From the release of his 2007 comeback record, Dirt Farmer, up until the final moments of his life, Levon Helm seemed impervious to death. It’s not that he looked invincible, necessarily, or that he was suddenly filled with an inordinate amount of vitality. But as he neared his end, Helm carried himself with the same simple, rustic grace that powered his drumming and singing for most of his life. He laughed incredulously when Sheryl Crow called him sexy from the stage at the Ryman. He refers to a neighboring farmer as “Mr. Gill” in the “Poor Old Dirt Farmer” video, despite being 65 years old at the time. He toured frequently, and collaborated freely, and treated his last five years as a much-deserved victory lap. When I saw Helm at the Newport Folk Festival in the summer of 2008, the entire festival stood still; even the event organizers stood at the side of the stage and watched, awestruck. Levon mostly smiled. words/ m garner

10 Responses to “Levon Helm :: May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012”

  1. Nicely worded tribute. A sad day.

  2. I, too, was at the 2008 Folk Fest and I, too, stood there awestruck and slack jawed. I had the opportunity to attend 4 midnight rambles after that and two of them, my wife performed at. I got to “hang out” at the end of the night with Mr. Helm, (I just couldnt call him Levon), and had a rousing conversation with him. He signed my copy of his autobiography to “Jason – Hang Tough and don’t give down..you bro Levon Helm” and I stumbled out of his house at 2 in the morning floating on air. It was the greatest musical night of my life and nothing will ever compare to it. I will always cherish those memories and will miss seeing his smiling face and hearing that backbeat. God Bless you Levon…

  3. Jason — that sounds incredible. And it only seems fair and appropriate that you called him “Mr. Helm.” I guess at this point it’ll always be a regret of mine that I never got to see a Ramble.

  4. Autographs from your heroes are always incredible…What an awesome story to accompany Mr. Helm’s signature :O)

  5. They’re lucky up in heaven now that they got Levon, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko singin harmonies again.

  6. Very sweet and just tribute indeed. And Jason, what an amazing experience for you.

  7. The Band was the greatest American band. Thank God Levon was in the group or they’d be the greatest Canadian band.

  8. Thanks for the replies to my story. Im sure there are others out there that have similar ones but, the music of the Band and Levon’s solo material has meant so much to me and to be able to share my experiences, especially now, and have you guys respond so positively really means a lot. I have other stories about Levon from those ramble nights as well. Like, being able to sit directly behind him as he drummed watching that syncopated back beat and wondering how in the hell he played the way he did and stayed in the pocket. Truly inspiring. Then, having him take a break, turn around and sit down next to me as the band played an acoustic number. His face was aglow, eyes closed, beaming smile, completely inside the music as my wife was standing next to him singing soft harmonies in his ear. When the song ended, he turned and looked her still smiling and said, “those were some beautiful harmonies girl, you should have been out there!” The only way I know how to describe the experience is that it was like going to church. Completely moving, spiritual and powerful. Anyway…there will never be another one like him.

  9. Nice one.

    I got into The Band late.

    Man, Levon Helm just blows me away and makes me feel better about everything.

  10. I was able to go to Levon’s memorial today.

    The Barn was quiet. A slide show on a screen that hung above and behind the casket, which was center stage, surrounded by stands of white flowers.

    Stage left…Levon’s drum kit. The best seat in the house, still.

    Ramble on Mr Helm!!

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