Ever since I read, a couple days ago, that Levon Helm of the band The Band was near death, I got in a very reflective mood, fueled in part by others’ reaction to the news. One of my colleagues, who has seen him perform in recent years, was already in mourning. Another, who had seen The Band perform in their heyday, was walking around the office singing “The Weight;” “I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead; I just need some place where I can lay my head.” I’ve known this person nearly two decades, but this was a side of him I had never seen. He noted that he played his copy of The Band’s eponymous second album, the brown-covered one, so often that his college roommates needed to switch rooms to get away from that music. He had to buy the LP a couple times, because he wore the first copy out.
I have similar love for that album. I remember that my friend Karen turned me onto it in high school. In fact, she was the editor of the high school yearbook, and she replaced one of the pictures of the school band with a photo of The Band. Those first four albums, including Stage Fright and Cahoots, I played a LOT in college. In fact, the house where Music from Big Pink, the first Band album, was recorded was not that far from my girlfriend’s (the Okie) parents’ home.
Conversely, a couple of our young interns didn’t even know who The Band was, and I felt obliged, nay, compelled, to share this bit of Americana with them, playing some songs on YouTube, such as The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Rag, Mama, Rag. I told them that MARTIN SCORSESE filmed their farewell tour as “The Last Waltz.” I noted that they used to back Bob Dylan – they DID know who Dylan was. Elton John named his song Levon after The Band’s drummer, Levon Helm.
Levon, moreover, was the voice behind so many of those Band songs. I remember seeing this clip on CBS Sunday Morning back in 2007, when he was recovering from throat cancer and put out some albums, the first two of which I own, Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt.
I only regret that I never had a chance to go to one of his Midnight Rambles, a series of fundraisers to help defray the massive cost of his medical procedures. See the unbridled joy expressed only last month as the legendary Band drummer recounts stories from his long career and rambles through two classics.
The Weight – The Band from Woodstock
Up On Cripple Creek – The Band from The Last Waltz
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down – The Band from The Last Waltz
Poor Old Dirt Farmer – Levon Helm
And in the “apple doesn’t fall from the tree” division:
I Am Waiting – Ollabelle, featuring Amy Helm, Levon’s daughter, on this Rolling Stones cover
Levon Helm, Drummer and Singer of the Band, Dead at 71
Whip to Grave: Levon Helm, the Real Voice of America
The Band cover story on Coverville