Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reflections on Levon's passing

Set up in a semi-circle, watching each other, they played with an incredible level of intuition. It was as if they were breathing together.

Sunday morning at Woodstock, August 1969. The Band played a set of tunes from their recently released record, "Music from Big Pink". I sat on a blanket in the mud about 100 feet in front of the stage. They were the tightest ensemble I have ever heard in my life - before or since. And I have been listening to and playing in bands for over 50 years. 

All the members of The Band were completely on the same wavelength in this moment, in some mystical space carved out of the musical ethos. They went there and created music of unimaginable passion and clarity. 

The grooves were swinging and deep. The varied timbres of their individual voices veered into and glanced off of each other with wonderful randomness. The way they approached harmonies was completely unique. Singing in seemingly random ways, jumping in at random moments, all the while feeling so organic and honest.

I had purchased “Music from Big Pink” before I went away to college, in the summer of 1968. I was completely captivated by the record. I’d never heard anything like it. So raggedly soulful and simple, casually passionate and with a quirky rustic Americana essence. 

I took the album to school with me and played it over and over and over. It would get to the end of side 1, I’d turn it over and play the other side. I did this for days and days on end. 

Finally, one afternoon, a student who lived next to me came over and knocked on my dorm room door. I opened it and he asked if I could please play a different record. I paused briefly and thought about his request. Then I said, no, to be honest, I can’t - sorry. I then closed the door and turned the record over...again.
I hold the records of The Band in awe, like some magical musical pedagogy. I learned Rick Danko’s bass lines note for note and tried to reproduce his tone and feel. Levon Helm's playing and singing were an inspiration. In fact,  I have been singing *The Weight* in various contexts for over 40 years.
RIP Levon. You gave the world a very special gift by sharing your talent and passion. We are all forever in your debt.