Levon Helm died today after a long battle with cancer. It's not unexpected, but it's a bummer anyway. In addition to being a completely legendary drummer with The Band, Helm was also great for what he kept alive in music through his Midnight Ramble concert series, which was basically a semi-regular event that involved inviting complete strangers to his home to see him and his friends (who happen to also be very accomplished) play music. I like to think it was this casualness that made his drumming what it was. In The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese film about the end of The Band's touring career (and so, so, so much more), Helm is an anchor, lending perfect, round drums to a cavalcade of band collaborators, included a sweaty, maybe coked up Van Morrison. It's hard picking any one song that showcases Helm's considerable talent. He wasn't especially showy, instead opting for quietness and control. Since I couldn't decide exactly what to pick, I went with The Band's performance of "The Weight" from The Last Waltz, which also features vocals from Helm. My relationship to this song, and specifically this film, is a deeply personal one. The Band was one of the only bands I remember hearing in my house as a kid, and so Helm's voice, and in some primal way, his drumming is something I associate with comfort and warmth. About once a year I watch The Last Waltz, and every time I catch new things in Helm's drumming. An extra hit, the way he moves his arms. It's not like I'm some drum scholar, but it doesn't take a genius to realize that this dude was, and always will be, the real deal.
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