The Grammys are Sunday and one of the highlights will be the tribute to The Band’s great drummer and singer, Levon Helm, who died last year. T-Bone Burnett (interview here), Mavis Staples (interview here) and Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes and others will perform the Band’s classic song, “The Weight” in Helm’s honor.
One of the greatest live concert films of all time is The Band’s last live show called "The Last Waltz" featuring Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Muddy Waters as guest performances. It was directed -as much as someone can actually direct a live show where Neil Young had a nugget sized chunk of cocaine hanging off his nose so big you could see it from space- by Martin Scorsese and is a definitive piece of film that will and has stood the test of time.
I remember watching The Last Waltz with my ex-boyfriend over and over and over again on those long sticky summer nights in between my first and second years of university, drooling over the lush sounds of Levon Helm’s version of “The Weight” and thinking that this is what love felt like. While that romance faded my love for The Band never did and I felt truly mournful when I heard that Helm had passed away last year.
You hear all kinds of things in the music of The Band and the deep meaningful thumps of Helm’s drum set, but above all you hear the sounds of people. Its the sound of America, in 1968 coming apart at the seams, when blood was on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee and the traditional American household was feeling the rumblings of a cultural coup d’etat. It’s the sounds of summer slowly fading away as the sun dips gently over the horizon, and the mosquitoes stop buzzing and the bullfrogs start their hum. Its the voice of a generation long gone, but still echoing in our eardrums. The music of The Band and Levon Helm managed to capture both the loss, and gain, of something intangible and completely beautiful, and we are lucky to have had his musical talents for as long as we did. So without prosthelytizing, I implore you to see the Last Waltz if you can, its available on amazon, or read Charles Pierce’s touching remembrance of him here. It will be well worth it, I promise, I promise, I promise.
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