Friday, April 20, 2012

Ol Dixie is Down

I grew up in Manassas Virginia. I went to Stonewall Jackson Sr. High. Safe to say they put an emphasis on Civil War history. My parents embraced this. I remember many a family vacation to Civil War battlefields.

Levon Helm died yesterday. The first song I ever heard him sing was "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." It's about the Civil War, even though it was written by Robbie Robertson, a Canadian. I love the song now as much as I did the first time I heard it. Part of the reason is Levon's amazing voice.

Obviously Levon would never have won a singing contest. Hell, he would be laughed off of American Idol. Which is why I hate American Idol. I would rather listen to Levon sing than anybody that's ever appeard on that show, including the judges.

Very soon after I heard that Levon was sick, I heard that Dick Clark passed away. I love Dick Clark, but he had a foot in the grave for quite a while. Levon's impending death was a shock to me. He even had a date to play here in Nashville in the near future. I was very worried that the death of Clark would overshadow that of Helm. I'm not sure if it did or not.

Either that or Levon wasn't quite as famous as I thought. Not that it's important. People who know music and love good music know that Helm was legendary. He was the only American member of The Band, and his Arkansas accent fit the style of the group perfectly. One might think the band adjusted their sound to go with his wonderful lilting voice.

Just because The Band hasn't played together in a while, that doesn't mean what they accomplished when they were together was any less impressive. I guess when most peoples' memory of a band is called "The Last Waltz" I guess the endless comebacks would be in poor taste.

On the other hand, The Last Waltz is a true work of art. It was directed by Martin Scorcese, and is widely acknowedged as the greatest concert film of all time. I can't believe it took place in 1976. It doesn't seem that long ago. It holds up today every bit as well as it did when it came out. The music is absolutely timeless. If you haven't seen it, check it out, and you're in for a wonderful experience.

Singing isn't all Levon did, he was the drummer for the band, and he was a multiple instrumentalist. He even appeared in movies. You probably don't realize that you've seen him. He was in The Right Stuff. "Have you got a stick of Beeman's?" He had it, and the deal was "Fair Enough."

I'm not as big a music fan as I used to be. I stopped being interested in new music a few years ago. It seems like music is more fractured now, and that music like that of The Band wouldn't have a place in today's system of labeling. It wasn't country, but it had that feel. It wasn't hard rock or southern rock either. It had a folkish sound. Songs like "Up On Cripple Creek" and "The Weight" defy categorization.

Every so often an artist dies and it hits me really hard. Levon is one of them. When I sing along with him on "Dixie" my voice breaks when he sings "They should never have taken the very best." Levon was one of the best.


Gary said...

That drawl will never be duplicated. So Long Levon! See you somewhere up Cripple Creek.

grrouchie said...

Being like 3 decades younger than y'all, this is the 2nd time someone mentioned his death.

I have been listening on youtube and like what I hear

Gary said...

Grrouch, if you were 3 decades younger than me you'd be tuning up for your Bar Mitzvah right about now. But whatever. Find "The Last Waltz" on line someplace. Enjoy.

Unknown said...

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." this is also one of my favorite song..
feeling sadness on Levon Helm's death.

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