Legendary Levon Helm, Drummer and Singer of The Band, Dead at 71

Legendary Levon Helm, Drummer and Singer of The Band, Dead at 71

Levon Helm, legendary singer and drummer for the acclaimed and influential rock group The Band, died on Thursday, April 19th in New York City of throat cancer. He was 71. He passed away peacefully surrounded by his friends and bandmates. A very sad note signed by his daughter and wife had appeared Tuesday on the official website for multiple Grammy winner Levon Helm:  “Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer,” said the note. “Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey. Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration…he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage.”

Levon Helm had reached the final stages of his battle with cancer, which was first diagnosed in the late 1990s. He recovered, but it took him many years to recover his singing voice. At last Saturday’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland, former Band guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson told the audience, “We all need to send out love and prayers to my Band mate Levon Helm.”

Mr. Helm, a native of Arkansas whose father was a cotton farmer, was an important member of The Band, lending his steady beat and weathered voice to the group’s signature hit songs, such as: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Weight, Rag Mama Rag and Daniel and the Sacred Harp. The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Read more about Levon Helm’s death in Rolling Stone here and in the New York Times here.

Listen to Levon Helm’s Finest Moments: From The Weight to Atlantic City. Eighteen tracks from The Band co-founder’s incredible career: The Rolling Stone Playlist

View the Slide Show: Levon Helm Through the Years here.

View another Slide Show: Levon Helm’s Musical Journey here.

Levon Helm and The Band: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (1969)

(Best Viewed in HD Full-Screen Mode)

Levon Helm and The Band: The Weight (Woodstock 1969)

(Best Viewed in HD-Mode}

The Band with The Staple Singers: The Weight (From “The Last Waltz” 1978)

Levon Helm’s Life After Cancer

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A Tribute: For Levon Helm, With Prayers and Love

A Tribute: For Levon Helm, With Prayers and Love

A very sad note signed by his daughter and wife appeared yesterday on the official website for multiple Grammy winner Levon Helm, the drummer-singer of the acclaimed and influential rock group, the Band. “Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer,” says the note. “Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey. Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration…he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage.”

Levon Helm, the drummer and singer with the Band, has reached the final stages of his battle with cancer, which was first diagnosed in the late 1990s. He recovered, but it took him many years to recover his singing voice. At Saturday’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland, former Band guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson told the audience, “We all need to send out love and prayers to my Band mate Levon Helm.”

Mr. Helm, a native of Arkansas whose father was a cotton farmer, was an important member of the Band, lending his steady beat and weathered voice to the group’s signature hit songs, such as: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Weight, Rag Mama Rag and Daniel and the Sacred Harp. The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Update: Levon Helm, legendary singer and drummer for the Band, died on Thursday, April 19th in New York of throat cancer. He was 71. Read more here.

Listen to Levon Helm’s Finest Moments: From The Weight to Atlantic City. Eighteen tracks from the Band co-founder’s incredible career: The Rolling Stone Playlist

View the Slide Show: Levon Helm Through the Years here.

View another Slide Show: Levon Helm’s Musical Journey here.

Levon Helm and The Band: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (1969)

(Best Viewed in HD Full-Screen Mode)

Levon Helm and The Band: The Weight (Woodstock 1969)

(Best Viewed in HD-Mode]

Levon Helm’s Life After Cancer

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The Lives They Lived: The Music They Made

The Lives They Lived: The Music They Made

With the new year approaching, The New York Times has taken note of some of the lives that ended in the past 12 months.  This is their 15th annual Lives They Lived issue, which doesn’t claim to be comprehensive or definitive in their choices of the people whose lives are described. Instead, this is an unabashedly idiosyncratic collection, driven by the interests, passions and whims of their editors and writers, who hope that readers are moved, tickled, intrigued and provoked by reading about these 24 very different lives, all memorably lived.

In addition to The Lives They Lived, the Times presents The Music They Made, in the form of a musical sound collage featuring a sampling of the musicians who died this year.  The musicians presented include Odetta, Mike Smith (The Dave Clark Five), Rick Wright (Pink Floyd), Eddy Arnold, Isaac Hayes, Miriam Makeba, Nick Reynolds and John Stewart (The Kingston Trio), Buddy Miles and others.

The Music They Made: A Musical Montage

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Decades of Musical History: A Tribute to Legendary Musicians

Sly Stone with Reel-to-Reel Tape Player

Johnny Cash Deep in Thought

Most of the photographs of the legendary musicians in this video, representing decades of musical history, might be familiar to a number of music fans: Johnny Cash deep in thought in 1959, Bob Dylan sitting at a piano wearing his Ray-Ban sunglasses in 1965.  Others have rarely been seen, including the 1973 picture of Sly Stone in front of a tape player and the dramatic 1963 photograph of Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, recording his spoken-word album I Am the Greatest! Photographs of other major musicians that are included in this music video include pictures of Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the late folk-singer Steve Goodman, Willie Nelson and many others.

The music accompanying the video is The Band’s Tears of Rage.

Decades of Musical History: A Tribute to Legendary Musicians

Music by The Band: Tears of Rage

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Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright: Songs of Measured Lament

Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright: Songs of Measured Lament

Jeff Buckley was born in California in 1966 and died at the young age of 31 in a tragic drowning accident in Memphis, Tennessee. He had emerged in New York City’s Lower East Side avant-garde club scene during the early-1990’s as one of the most remarkable musical artists of his generation, acclaimed by audiences, critics,and fellow musicians alike. Buckley performed a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah on his 1994 debut album Grace. By 1997, Buckley had moved from New York City and settled in Memphis, where he continued to work on what would have been his newest album. His last public show was a solo performance at a small club named Barrister’s in Memphis on May 26, 1997. Buckley died three days later, drowning in Memphis in the Wolf River on May 29, 1997.

