On Levon Helm, and The Band

I cut this exact ad out of the New York Times one Sunday, and hung it on my bedroom wall. I couldn’t go into the city to see it, but went down to Ridgeway Cinemas one Saturday afternoon to see it, all on my own.

When it was done — before it was done, even — I had gone out to the pay phone to call home and ask if I could stay to see it again. It wasn’t because I thought it was amazing (although I certainly did think that), it was because it was so enormous, so mind-blowing, so more-than-I-ever-thought to my 14 year old brain that I couldn’t possibly take it all in at once, so I stopped trying and told myself, “Don’t worry, it’s a movie, you can just see it again.”

I came back, later, I saw it at midnight movies, I dragged friends, I used it as a litmus test in relationships. I kicked myself, continually, for not having had been old enough to have seen the Band live, which was obviously not something that was within my control. I made up for it by devouring everything I could find about them. They schooled me. They grounded me.

How could this not fail to completely blow your mind? I’m surprised I left the theater at all that day.

The last time I saw Levon Helm, he was playing drums in a band that was supporting Hubert Sumlin. I didn’t know he was going to be part of the band, and from where I was sitting initially, I couldn’t see the drummer–but I didn’t need to. His style was unmistakable, his touch on the sonic thumbprint couldn’t be anyone else.

So much music. So much great music. So much great music that meant so much, did so much, extended so far, changed so very much. Thank you, Levon Helm.