Saturday, April 21, 2012

Waltzing No More

I must confess that given my relatively young age at the time he and his mates danced The Last Waltz I did not come to appreciate the genius of Levon Helm until I was a much older man. It was to my benefit that I eventually did. Helm died Thursday afternoon, succumbing to cancer after waging a war against the disease for the better part of the final decade and one half of his life. He was seventy-one.

Levon Helm was regarded in many circles as one of rock and roll's greatest drummers. He was one of the interview subjects of my favorite rock and roll drummer Max Weinberg in the Mighty One's book "The Big Beat"

Incredibly, he was held in even higher regard for his humanity than he was for his musicianship. His former bandmate Robbie Robertson, from whom he had a well-documented estrangement for a number of years, visited Helm in the hospital shortly before his death, after which he wrote, “Levon is one of the most extraordinary talented people I’ve ever known and very much like an older brother to me. I am so grateful I got to see him one last time and will miss him and love him forever.” Don Imus, whose radio show I listen to now and again, considered Helm to be one of his greatest, most loyal friends (the Levon Helm Band actually performed on-air to help raise money during the annual Imus Radiothon several years ago after Imus had been fired - during the middle of the event - from his gig at WFAN following the Rutgers debacle). On his program on Wednesday morning Imus described Helms as one of the true angels on Earth. One of my favorite things I ever heard him sing was his cover of "You Better Move On", which appeared on the first Imus Ranch Record, which was released in 2008.

According to published reports, when death came for Levon Helm he went comfortably and in the company of those he loved and those who loved him. Take a load off Mr. Helm. The respite is well-earned.


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