It is with sadness that I note the imminent passing of The Band's great drummer/vocalist Levon Helm. According to a note on his website, "Levon is in the final stages of hit battle with cancer." As a cancer guy myself, this is depressing on a personal level. Less selfishly, it means the loss of one of rock and roll's great musicians.
Through their work with Bob Dylan and on their own, The Band became one of the most prominent practitioners of what became known as roots rock or Americana. Many of their best songs, almost all authored by Robby Robertson, evoke a sense of time and place, be it "The Weight," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)," "Acadian Driftwood," or "Up on Cripple Creek."
"Old Dixie," one of the greatest evocations of the post-Civil War South you will ever find, was sung and drummed with great feeling by Arkansas native Helm. In his book Mystery Train, critic Greil Marcus called Helm the only drummer who can make you cry, and if you listen to the drumming on that song, you can hear that he was right.
One of the fascinating aspects of The Band is that they wrote and played such great songs about American history and characters, but everyone aside from Helm was Canadian. That may explain the lack of baseball references, though you could imagine an alternative reality in which they did a good tune about Jackie Robinson's stint with the Montreal Royals. Alas, substance abuse and internecine squabbling broke up The Band before they could get around to it.
This is, of course, not important now, just my excuse to say a few words about one of my favorite musicians as he prepares to leave us. Thank you, and may you have a peaceful journey to your next gig.
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