Earlier this week, Levon Helm passed after fighting throat cancer for ten years. Helm is most known for being the drummer and singer for The Band, the group that backed Bob Dylan when he went electric and who went on to release several albums on their own.
The Band was–and remains–one of my favorite bands ever, and there’s not enough room, time, and your patience for me to explain why. But this clip, showing one of their most famous songs, can do a lot towards a decent explanation.
First off, Helm’s voice is ragged, rough, and earnest, and the song itself tells a story in just about four minutes it might take us novelists at least a lengthy novella to do. The music is just as ragged, rough, and earnest, but all five of The Band’s members were distinct in their playing, and at least three of them (Garth Hudson, keyboards, Helm, drummer, and Robbie Robertson, guitar) were brilliant musicians. The song takes the unpopular losing side as well, making the Rebel side more human because of their…humanity.
I know some of what informs my writing is what I took from what I loved about The Band. I am glad to share my love of them here, and am grateful Levon was around so long to share his music.