Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm, Take a Load Off. You Deserve It, Brother.

Another sad day in the rock music world. 

In "Who Can It Be Now?" news from "Down Under," the saxophone player from Men at Work was found dead today of unknown causes. Greg Ham. Possibly from eating too many Vegemite sandwiches. 

I'll do my Dick Clark memorial later.  That's more complicated.

(I hate to digress in a tribute-to-a-great-drummer post, but I just did, and Levon, I'm sorry.)

And he shall be Levon. And he shall be a good man.

Will Hermes of NPR said of The Band's Levon Helm today, upon Helm's passing at age 71 from throat cancer:

"Helm played his Promethean grooves, those superpowered shuffles with their wicked backbeats and ever-shifting focus, the kind of flesh-and-blood timekeeping even the most brilliant drum programmer will never match."

And a drummer who could play and sing at the same time! Not every drummer can do that, certainly not I. (I mean, I've tried, and I always lose my place in the groove.) 

Levon Helm did shift, seamlessly, and his fills weren't fancy, or over-the-top-Moonie-style, for he was, at heart, a folkie. He held his sticks properly, underhanded, unlike, well, a lot of the rest of us who play rock/pop (save for Stewart Copeland).  

I'm so glad I got to see "The Last Waltz" on the big screen with someone who also really appreciated the sometimes soft, sometimes spiritual, always played-with-heart music of The Band, even if "The Last Waltz" wasn't their most stellar concert performance. For posterity's sake, it's more than a Scorsese coked-out chunk of film of a band long past their heyday. 

Levon continued to drum, sing and even act well through middle age once he successfully completed his first rounds of cancer treatment, at first to pay off medical bills he wracked up. Soon, those musical get-togethers he'd hold in the barn on his property in upstate NY would become notorious for their integration of some of today's most prominent artists (i.e. Elvis Costello), both classics and emerging youngsters, who all thought of Levon as a demi-god. The gatherings were called "Rambles." In between rambling, he won some Grammys, put out some albums, took his show on the road but otherwise was just a dude out in the country. 

Once Levon was in end-stage cancer, his wife and daughter put the news on his official Facebook fan page, and encouraged fans and friends to leave their prayers, remembrances and well-wishes on his journey Home. His wife promised to read each and every one of them to him out loud, so he could see how much he was loved and appreciated. Sadly, I just saw that yesterday and posted my comment and favorite The Band moment, but I'm afraid I was too late.

I've posted "The Weight" before on my blog, I think, around the time I went to see it at the Music Box. Today, I'm choosing a Rick Danko (who died some time ago) led tune, "It Makes No Difference," for it suits my mood and outlook today. 

"It makes no diff'rence how far I go
Like a scar the hurt will always show
It makes no diff'rence who I meet
They're just a face in the crowd
On a dead-end street
And the sun don't shine anymore
And the rains fall down on my door

These old love letters
Well, I just can't keep
'Cause like the gambler says
Read 'em and weep
And the dawn don't rescue me no more..."

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