Thursday, April 19, 2012

What I didn’t explain to Levon Helm

In 2010, my friend Mike asked me to be his guest at the Levon Helm concert at the Crossroads in Kansas City. After the concert, Mike led me backstage to meet Levon, and I did. We smiled, shook hands, and I shared with Mr. Helm the time we met before… 1973 at the old Town Crier Café in Beekman NY. He grinned and said something like, “I miss that place”. The new Town Crier’s in Pauling now.

And that was (a wonderful) that. I met the guy who sang the song that changed things for me in 1969. I was 16.

The change started seeing the film, Easy Rider. In the film there was a song that grabbed me. You know that grabbed feeling? You have songs in your head like that, right? The song was The Weight, performed by The Band, sung by Levon. Inexplicable hook. I can’t explain it to this day.

I searched Woolworth’s the next day for the soundtrack album. Found it, played it on the HiFi at home and the song sounded different. The liner notes said the song was performed by Smith. Dang. Back to a few record stores I searched, and found The Band’s second album. Couldn’t find the first, Music From Big Pink until a few weeks later in Philly. Anyway, I was hooked for reasons, like I said, I can’t explain, even now.

A few of my friends were Grateful Dead heads. I’d seen them and liked them, but there was something to this band, The Band. Songs with stories and white space for filling in. A group of musicians, each of whom had the stuff to lead… Rick Danko was The Band member I watched the closest when I saw them for the first time, the following year. Garth Hudson’s Chest Fever was a track I wore out.

In college, I became a DJ at the station… and played The Band probably too frequently. My roomie, a DJ too, was a Beatles fan and expert. I took him to NY to see The Band. He liked them.

I didn’t get to explain this to Levon, that is, why I cannot explain why The Weight grabbed me during Easy Rider, and why it hasn’t let go of me since.

The Band above: Richard Manuel . Levon Helm . Rick Danko . Garth Hudson . Robbie Robertson

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