… Rock and roll “is the most brutal, ugly, desperate vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear. Rock n’ roll smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons, and by means of its almost imbecilic reiteration, and sly, lewd, in plain fact, dirty lyrics….it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.” [Frank Sinatra at 1958 Congressional hearings, New York Times magazine, 12.1.58, p.19...
How out of touch can you be? Speech and lyrics are an expression of the mind, with music being the expression of the soul; on this basis of an artist, it is possible to determine the level of a person at any point in time, and Levon Helm is at a high altitude.
The yearning storyteller, invoking a very old tradition, the old oral tradition of the communication of experience, of wisdom; like one of the lost leaders of the ten tribes who knew his way home and about this great world. That loamy voice, twangy, soulful, it left no one indifferent, and more profoundly reconciled the elemental and potentially dangerous with warmth, grace and invitational hospitality in old ways that are enduring, touching on the immortal rays of wisdom, non judgemental and just darn beautiful. A mission of the soul who maybe glimpsed the promised land and shared it for us to see. Greil Marcus called it the Old Weird America, an invisible republic, an adherence and integrity to something very fundamental.
( see link at end) He sang with the bone-deep confidence of someone who has eyeballed our biggest fears and lived to tell the tale: Band singer and keyboardist Richard Manuel hanged himself in 1986; singer and bassist Rick Danko died of a drug-related heart condition in 1999. Over that same period, Helm struggled through nearly 30 radiation treatments trying to beat the cancer growing near the very yowl that defined his career. (One doctor actually suggested removing his voice box in 1998; luckily for us, Helm got a second opinion.)
Those Grammys helped to underscore Helm’s importance, within the Band and within the broader landscape of American roots music – but it is here, within the songs, that it becomes manifest. Even after all of that, Helm’s signature style remained. His playing was an involving mixture of rhythm and emotion – someone once said he was the only drummer who can make you cry – while his singing remained a wonder of ribald bewilderment, old-time religion and shotgun shack-rattling joy.Read More:http://somethingelsereviews.com/2012/04/18/gimme-five-celebrating-levon-helm-co-founder-and-voice-of-the-band/
How can you sum up the guy? He never strived to become a populist nihilist, a revolutionary of history who would discard tradition, a innovator of form who would substitute spirituality with jokey miserableness and fashionable misanthrophy, the predominance of the gesture and pose. Never writing about suffering but staying on the surface to keep it a “pop culture” thing. No. Levon Helm was a throwback, archetypes so old they could never be quantified and packaged for re-sale. Levon Helm was never too consumer friendly, there was too much there to be diluted and sugar coated. It was a communication often about despair, but never without hope and bedrock conviction which separated him from much of the brain-deadening, lazy, easy way out hippie-isms of the 1960′s that he could have easily transformed into a knee-jerk nihilism new age socialism that aesthetically appeals to the average cynical consumer.