My friend Denise posted this great Hemingway quote on my Facebook page yesterday… It said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
This quote was not wasted on me, not at all. Being an artist, a writer or anything creative is very often just that… opening your soul, your brain, your heart and your veins, and bleeding out onto paper… or canvas or a stage.
But the meaning took a twisted turn when I noticed that Levon Helm had passed away. Writing this post, for me, is bleeding. I am in such pain over this one. I love his drumming, I love The Band, and it was his unique and amazing voice that I hold most dear. There was simply no one else who sounded like Levon Helm. Never will be.
If Men At Work so fondly reminded me of high school, then The Band reminds me of summer camp and working at Camp Ramaquois. Those were the days… life was easy, life was good and being a counselor was the greatest gig ever.
I wanted so desperately to be in a band, and yes, the main motivation was to impress the girls. I drafted the very talented Gordo Haber and if I recall we tried to get super keys player, Steve… blanking on his last name.. but he had no interest. Although I think the two of them went off and played together later on… without me. Bastards.
Look , Gordo humored me… I played the harmonica fairly well… still do… and could strum some chords… and I could actually sing… but Gordo was the real deal and I was mostly a wanna be.
The band was called the Rainy Day Blues Band, in hopes that we’d be the entertainment on those rainy days when kids were stuck in their cabins or the dining hall. I think we played twice…
The main song we worked on was “The Weight” by The Band. That is one of my favorite songs ever. Was then and still is.
I could not figure out how a drummer could sing so well and still keep such an amazing beat. Then again, I was not a real musician.
Although Robbie Robertson had the same fascination, which he discusses on VH1′s Classic Albums episode The Band.
Robbie: ”Quite extraordinary how… the way that Levon could play what he played and sing at the same time. That… it just didn’t… mix him up. You know, I mean it’s just… you couldn’t, you couldn’t put it more simpler than that, but it’s true, you know.”
Levon responds… “Well… You know people… people give me good credit and I appreciate it. They think it’s harder to play when you… when you sing. But it’s actually easier because you play along and you leave holes and there’s where you sing.”
This one goes out to Denise, my brother Dan, Gordon Haber, John Rothman, Jordie Hill, Rob Gross, Brian Nurse, Andy Fuhrman and the whole crew at Ramaquois (sorry if I am missing anyone specifically… If I did just tell me) and of course and especially to Levon Helm and all of his family, friends and fans.
Levon Helm – Dirt Farmer
This 2007 album earned the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. It is a lovely taste of Americana and features songs written by Steve Earle, J.B. Lenoir and Buddy & Julie Miller… Amazing songwriters, all!
I bought this one as soon as it came out and have cherished it since then. Hearing it now is equally beautiful and equally sad…
Just listen to him sing “The Mountain”. It absolutely slays me…
“There is a hole in this mountain…” I’ll say, Levon. There sure is now… a hole in the mountain and a hole in many of our hearts.
One of my deep regrets will be that I never made it out to Levon’s farm in Woodstock for a Midnight Ramble. I think my brother went. How utterly joyous those must have been…
Lesson learned… again… Go to every show you can… experience every musical adventure you can… And if you are in a band… get over your damn egos, stop being so darn stubborn, make music and get back together before it is too late.
“He was born to music-lovin’ cotton farmers and grew up in a town called Turkey Scratch, pickin’ up the guitar by nine, blowin’ harmonica by ten; he hit the drum kit at fifteen after seeing Elvis and his band create frenzy with limbs that danced to heart-pumping rhythm.
His palette was formed of African-American minstrels, rhythmic blues and bluegrass, Grand Ole Opry and straight up rock n’ roll. Calling music, “… one of the foods of our lives,” he ate and drank his fill, sharing a table filled with family and friends for more than sixty years.”
Levon fed us well, he filled our cup. So let us raise a glass and make a toast to the man and the music.
May peace find you and may your voice always sing. For us it sings on vinyl or a small, glittery disc… and always, always in our hearts…