Levon Helm: May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012

The Band was one of the legendary groups that loomed very large in my childhood, and it was all because of Levon Helm. 

I’m a bit too young to be a first-generation fan — I can’t regale you with tales of seeing them back up Ronnie Hawkins or Bob Dylan.  No, I came to them via The Last Waltz when I was ten or so and they were on their way out the door.

Robbie Robertson was so damned cool with his scarf and his sport coat;  Rick Danko and Richard Manuel looked like the cool kids on the corner who smoked under the street lights. I thought Garth Hudson was Beau Bridges hiding behind a fake beard. 

And back there on the drum kit was Levon, who looked like the old-timers in my upstate South Carolina world.  Listening to him wail “The Weight” or “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” felt right.  It felt like the South that I wanted to live in rather than the one I did.

For me that was the magic of Levon Helm — he tapped a vein that went back generations.  He didn’t have a voice of an angel but of all the angels, the devils, the guilty, and the innocent;  the weight of our collective history channeled through that smoky, weary voice.

I don’t care how many times I hear it:  This is pure goosebump music, and it always will be.

5 replies »

  1. That just pulled up an extremely faded mental snapshot of my mother, thinking she was alone in her office singing along to this and swaying with her eyes closed, unaware that her 7-year-old was hiding in the closet watching her with awed, unconditional adoration.


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