The only Levon Helm story I have is the ticket I didn't buy to see the Last Waltz - the concert, not the movie.
I was 20 years old, working part-time at an ice-cream shop in Santa Cruz while I went to school. It was a great gig - paid a little above minimum wage, had flexible hours I could fit in around classes, and came with a discount that made me the most popular person at every pot luck I went to.
Polar Bear made its own ice cream - the only place in the County that did, back then. There were plenty of flavors, from rocky road to bubble gum, but by far the most popular were the flavors made with honey. Pot-addled students, surfers and musicians couldn't get enough of the carob mint and fresh banana. People drove from over the hill for the honey almond and cafe au lait.
Hot summer nights, the line would be out the door for hours. We developed great arms from carving out the giant scoops, hand-packing pint after pint.
When things were quiet, we made Bear Paws - ice cream sandwiches made with oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies, and a scoop of vanilla or Turkish coffee ice cream, all dipped in chocolate. Truly a treat ahead of its time.
One night Tom, a regular, told me about tickets for a concert he'd heard were going on sale - The Band's last concert, at Winterland. There were going to be special guests - and they were going to serve Thanksgiving dinner, too. Tickets were $25. Did I want to go?
I had to decide quickly. $25 was a lot of money, on an ice-cream scooper's hourly. I liked the Band but decided it was too expensive. No, I told him. Too much.
::insert sobbing sounds::
When he came in to the shop the day after the show, still glowing, and told me who had been there, I felt a little sick, and not from the Bear Paws. Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Van Morrison...Ringo! Dear god, it was a gathering for the ages. And I missed it.
I am not sure what the moral of this story is except - go see live music whenever you can. You never know when it might be your only chance to hear a true, original American voice - something that will change your life forever.
A few years later, in 1978, friends asked if I wanted their extra ticket to see Bruce Springsteen at Winterland. I hadn't really listened to him, and didn't own a single album. It would be the first time any of us would see him live. This time, I said yes.
I don't remember how much that ticket cost, but I do remember Bruce tearing up the stage, jump-starting my heart. Lesson learned.