When I was eight, my drum teacher, best friend and mentor Barbara Borden asked me to bring in my favorite song. Bring in the CD and we would transcribe the drum part so that I could learn how to read and write drum notation. I brought in The Band’s “Chest Fever” from “Music from Big Pink.” The organ intro used to just kill me, but it was really that moment where Levon comes in BA BOOM that rocked my little world. Fuck, that guy had a sound. A feel. A presence. To this day, I know that drum part verbatim. It’s in my soul—coursing through my veins. So when I heard that he had taken a turn for the worse, it was tough. April 17th, we were in Baltimore. Our show opening for him, scheduled for April 20th, had been cancelled about a week before. But I guess I didn’t understand how serious it was until they posted on his website that he was in last stages of his life. I went out and walked amongst the piers, out onto the water. Sitting looking at the sunlight sparkle in the rippling of the waves. Thinking of all the ways in which Levon has been a part of my life…
I was in 4th grade, and we were studying geography. We had this big end-of-the-semester type project where we fashioned a map out of paper-mache or something, and we had to have a valley and a peninsula and a mountain range and a bay, etc. You had to have each of these things, but you create the general shape of it, and you were also free to name each mountain range and bay whatever you wanted. So, literally everything on that damn map got named “Helm Mountain,” “The Bay of Levon,” “Levon Valley” “The Levon Helm Peninsula”. Ha. You could say my childhood was a little irregular. Levon became my Christ, my Buddha, my Mohammed, leading me through those crazy formative early years like some sort of personal savior. But he wasn’t a personal savior. He was just some dude who lived life righteouly. And by righteously, I by no means mean piously. I mean, he took life and rocked that motherfucker. Rocked it with his soul, with his BEAT. When news came down that he was on his way out, it was amazing watching the internet literally explode with the emotional outpouring of love and support for that man. And for some reason, it’s taken me until now to be able to begin to express even a fraction of how I feel.
One of the main, if not the main goal that I’ve had since I was six or seven, was to meet Levon. And damn, I came pretty close. In the end, he died the day before we were supposed to open up for him and his band in Northampton, MA. We played a Ramble a few months ago, and it will forever be known as the one and only Ramble that he ever missed. I’m blessed to have met and befriended his whole crew, and especially his daughter Amy. Such forceful and beautiful people. The Ramble and Levon’s spirit will live on. Live on through the energy and love that flows out of his household, his friends, his community. The people whom he touched. And that includes all of us, his fans and admirers around the world. There’s never been quite such a light on our earth. That mix of openness and mischief. The twinkle in the eye and the quick laugh. The feeling that you were in on some big joke. Which is what this crazy life is, in the end. Something to be lived seriously and honestly but hopefully with a trouble-making smile on your face. So God bless you Levon, I hope yr givin’ ‘em hell up there in heaven.