Friday, April 20, 2012

The Right Stuff: Levon Helm (May 26, 1940-April 19, 2012)

Levon Helm, the drummer for The Band and the voice of the group's biggest hits "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "The Weight," passed away yesterday from throat cancer.   In addition to being a musician, Levon was also an actor in movies, most notably The Right Stuff with Sam Shepard and Coal Miner's Daughter with Sissy Spacek.

Levon's death comes exactly 32 years to the day after I met his fellow band mates Rick Danko (1943-1999) and Richard Manuel (1943-1986).  Partying with Rick and Richard after one of their gigs in Philadelphia was a big deal in my young life, as I was a bit of a rock and roll groupie.  The Band itself had disbanded back in 1977 after their famous Last Waltz concert in San Francisco.  Rick and Richard cobbled together a group and hit the road again in 1980.  Levon would join forces with the pair a few years later, but in 1980 he was working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  Alas, I never had the pleasure of meeting Levon in person.

I became acquainted with Levon and The Band from Martin Scorsese's movie, The Last Waltz, which I watched on HBO over winter break back in my sophomore year of college.  I loved Levon, who came across as a real bad ass.  Years later while reading This Wheel's on Fire, Levon's book about his life with--and without--The Band, I learned the reason behind Levon's anger, which comes across so clearly on film.  And, if you want to know, get the movie and watch it, and get the book and read it.  After seeing The Last Waltz I was hooked on The Band and quickly bought up all of their records.  The Band became second only to The Beatles in my rock and roll heart.  To read more about Levon, go to his website.

Incidentally, this is really weird, but a year ago today I wrote about the passing of Michael Sarrazin, who died on April 19, 2012, exactly one year before Levon passed on; Michael was born just four days before Levon.

Amazon links:
The Last Waltz (Special Edition)
The Last Waltz [Blu-ray]
This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band
Across the Great Divide: The Band and America
The Last Waltz
Music From Big Pink
The Band
Rock of Ages
The Basement Tapes

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