Today is the day when the Red Sox Nation celebrates the centennial of Fenway Park, and it had been in my mind to blog this morning about this ‘lyric little bandbox of a ballbark’ and its importance in my life.
But then Levon Helm died yesterday.
The importance of Levon Helm in my life is far greater, far more central, even than the Sox. I can’t count the number of times I have sung “I was feelin’ about half-past dead” in my head over the years: his soulful singing is part of the soundtrack of my life.
He wasn’t there in 1966, when Dylan toured with the Hawks – he had already had enough of the hostility of Bob’s folkie fans. But he was there with Bob at the Isle of Wight Festival on my 20th birthday in 1969 and he was there when The Band played Wembley in 1974.
Thinking back, I’m astonished by the fact that I have only actually seen him on stage twice. Because from the moment The Band released Music from Big Pink, Levon’s voice was everywhere. In a band of vocalists, his was the voice which defined the sound of The Band. And his loss of that voice, and subsequent death from throat cancer, is one of those cruel tricks that life plays.
It’s not ironic; it’s tragic.
For once, I have no words to explain further why this is such a profound loss to me and to all who love music. So, I hope with his understanding, I’m going to quote the estimable Rick Hough from Boston, who posted this morning:
“Levon Helm felt like family for most of my life, like some wild cousin you only saw sometimes but whom you knew all about. In some way he constituted the raw matter at the core – the undifferentiated components of the soul – within he and his boys’ mighty volume of work.”
Thanks Rick. You’ve said it better than I could. RIP Levon.
Today’s listening: Music from Big Pink, The Band, Rock of Ages