Levon Helm died today. He was 71.
And everything just seems to end so soon.
You can read the chronology of his life elsewhere. It’s a story worth reading. But not now. Now it is somehow 1974. As if only a second had passed. And you are sitting in the rickety throbbing dark cavern of the old Chicago Stadium. The lights are down as if it’s a hockey or a basketball game coming. Whatever it is that’s about to happen, the two of you and the great musical connection that rocks you strong and wild with the other 20,000 family members sitting in the dark with you, can feel its something big.
Soon you know that Dylan will be out. Seeing Dylan like some sort of pyramid or Grand Canyon blue and endless color of the sky, wonder of the world. Dylan is coming. But before Bob Dylan . . .
This other Band. You don’t know much about them. You heard the term “back up Band” and would you ever learn real quick that this was not anybody’s back up band. They called themselves “The Band.” And they were touring again with Dylan. You and she had taken the bus down from Beloit Wisconsin. Made your way into a not so nice part of town. Because this was Dylan. And some Band called The Band.
In the dark, the crescendo of a coming tidal wave roar, the water of every single tomorrow washes clean your very hearts and pummels you with hope as the lights come up.
And the first thing you see in that precious life defining moment between the dark and the light is this kick ass sparkling drum set in the center of it all. Then this scruffy guy. What is it about this guy? Why are you smiling and whooping and hollering? Who the hell is this guy? Never seen him before and its as if you always knew him. You learn later he was from Arkansas. This guy who in one breath becomes the coolest guy you’ve ever seen, just by the way he walks up to that drum set, sits down, moves the microphone and gets ready to sing.
This guy who instantly imprints on the deepest reaches of your soul, if I could someday be as cool as you.
This guy, Levon Helm, starts to sing and play the drums.
When I get over this mountain
You know where I’m gonna go
And when it was all over that night. On the bus ride back through the moonlit prairie. She fell asleep with her head against your shoulder. And you didn’t move a muscle. Your arm around her. For 100 miles. As the bus barreled through the flat and endless Illinois darkness. You didn’t move a muscle.
Because after Levon Helm sang and played?