Levon Helm died on Thursday and I’m still trying to process this fact. I think I’m in denial. He was the heart (and balls) of The Band, a loose, funky timekeeper who possessed a glorious redneck howl. Helm’s genius was that his rock ‘n’ roll singing was totally rooted in country, and yet his drumming was straight up Memphis-New Orleans R&B. In that sense, he was the living embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll, a one-man bridge between southern black and white culture.
Beyond his musical ability, though, Levon Helm was one of the coolest, most genuine people who ever lived. He was everyone’s best friend, humble and gracious to a fault, with a croaky drawl of a voice that seemed to welcome everyone to the party. People like this aren’t easy to replace.
I’ll have a more developed piece on Helm next week, but I felt like I had to address his passing and pay appropriate homage. While I could embed a video from The Last Waltz or the making of “Up On Cripple Creek,” I think I’ll save that. Besides, this short film from a few years does an excellent job of showcasing the down home, unpretentious appeal of this most southern of gentlemen. Rest in peace, Levon.