Thursday, April 19, 2012

RIP Levon Helm 1940-2012

It's hard to say that Levon Helm's passing was anything but inevitable. The man was 71 years old and had been battling throat cancer. It's hard to act shocked when a man of his years who has lived the rich life he did passes away after a long bout with a terminal disease. Of course I feel for his family and those close to him. He will absolutely be missed. He was releasing fantastic albums as recently as 3 years ago, so nobody could say he had nothing left to give. I'm just trying to put into perspective the fact that he was a rock star who lived the rock star life all through the 60's and 70's when life on the road was literally killing people (something Robbie Robertson made a great statement about in The Last Waltz) and The Band had contemporaries flaming out before their 30's. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel lived relatively long lives for rock stars (56 and 42 respectively) and Levon Helm outlived them by a couple decades.

Maybe I'm getting off on the wrong foot. I just didn't want to start this with any false indignation about Levon Helms' death. I can't say that I'm shocked and I can't say that it truly affects me like it would if a close friend or family member passed. I'm trying not to co-opt the pain that will surely be felt by his closest friends and family.

As a longtime fan of The Band, I do feel some sadness at his passing. The Band got me through some very hard times. Music From Big Pink and The Band literally carried me through the roughest parts of my life thus far. It's hard to put into words just what The Band has done for me. It transcends the music itself and the men who made it. I just have a very personal connection with those first two records, and I will always be grateful that I had them when I needed them. Levon Helm was a crucial part of the band (it's odd to refer to them as the band and not by their name: The Band. It's grammatically correct, but it's still weird). He was the only American in a band otherwise made up of Canadians who had a fascination with the American South. His voice was unmistakable and honest. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that he was a singing drummer. That's not an easy thing to do, but he made it look easy. He also played a mean mandolin and held his own on the banjo. He was a man who loved to make music and he did it right up until his body wouldn't let him do it anymore. His passion and his unique musical talent will be missed. The body of work he leaves behind has already been a powerful force for good in my life and will continue to do so. I always thought Levon Helm seemed like a really nice guy and an all-around decent human being. He is being described as a "beautiful soul" by those who knew him best, so I at least take solace in the fact that if I had ever met Levon, I would have liked him as a person. As I said, my heart goes out to his family and close friends. He will be missed, but his music will live on.

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