I, like many others, mourned the passing of John Lennon in December, 1980, from the guided bullet of a misguided idiot. Not unlike those sad times, Levon Helm of the The Band, passed today, and like the musical promise of John Lennon,
Levon Helm soulfully prepares to sing his heart out.
unfulfilled, Levon will be missed for all he did accomplish. Levon Helm was my John Lennon - my American John Lennon.
Levon Helm was born the poor son of an Arkansas Cotton Farmer, Diamond Helm, who enriched his family by exposing his brood to the wonderment of the noble melody of American music. At the age of 6, Levon heard his first live performance, Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys, which gave the future The Band drummer, mandolin player and vocalist pause to mention later, "this really tattooed my brain. I've never forgotten it."
The Arkansan eventually grew into a small man with a large talent, ever ebullient, witty, charismatic to the point of symbolically pulling his legions of
Levon crooning "The Night They Drove Dixie Down"
fans onto the back of his slight frame, and hauling us through his musical pathos to places long distant in our collective past. From the undeniably classic "The Night they Drove old Dixie Down," written by The Band's guitarist / front man and sung by Levon, we experienced a poignant vision, via the harmonic pain of Vocalist Helm's mournful tenor melody, we become part of the extra-century sadness of that devastated region. It's a moving song, but one of many by Levon and The Band - the quintessential American band - North American band. The Southern cracker, Levon Helm, was the only American (the rest of The Band were Canadian), and even though he collaborated on the creativity of few songs, one can instinctively recognize how profound his Southern influence was projected upon The Band.
Shortly after the The Band ended their 16 year collaboration in 1976 at the conclusion of their final concert, "The Last Waltz," Levon, like "Band" mate Robbie
Levon Helm, in the titular role in "Coal Miner's Daughter," shown here with Loretta Lynn, played by Sissy Spacek.
Helm took up acting, and was a natural in front of the camera, which became a second career for the soulful singer. In Levon's first film, "Coal Miner's Daughter," he employed his Southern sincerity to rightfully project the perfect purpose of the dutiful father of Country Music Star Loretta Lynn, who knew he was losing his little girl to an adult life long before her time. This film is an American classic as is his second film, "The Right Stuff," where Levon portrayed Sam Shepard's version of fearless Air Force Test Pilot Chuck Yeager's loyal sidekick, Jack Ridley.
In Levon's later years, he continued to act, and perform, even after contracting throat cancer in 1998. Ever the sincerely happy performer, the resourceful "Renaissance Man" from Elaine, Arkansas, with ever a smile upon his thinning lips, persevered under the weight of his condition, continuing to perform and treat his fans to a glimpse of what it takes to be a true American artist and moreover, a good man. Levon Helm is dead today at 71.
Levon Helm and The Band performing "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down" from the classic Martin Scorsese documentary, "The Last Waltz."