I got choked up last night, even though I had known that his death was imminent, thanks to the warning from his family. When I read the news that Levon Helm had slipped the skin, yesterday afternoon, i was both happy and sad. Happy, simply because my belief is that our souls leave our heavy earthly flesh suits and go Home to the energy source, which means (to me) that this go-around has been accomplished for the soul. The sadness is the knowing that his family will not have the body to pet and tend to, through the ending. Relief comes, when the mortal suffering is over and the spirit unzips the suit and travels, weightlessly to the source.
All of that philosphical stuff is all well and good but his passing got to me more than most, lately. I told Rod that I didn't understand why I was so touched by Levon's passing and he simply said that it was because I met him. Yes, I did meet him, so very long ago, when I was a twenty-something singer/songwriter, struggling to find myself within one band or another. I was in one particularly loathsome band, when I had the privilege of being in the opening act for Levon's small club tour as a solo act, not long after The Last Waltz signaled the end of an iconic entity, known as The Band. Keystone Berkeley was a beer soaked dance club where all of the young, struggling SF Bay Area musicians would aspire to take to the stage, simply because their heros had trod those boards. Anybody that was Cool would come to Keystone Berkeley and I had the privilege of singing there, twice.
I don't know what it was about the sound coming from that odd mix of characters who found themselves together in Woodstock, New York but the melange was heady, like the music from a caliope. They had roots from the Deep South and yet The Professor tied the pieces together with his mighty Hammond Wurlitzer. The Band's Big Pink was an album that I played over and over again, because it was just so odd and wonderful and the voice of Levon Helm, with the sound of the South came through to me and grabbed me. Nowhere in rock music was a singer encouraged to sound like they were from anywhere other than Mainstream USA but here was Levon with his twang, singing up there, behind the drum kit.
I mourned the end of The Band but celebrated the Greatest Living Wake Ever, when Scorcese captured the magnificent Last Waltz on the night that those men put an end to their collaboration, with the help of a few of their fabulous friends (including the devine Joanie Mitchell). What a party.
I hope that there is going to be a fabulous Party for Levon. I am a big believer in the Wake, where people gather to celebrate the life that was lived, swap stories and sing songs.
I guess that in the passing of this particular man, I felt another tug at the fabric of my own mortality, letting go of that bit of my own history. I hear him singing and remember the joy of being in art school with that album as a sort of soundtrack to my naive and blissful first year.
Happy Graduation, Levon. Bon Voyage. I couldn't have done it without you and didn't know it until I heard that you were leaving. Thank you for the music.