Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm

I first saw the name Levon Helm in 1968 when I bought an LP called "Music from Big Pink" by a group calling themselves simply The Band. I read a review of the album in Rolling Stone or a similar publication, and knew the group had first gained attention accompanying Bob Dylan in his concert performances, so I bought the record as soon as it was available.

Four of the five group members were Canadians, but the drummer was an Arkansas boy named Levon Helm. He had a distinctive voice, and most people have heard him as the lead vocalist on the rock standard "Up on Cripple Creek." I think he also sings on the group's best known song, called "The Weight." The Band split up in the late 1970s, and Levon Helm went on to a modest career as an actor. He had a memorable small part in "The Right Stuff" as an Air Force officer who shared sticks of chewing gum with Chuck Yeager, but his best performance was as Loretta Lynn's daddy in "Coal Miner's Daughter." His scene with Sissy Spacek (as Loretta), when he's seeing her off at the train depot, was perfect, and he should have won a supporting actor Oscar for that one.

The news today is that Levon Helm is in the final stages of a losing battle with cancer. For me, though, he'll live on every time I watch him telling his daughter Loretta goodbye on that railroad platform.

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Dedicated to Jim Ferguson. If you don't know who Jim Ferguson is, you (a) haven't seen The Missouri Breaks, or (b) have an inadequate ability to fully assimilate movie trivia.