This certainly wasn’t the post that I expected to be writing today, perhaps out of blind faith, knowing damn well that Levon Helm was in the final stages of his battle with lung cancer. Maybe I was just holding out hope that I’d finally make it to one his famous Rambles at the Beacon. Either way, this is an extremely sad day for us here at Goodbye Babylon HQ, me in particular.
Growing up in our household, The Band was an institution. Most people find The Band through Bob Dylan. I found Bob Dylan through The Band. A lot of people think of Robbie Robertson as the genius behind The Band, and while there is certainly an argument there, I always favored Levon Helm and Richard Manuel. A lot of that had to do with Mom educating me on the music, but a lot of it also had to do with the way The Last Waltz went down behind the scenes. I also happen to have the utmost respect for anyone who can take on lead vocals whilst handling the demanding task of drumming. If you know how hard it is to play guitar and sing, then you have a very real appreciation for any drummers that take lead vocals (and yes, that includes Phil Collins).
Two of my all-time favorite live moments involve The Band. One was when I got the distinct pleasure of going to see Levon Helm’s band play the Norfolk Music Shed in Norfolk, CT. It’s a small wooden structure that feels very rustic, has amazing acoustics, and we were there for Levon’s 57th birthday. They even broke up the set to bring out a cake and we all sang Happy Birthday to the legend. It was a special night. And of course, I was there with the woman that introduced me to The Band – my Mom. The other live moment – again in ’97 and again with my Mom – came during the Counting Crows Recovering the Satellites tour. The Wallflowers were the support for the tour and were big enough following the release of Bringing Down the Horse that they warranted an encore as the opener. Jakob Dylan came out and talked about how important The Band was to his musical upbringing and said he wanted to pass that on to the young crowd before launching into an unbelievable rendition of ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. It’s amazing now looking back to think that these two moments happened within a 2 month time span.
I don’t talk to my Mom as much as I should, though I talk to her more than most people that I know talk to their mothers. So, when I saw my mobile ringing with her number and face showing on the display at 4:00pm today, while I was reading all about the news, I answered the phone and said, “Mom, I’m reading it right now”. I love and will miss Levon for his huge impact that he had on me and music as a whole, but I love him even more for providing me two of my all time favorite live music moments, both with my Mom, and both stories that will surely be passed down to my kids when I play them The Last Waltz for the first time, whenever that day comes.
Levon Helm, you shall be released. May your kind and badass soul rest in peace.