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Posts Tagged ‘Levon Helm’

When I Go Away

Early Sunday morning.  I’m in the midst of a work frenzy the last few days in the studio but I’m trying to start the day a little slower.  I think I’ll take the rest of day off from the blog and listen to a little music this morning, probably something from Levon Helm who passed away a few days ago, most likely  Electric Dirt, which  was Helm’s last studio album.  I love the cover.  Here’s Levon singing  the gospel-tinged When I Go Away.

Like the song says:  No more troubles…
Good travelling for you, Levon.

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It was announced yesterday that Levon Helm in is the “final stages” of the battle he has waged with throat cancer since 1996. Levon is best known as the drummer/vocalist for the legendary group that started in the eary 60’s as the backing band, The Hawks, for early rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins and later came to fame as The Band behind Bob Dylan as he made the sometimes rocky transition from folk to rock.  On their own, The Band had a number of songs that have become classics over the years– The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up On Cripple Creek, The Weight, The Shape I’m In and so on.  Levon , guitarist Robbie Robertson  and organist Garth Hudson are the only remaining living  members of  The Band.

Levon Helm has also been acclaimed as an actor, best known for playing the father of Loretta Lynn in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter.  His coal miner portrayal in the film had a dead-eyed authenticity that , for me, really made the entire movie seem alive.  It’s the same authenticity that he seems to bring to everything.  I always feel like I’m seeing the real person when I see Levon Helm, even when he’s a character in a film.

The Band-- Levon is 2nd from left.

His life after The Band has had ups and downs.  Following his initial battle with cancer, he found himself in dire financial straits with the weight of huge medical bills pulling him down.  He started hosting a series of concerts, called Midnight Rambles,  at his home/studio in Woodstock, NY in order to raise money to pay his bills.  Because of the damage done to his throat he relied on a series of high profile guests to sing until his voice was strong enough to begin to sing once more, which was several years later in 2004.  This series of concerts revitalized his career and led to his last three albums, Dirt Farmer, Electric Dirt and  Ramble at the Ryman, a live set recorded at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  Both Electric Dirt and Ramble at the Ryman won Grammy Awards in the Americana category.

As I said above, I always had the feeling that what you saw with Levon Helm was what you got. Natural, without artifice.  This world is going to miss the loss of  a real person, maybe the highest compliment of which I can conceive.  Good travels, Levon.

  Here’s one of my favorites from The Band, The Weight, shot in 1970 during the fabled Festival Express.

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Let Us Now Praise...Strange confluences.

I was going through some old work and came across this piece just as a random track came up on my iPod.  It was a Levon Helm song, the sort of title track from his latest CD, Dirt Farmer.

It really went together beautifully and the rhythm of Levon’s music kind of captured how I saw this fellow looking at his land, the beauty and sorrow of it.

I may have displayed this piece before.  It’s called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men… and was part of my first solo exhibit some 13 years ago, a show called Exiles that was hung at a lovely art center, the Gmeiner, in Wellsboro, PA.  This piece has always resonated with me, having sorts of indicators that I only see.  Little cues that remind me of the time in which this piece was done, giving me a sense of how I felt at the time and how I was viewing the world.  Things that only make the piece special for me.

That’s a pretty common thing.  Cheri has a piece of mine in our home that I painter several years back.  A nice piece but not a great one.  But when I see it I remember all that went into this particular piece and the struggle to pull something from what appeared to be a mess at the time.  I see the effort and determination that recovered the painting from the scrap heap and made it work.  I see it as a turning point in my confidence in my own abilities.

But those are only for  my eyes, probably not evident to the outside world.  Kind of like the dirt farmer above.  Who knows what his eyes behold?

Here’s Poor Old Dirt Farmer from Levon Helm:

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