Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm, 1940 - 2012

Born and bred in Arkansas, he was the sole American amidst a bunch of guys from Southern Ontario, all of them deeply enamoured of American musical traditions, and the second eldest in a group so utterly seduced by the romance of the deep past. Yet no matter how old-timey the Band's image and musical roots their songs could just as easily conjure horny young man's escapades as the consolation of front porches or scenes from the Civil War. I don't know quite why I've always imagined Levon Helm as the protagonist in so many of the Band's songs, even ones he didn't sing. Helm going to the race track, mounting the scaffolds, chopping wood. It sends an extra ache through me to think of him gone, makes the songs recede just a little into sepia... Well over a decade with throat cancer and then suddenly, at least suddenly for most of us, dead at 71, still shy of the age of the narrator of 'Rocking Chair.' He was active for so much of that time that I can't help but feel a little shocked... Forget what I said about sepia; the music sounds so alive to me still. 

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