I could write a book about the influence this man has had on
my life, and our life as a band. The unmistakable feel he placed in
a groove, the subtle flourishes he pulled out of that dry snare
drum, the earthy quality and raw power of his voice, his epic
charisma as a performer; they’re all aspects of his music that have
been transformed into goals within our own musical practice, and
are simultaneously things he will be remembered for forever.
However, the influence of his character has been just as deep for
us. He set an example as a humble leader, and an endlessly
appreciative member of a group of musical giants. He also
outwardly expressed an attitude that seemed unique to rock music: a
shameless acceptance and appreciation for the traditions and
generations that preceded him.
Though none of us ever had the chance to meet him or play
music with him, we’ve absorbed so much of his character through
countless interviews, concert videos, documentaries, books and his
amazing autobiography. He truly was the leader of The
He expressed genuine care and appreciation for his fellow
band mates, and viewed each one’s contributions as an equally vital
part of the engine. This is an attitude we have held
close to our hearts over the last 6 years of this band, and made it
our guiding light.
Like many people of my generation, I was introduced to Levon
Helm’s music by my parents at an age in which I wasn’t so concerned
with measuring art by its cultural significance. I was
very much taken by the popular music of the 90s, which provided a
divide typically longed for by every adolescent; a break from from
my parents’ influence on my social and aesthetic interests.
The music of The Band was the opposite. Embedded within their
music, lyrics and album artwork were countless nods to tradition,
history and a shameless display of ancestral awareness. It
was specifically Levon that shattered my family’s own generational
wall with his performance of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
from the Last Waltz, as we were gathered in the living room for
movie night. Its hard to put one’s finger on exactly what it was
about Levon that made him able to reach over the generation gap and
grab each of my siblings and I by the ear. That’s simply the
power this man possessed, and the gift he shared with the
Levon Helm was well beyond just being our favorite member of
The Band, or our favorite singing drummer, or the first musician
that ever planted the possibility of doing both in my mind.
He was, and continues to be, the most important American cultural
icon. He represented something that each member of my family
was able to share together, at any given stage in life.
Whether he meant to or not, he gave us an understanding of
who we were and where we’d come from, and reminded us of the
importance of community, family and friendship. May
his music and his legacy continue to ripple through future
generations for decades to come. Thank you Levon.