L. at church reports that according to a note from the wife and daughter of Levon Helm on his website, he is “in the final stages of his battle with cancer.” I’m sad.
I shook hands with Levon Helm after a show once. They had just made my night by playing “Blind Willie McTell,” a Dylan masterpiece that Bob Dylan himself hadn’t performed live yet; he had only released it on the first Bootleg Series, to near-universal cries of “Why in the name of all Dylanesque perversity did he bury this for eight years?!” (Mark Knopfler on acoustic guitar, Dylan on piano, a voice to break your heart. Dylan later claimed it didn’t make it onto the album because it was “just a demo.” I’m inclined to think that on the contrary, it was so good, so raw and real, he couldn’t bear to have it out there.) The Band had then recorded it on Jericho, Helm and Rick Danko doing a stunning version with those crazy mismatched voices of theirs. I wasn’t the only one crossing my fingers that they’d play it at the concert.
It was a very small venue, and I made my way up to Helm afterwards and shook his hand, unable to find any words except “Blind Willie McTell, man! Blind Willie McTell!” He just grinned with very bright eyes and held onto my hand an extra second, clearly high. No way to know whether the high was from performing or from something additional. I was soaring myself, without benefit of chemicals.
You done good, Mr. Helm. May you have an easy passing.