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.