Across the Great Divide

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by whittlz

I’m not the only person saddened by the passing of Levon Helm. The musical legacy is beyond praise. He also wrote what may be my favorite rock book everThis Wheel’s On Fire is jammed with amazing stories, sage words on music, and heaps of funny asides. Reading the intro more than a decade ago, I knew I was in good hands:

My story is recalled and written from my perspective on the drum stool, which I’ve always felt was the best seat in the house. From there you can see both the audience and the show. …So draw up a chair to my Catskill bluestone fireplace while I roll one, and we’ll crack open a couple of cold beers. The game’s on the cable with the sound off, and I’m gonna take you back in time specifically to cotton country: the Mississippi Delta just after World War II. We’re gonna get this damn show on the road.

One of the things we learn in the book is how much Levon hated the making of The Last Waltz… Among other things he accuses Robbie Robertson of using the film as a lever to cheat other members of The Band out of publishing royalties, not to mention presenting the guitarist as the leader of what was very much a collective. That account helps explain Levon’s surly demeanour throughout the movie, especially since he seems so gregarious and infectiously joyful almost everywhere else. So instead of a clip from the movie, how about this solo shot on SCTV? The jam that takes the song home captures both his unique drumming style and the fun he exuded while playing:

I wish the whole SCTV appearance was online, later on is a segment of him hanging out backstage, joking and telling stories…

I’ve blogged once before about Levon, remarking on how he managed to carve out a cool and innovative career model in the post-record company era. One of my great regrets will always be not making it to one of his Midnight Rambles. Being at one of these intimate gigs would have been a dream. Check out the smiles here.

Something about music, smiles and Levon Helm go together.

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