ” Shawshank,” “Roadhouse.”). Though I had seen it many times, there I was again. Even M Sweeper put down her book and watched.
Dredd claims Prince is a guitar “dolphin” – well, this was a band of dolphins. All frighteningly talented musicians who made truly beautiful, genre defying music. In the world of folk-rock, Americana, alt-country (or whatever you want to call it), they are the Alpha to Wilco’s Omega.
And Levon sat back there behind his simple wood-hooped drum kit singing songs – stories really – that made you want to cry. Unsurprisingly, I have a soft spot for his drumming. It was simple, effective, never busy. And these stories could be told only through his voice.
I was going to start embedding great clips, but found this Time article from a few hours ago with the very ones I would show:
- “Up on Cripple Creek” And we are all lucky when we find our own Bessie….”If I spring a leak she defends me.”
- “The Weight” (with The Staple Singers)….”You put the load right on me.” (a Third F sentiment if I have ever heard one).
- “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”….”You take what you need and you leave the rest, but they never should have taken the very best.” It always gets a little dusty in the room then.
- “Caravan” – this isn’t in the Time article, but here. Probably my favorite Van Morrison tune and the greatest version ever.
Levon was 71 and had cancer. The Band had long broken up with a long simmering feud over songwriting royalties. Years later, Levon moved back to Woodstock and actually put out two Grammy winning albums on his own. But he will always be in The Band. He was The Band.
So Godspeed, Levon.
The bells are ringing. The people are singing.