The music community mourns a great loss today with the death of Levon Helm. I feel like I’ve lost a close friend. I can’t say that I knew Levon personally, but I think everyone that has had an encounter with him instantly feels like they’ve just made a friend for life. I first saw him in a dive bar in New Jersey in 2003, as a giddy and sobbing 20 year old who had just been turned on the The Last Waltz and couldn’t believe I was hearing that voice in person. He welcomed my friend and I backstage to sit and chat, offering us a drink, with his daughter Amy calming us down, and his concerned bandmates offering us accommodation, horrified that we were planning on sleeping in our car in the parking lot.
From that meeting on every time I saw Levon perform (7 times, including two Rambles), he would smile and wave, and say hello if I was close enough. He was always very humble and open, very appreciative of his fans.
Before I saw The Last Waltz, I had no appreciation for country music, little knowledge of folk, and I had only just started listening to the blues. I heard a few tunes by The Band on Classic Rock radio, but had no idea how vast their catalogue of music was. I was especially intrigued by Levon; his voice and charm shone throughout the film, and I quickly bought a copy of his autobiography, This Wheel’s On Fire. I’ve been following his musical output ever since, from his renditions of Appalachian folk ballads to his jazzy New Orleans foot-stompers, and have absorbed the history of Americana through him. I don’t think this website would even exist if it hadn’t been for his musical guidance throughout the years.
I’m sitting here now very sad, but incredibly grateful. I’ve got hundred of hours of recorded music to listen to that Levon has left to us all, and can enjoy it for the rest of my life, along with my husband (a singing drummer).
Thank you, Levon.