Ah Levon. The pain is only now subsiding. Since hearing of his impending death two Tuesdays ago, I have been weepy at the drop of a pin. When you know one of your heroes is soon leaving this earth, and you know there is no other opportunity to delight in their presence, the sadness is hugely overwhelming. For me, Levon was like a John Lennon or Jerry Garcia to older generations. While I love Lennon and Garcia with every nerve in my body, Levon was a music hero I could see, he was a face to the music that for me was instantly classic. Levon Helm, as a drummer, singer, mandolin and harmonica player, as a man he was a huge inspiration to me, and when I came to understand the man who defined classic rock for me was still alive and making incredible music, my world felt complete, and I dove whole-heartedly into an never-ending obsession with The Band. Yes, this infatuation did in fact pre-date my intense relationship with Phish. Some may call it a precursor. Some may call it twisted. I call it a blessing.
Scotty Bernstein of Hidden Track fully and completely understand my feelings, as do many thousands of music fans around the globe. As a way to relieve our pain, he suggested the writing staff of HT submit their favorite Levon memory with a video. Our submissions can be found here and I highly recommend reading through these heartfelt stories.
Here’s mine, originally published on Hidden Track on 4/20/2012.
Levon Helm had one of the most comforting voices in classic American music. Alongside John Lennon, Levon’s old buddy Bob Dylan, and Aretha Franklin, his raspy, genuine, soul-filled voice is easily recognized and instantly soothing. As a child, I would listen to The Band’s Greatest Hits album over and over, belting out The Weight until I got the solo version of the “and, and, and…” chorus to sound exactly like all five of them.
In college, I wrote an entire paper breaking down why The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down was the best song ever written, and behind pretty much every reasoning stood The Band’s solid and strong drummer. I started to realize that Levon was at the core of all of my favorite songs, that he was the voice of this sound that defined music for me, and upon understanding just how influential this one artist had been on me, I had found my first truly favorite band.
Once I watched The Last Waltz, I was fully sucked into the past of The Band. There’s no YouTube clip of it, but my favorite scene is where Scorsese is talking to Levon and Robbie about their first time in New York City. The smile that comes across Levon’s face when he speaks about the whirlwind of Manhattan was the first thing I saw when I finally caught him live, and that joyful, innocent face will be burned in my memory for the rest of time. Rest in Peace, Levon. You were so deeply loved.
This was the last time I saw my musical hero, but this moment will live on in my heart forever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8lXBC66lMgQ