Thursday, August 16, 2012

Remembering Levon: A Story

Remembering Levon

Just today I re listened to Music from The Big Pink for probably the 50th time, and I found much solace in it. The painful voice of Richard Manuel always seems to take me to a brighter, more hopeful place. I am not sure why, it simply does not make sense, but I always find comfort in his woeful voice. And I got to thinking, about life in general, and then I stumbled upon this article/letter which I found on Donald Fagen's website. Those of you who are not familiar, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are the founding members of Steely Dan, a music group from the 70's that really showcased a jazzy side to rock and roll. Walter Beckers bass prowess combined with Fagen's strange and unique style of piano playing created a sound that was very unfamiliar to the music world. I liked them a lot for about 6 months and then they got old for me, but still, a great band. Anyways this post is not about Fagen this is a post about Levon, my main man. 

In fact, I was recently speaking with my father about drummers. We were trying to name the top five drummers in music and both of us put Levon as number one. My dad, who is a very talented and creative jazz style drummer, who has been playing since the mid sixties exclaimed "Dave, Levon is a damn clock, no one has better time, technique or style." I could not agree more, usually when people speak of the top drummers they come up with names like John Bonum, Keith Moon, Carl Palmer, Ginger Baker, Neil Pert and so on. But, how did Keith Moon influence drumming, well he played loud and crashed his cymbals a lot, how did Ginger Baker influence drumming he brought a Max Roach approach to psychedelic blues, how did Levon Helm change drumming, he did not change drumming, he changed rock and roll. He took the focus off of the two and four beat, which is what most rock and roll is written to, and placed it around the words that were sung. His fills were not fast and rushed, they were fluid, and open, and that is not to say that Levon could not lay out technically complicated runs, he did, in fact all of the time, the man played on a small kit. Listen to this song, and listen to him go, these rolls are tight, enthusiastic and sound big, but they are coming from a man who is as humble as they come, as friendly as a labrador and as true as the north star.

The link posted above will give you a little piece of the playful nature that was Levon Helms, a man loved by all (maybe wit hthe exception of Robbie Robertson, tisk tisk). A man who had a huge impact on children, and his community in NY. His rambles are famous not for the music but for the great time had by all. When cancer began to take his life, and he lost his voice, he still played, in fact he recorded two more albums, and of course Levon was still on vocals. There are countelss photographs of Levon sharing his love of music and life with others, but of them all my favorite is this one, it is a simply beautiful gesture of a beautiful man, with a big heart and a wide smile!

I have not yet met, Levon, but when I get to heaven, he is the first person I am going to look for. I know that even g-d is up there grooving to the razorback!

Levon, You are missed, you are an inspiration for us all, whether we drum or not! One could not ask for a truer hero. With you gone there is a knot in my stomach and I am afraid that it is not a challah roll!

-David Wolfe
A fan for life

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