Yesterday, Levon Helm, drummer and co-founder of 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die artists the Band, died yesterday of complications from throat cancer. He sang some of the Band's most famous songs, including "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Weight." I honestly didn't know anything about the Band or Helm until I picked up his 2007 album Dirt Farmer, his first release since 1982, at the library. I was floored: this guy was basically told he would never sing again after his cancer treatment, and here he was just laying it down. My coworker lent me his copy of the DVD The Last Waltz and again I was amazed to see the Band in action. And then finally I heard the book entry, The Band, and I loved it. In conducting my interview with the Beau Brummels' Sal Valentino we discussed Helm's solo work and how much we loved his voice and songwriting (I preferred Dirt Farmer whereas Mr. Valentino was a fan of Electric Dirt).
I often hear about famous celebrities dying, and I feel unaffected. Yes, I feel for their families, I mourn the loss of their art, but today I feel a pit in my stomach hearing about the loss of Helm. His singing was so down to earth, the songs he sang ringing so true with their hard-luck stories (check out "Growing Trade" from his Electric Dirt), that I feel his loss on a more personal level than I ever have for someone I never knew. Counting Crows' song "Richard Manuel is Dead," about the keyboardist for the Band, sums up the dumbstruck feeling I have now. My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Helm's family, and my thanks to him for all the wonderful music he's left us with.
Listen to The Band here.