Goodbye to Levon Helm

If you don’t love the Band, you’re not a lover of music. Whatever genres you prefer, there is simply no denying the gorgeous soulful freewheeling and majestic sound of the Band, from Big Pink and the Basement tapes onward. Listening to the Band’s second  album  was a form of time travel, taking you to the civil war and creating an aching nostalgia for a time you never knew.

I loved all their voices. When we lost Richard Manuel to suicide, it was a terrible shock. When Rick Danko died, I knew it was the real end of the band. I once tried to say hi to him in a small club, but a security guy pushed me out of the way. Rick looked a little nuts that night, and sang alone next to a boombox playing the Band’s music. But his voice was as plaintive as ever. It was an honor to see him.

Back in the day, I saw the Band perform at the Royal Albert Hall. They had just started playing when my sister was  seized  with violent stomach cramps and I had to go with her to the ladies room. I could hear the band singing while she tried to throw up. It was taking forever and I didn’t want to miss “Unfaithful Servant.”

I had to take charge. “Okay”, I said to her.” Think about raw eggs. Think about dead birds on toast.” She threw up and we ran back to our seats. The show was fantastic.

The next time I saw the Band, they were playing with Dylan at the Forum in Los Angeles. I went with my former husband. As we took our seats, a guy next to me graciously offered me a joint. Soon, I was on another planet, ecstatic throughout the entire concert. Walking to the car, I remember floating slightly above the ground.

The Band has always been there for me. Their music will endure but saying goodbye to Levon Helm is really rough. He was a man who just wanted to play music and  tried  his best not to give in to cancer.

“Whispering Pines” is one of my favorite Band songs, a bittersweet mournful ballad that pierces your heart with its beautiful soaring harmonies. There is longing but also a sense of acceptance. I hope Levon has reached the other side and he’s saving a place for me.

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6 Responses to Goodbye to Levon Helm

  1. Stephanie says:

    They were my favorite Band.
    I saw them in concert more often
    than any other back in the day.
    I had the honor this week of doing
    an L H under a little pink house on
    another big-time Band fan.
    Thanks for your lovely memories.
    Inky x’s

  2. Ann says:

    Best obituary I’ve ever read.

  3. mudwerks says:

    an excellent post…I love your reminiscences

  4. Tallulah Eulallie says:

    My fiance’s mother, Carolyn, grew up with Levon; he was a good friend of her older brother. When I asked her what he was like, she replied, “He is every bit as beautiful as his music.” Sadly, we lost our sweet Carolyn a year ago yesterday. When Levon gets to where he’s going, he’ll have an old friend waiting for him.

  5. Winterbird says:

    I cried when I learned that Levon Helm passed. The Band got me through so much in my life. Levon lived ten years longer than the doctors told him he would. But in the final analysis, he was too beautiful for this world. R.I.P.

  6. Pete says:

    That’s a very touching note about The Band. I agree. It was a really sad day when Levon Helm died. I’ve loved their music since first hearing it many years ago. I recall watching The Last Waltz back in college, in a big auditorium at UCSB. First time I realized what they were all about. Big Pink is almost always on my rotation.
    Take care of yourself…

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