Saturday Single No. 287

The news, as I would guess most readers here will know by now, came from the family of Levon Helm last Tuesday, April 17:

Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey . . .

Thank you, fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration . . . he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage . . .

And Thursday, April 19, there was a simple message at Helm’s website, under a picture of a smiling Levon posed at the edge of a cornfield, a portrait taken during the photo session for his 2007 album, Dirt Farmer. The message read: 

Levon Helm passed peacefully this afternoon. He was surrounded by family, friends and band mates and will be remembered by all he touched as a brilliant musician and a beautiful soul.

Since then, I’ve read fifteen, maybe twenty tributes to the man and accounts of his life. I can no longer separate my thoughts about Levon Helm from those I’ve garnered from everything I’ve read this week. (The best of those pieces is by Charles P. Pierce at the website of Esquire magazine; my pal jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ pointed me there.) So I fear repetition or, worse yet, thievery as I write this morning.

I was lucky enough to see Levon perform three times: The first time, in 1989, found him one of the members of Ringo’s first All-Starr Band; he and fellow Band-mate Rick Danko did a superlative performance of “The Weight” with solos from Dr. John  on piano and Clarence Clemons on saxophone. Twice, then, during the 1990s, I saw the latter version of The Band – Levon, Rick and Garth Hudson fleshed out with Richard Bell, Randy Ciarlante and Jim Weider – at the Cabooze in Minneapolis.

Given those memories, and given my long-time affection for the music Levon made with The Band and on his own, his passing this week touched me in a manner that, among musicians, only the passing of John Lennon in 1980 and Clarence Clemons last year had done. Thursday evening’s red-eyed soundtrack here in my study came from Levon Helm, with and without The Band.

Many posts ago, I noted here that The Band was recording and performing the music we now call Americana long before anyone appended that label to the music. That holds true for all of Levon’s music, of course, and every time he played and sang, he reminded us of who we are in this land, and he reminded us of our connection to that land and to each other, things we seem to have forgotten.

Here’s Levon, joined by his daughter Amy, with the final track from Dirt Farmer, “Wide River To Cross.” It’s today’s Saturday Single.

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One Response to “Saturday Single No. 287”

  1. Big Cheeze says:

    The music never dies.

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