Tuesday, April 17, 2012

VIRGIL CAINE IS MY NAME AND I SERVED ON THE DANVILLE TRAIN: The sad news out of the Internets is that Levon Helm, drummer and vocalist for the Band, is in the last stages of a battle with cancer. I realize that there are all kinds of cultural issues surrounding it, but for my money, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is one of the most powerful songs in rock history, a song whose narrator's regret is matched seamlessly with Helm's vocal. There are only a few songs that I can count on to give me goosebumps and a shiver in my spine, actual literal goosebumps and a literal shiver, if I haven't heard them in a long enough time, and that's one of them.

ETA: on the way home, it occurred to me that part of what makes that song unusual is its perspective. There are a million songs about fighting wars, and no shortage of songs about winning them. There aren't too many songs about what it feels like to lose a war, and that song occupies the field in the way that few songs can monopolize a topic.

But that's praise for Levon Helm the musician, not Levon Helm the man, so let me quote @chrrisswartout: "when my BF got cancer Levon was so kind. Sent him a lovely letter with his # and told him to call anytime 24/7. He said that he got scared at nighttime and so he could call whenever he wanted."


  1. Adam C.12:31 AM

    Well put.  I'm saddened to think that Levon isn't getting - so far as I know - the same sort of richly deserved last lap that Warren Zevon had.  He had such a sweet, soulful voice before cancer hit, and a mensch like him will be missed, for plenty of good reasons.

  2. bill.6:35 AM

    Elvis Costello & the Imposters are joined by Ray LaMontagne, Levon Helm, Nick Lowe, Richard Thompson, Larry Campbell and Allen Toussaint for The Band's The Weight

  3. lisased8:41 AM

    Thanks for that link. I was one of those kids in the '80s who liked classic rock more than the stuff on the radio. I've been a fan of The Band for a long time, and "The Weight" is one of my favorite songs.

    I'm the kind of girl who sees a lot of folk/Americana/nluegrass live, and I've seen "The Weight" covered more times than I can count. It brings a smile to my face every time.  I fell in love with one band (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers) the minute they did that song a capella, grinning and grouped in a circle. You could tell they were enjoying themselves.  

    I meant to go to Helm's farm and witness a Midnight Ramble, one of his concert jams in his barn, but now it looks like I missed my chance. Levon will make a good contribution to the jam band in the sky.

    <p>(About the link -- I've always had a soft spot for Elvis. I would never have imagined him singing with Ray LaMontagne, but now I want them to tour together.)

  4. lisased8:48 AM

    One of my avorite Levon moments outside of music: His cameo in "Shooter", a guilty pleasure starring Mark Wahlberg as a sniper who gets involved in a conspiracy. Helm played a guy you go to when you want to know about secrets, and he made me laugh out loud.

    http://www.youtube.com/v/mn60YWO218k" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="170" height="140

  5. Tosy and Cosh9:02 AM

    liased - then I assume you've heard my favorite cover, by Cassandra Wilson?

    http://www.youtube.com/v/x26I1EHGgmI" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="170" height="140

  6. Tosy and Cosh9:07 AM

    Just wanted to thank Isaac for reminding me that I have this song on my iPod and never listen to it. That is being rectified as we speak.

  7. lisased10:53 AM

    I had not. I love the percussion. Thanks for sharing!

  8. The Other Kate11:02 AM

    Thanks for this! I'd forgotten about Levon's marvelous film work. He's just wonderful as Loretta's Daddy in Coal Miner's Daughter and as Chuck Yaeger's buddy in The Right Stuff. ("Whang 'er down!")

  9. Marsha11:23 AM

    Can't say I ever knew the name Levon Helm before this post, but I dearly love "The Weight" as well. Something about the opening to that song is just the perfect little anticipatory moment, and the groove just works for me. But more importantly, that tweet you quoted is extremely endearing and makes me wish I'd known him before this. I hope he finds a painless and fear-free transition to the other side.

  10. isaac_spaceman12:44 PM

    It's not Levon Helm, but one can always make me crack up by saying "wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man." 

  11. isaac_spaceman12:44 PM

    Did not know that was Helm in The Right Stuff

  12. Hannah Lee9:02 PM

    That was awesome.  Thanks for sharing that link  (and I'd love to be able to purchase that recording...it would go into heavy rotation on my iPod, I think)

  13. lisased9:46 PM

    Surely Raylan Givens has paraphrased that at some point? I can just hear Timothy Olyphant drawling.