The news that came like a sledgehammer that Levon Helm was in the final stages of cancer and was not long for this world. It was a scant two days later that he was gone. As the drummer for The Band and the voice that gave us “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “The Weight” and so many others, even if you think you didn’t know him, you knew him. I saw him (and The Band) for the first time at The Last Waltz, their final concert as the original Band. I saw him a few years later at The Saddle Rack in San Jose at a gig that was marketed as the second coming of The Band. The pure joy this man put out is undeniable.
He always reminds me of the George Carlin joke about taking a group of 4 Irishmen and adding a Black guy, the Irishmen will sound Black in about 5 minutes but the Black guy will never try to be Irish. He was one guy from Arkansas with four Canadians yet the group sounded like it was from Little Rock.
I could go on and on about his influence on me, on music and the like. I’ll leave it at this: He played music as hard as he could as long as he could. When he was diagnosed with throat cancer in the late ’90s, he underwent treatments that left doctors wondering if he’d speak again let alone sing. He proved them all wrong by singing again because he had to. He had to.
This clip is not The Band. It’s Levon after the cancer that eventually took him from us was originally treated. This is Levon at, by his own admission, 80%. Listen to the joy. The commitment. I’d take 1%,
You’ll be missed, Levon.