Everybody Here Wants You: A Documentary of Buckley’s Life

Jeff Buckley: Halleluja

Rufus Wainwright met Jeff Buckley in the 1990s when Wainwright was an up-and-coming act. By then, Buckley had already released his first album (Grace), and was well on his way to stardom. Wainwright is said to have felt somewhat exasperated that Buckley often played at Sin-é, a café on New York’s Lower East Side, while he had been rejected three times by the club. The two met several months before Buckley’s drowning, during a show that Wainwright was playing. Buckley supposedly helped out with some technical problems, and the two talked over beers for a few hours.

In Wainwright’s 2004 album Want Two, his song Memphis Skyline was written as a tribute to Buckley, a loving elegy for another beautiful boy blessed with more than mere attitude and exhibitionism. “Always hated him for the way he looked/in the gaslight of the morning,” Rufus sings about Buckley, for whom this is a sweetly homoerotic tribute: “So kiss me, my darling, stay with me till morning…” That song also mentions Hallelujah, the Leonard Cohen song that Buckley had notably covered, and which Wainwright later did likewise.

Rufus Wainwright: Hallelujah

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April 5th: “You Believe in Dreams in a Dream-Forsaken Land”

You Believe in Dreams in a Dream-Forsaken Land

Roseanne Cash in The New York Times

The Ear of the Beholder

“I have spent a lifetime in the service of creative fiction, as well as non-fiction ornamented by fiction….The “truth” (or “honesty”) and the “facts” are not necessarily the same, they are not necessarily equal and one often requires the suspension of the other. This may not be the case in higher math or on Wall Street (or, actually, it may work there as well, but I’m clueless about that) but it is an immutable “truth” in art and music that facts are not necessarily the best indicators of the deepest human experience.

The table where you found the suicide note, the cup of coffee that turned cold because you were distracted in a painful reverie staring out the old wavy-glass window at the rain dripping off the eaves, the seashell left in the coat pocket from the last time you were at that favorite spot at the ocean, when it all came clear that you were at the right place with the wrong man, the letters, the photos, the marbles and jewels – all these physical, material, real-world artifacts carry poetic weight and should be used liberally in songwriting. These are the facts that convey truth to me.

The exact words he said, who was right or wrong, whether he relapsed on the 7th or the 10th, why exactly she does what she does, the depth and weight and timbre of the feelings, whether Love Heals Everything – these aren’t facts, these are ever-changing blobs of emotional mercury, and when you are working in rhyme, it can be much more powerful and resonant to write about the shards of the coffee cup than about the feeling that caused him to throw it across the room. You are better off moving the furniture than you are directly analyzing the furniture maker. This is to say nothing of the fact that the lyrical content of songs is by definition wholly entwined with melody, rhythm, tone and possibly a backbeat, and these carry their own authority.

Recently, I wrote a song with Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Costello. It was a wild idea I had while I was lying around recovering from surgery this past winter. They are both friends – I’ve known Kris since my childhood – and Elvis and I had just written a song together by email. …. I asked them separately if they would be interested in recording together, the three of us, and they were both game. We started talking about this in February. We found that the only day in a six-month window when the three of us would be in New York at the same time, without obligations, was April 5th. I booked the studio, not knowing what we would do. As the date got closer, I started to get a little nervous and thought maybe my initial idea of recording old songs of ours together might not have the fresh energy and originality I was looking for. Elvis and John Leventhal, my husband and frequent collaborator and producer, kept mentioning that they hoped we could write something together that day, but that also made me anxious. It seemed too much pressure for one day.

I had a song that was incomplete, but a great idea, that I had started writing when I was halfway through recording Black Cadillac. It never really worked, and last year John picked it up again, streamlined it musically and suggested some lyric changes – actually lyric deletions, as he thought it was too wordy. I pared the first verse down to this:

You want love
But it’s never deep enough
You want life
But it’s never long enough
You want peace
Like it’s something you can buy
You want time
But you’re content to watch it fly

I loved the song, but it was still incomplete and didn’t seem to have a home. John thought this would be a great song to write with the gents, and so I sent the first verse by e-mail to Elvis and to Kris (by way of his wife, Lisa, as Kris doesn’t do e-mail), to see if they would be interested in finishing it with us. Elvis responded immediately, and within a couple days had e-mailed back a second verse, and some ideas for bridges. I loved his verse (“You want imagination but you cannot pretend…“), and we began a dialogue about where it should go. Nothing from Kris, who was touring in Europe.

We waited.

On April 4th, the day before the session, Lisa sent an e-mail saying, “Here are his thoughts so far…” and a verse from Kris that raised the hair on the back of my head and brought instant tears to my eyes. I sent it to Elvis, fingers shaking, and he wrote back within minutes, his excitement and exclamation points jumping off the screen.

It was perfect.

It all came together seamlessly the next day, in a way that I’ve seldom experienced in 30 years of recording. It was like alchemy. It was eight hours of magic (and I never use that word). Elvis tinkered with his verses a bit, we divided up the vocal parts and the three of us stood in a circle with the three musicians – John, Zev Katz and Joe Bonadio – and recorded the song. It still doesn’t have a proper title, or a home, but it is a thing of beauty. (Regarding the title, I suggested “Free Will,” Kris suggested “Faith and Free Will,” and Elvis was concerned that anything with “free will” would remind people of a movie about a whale; so right now we’re calling it “April 5th,” because that’s when we recorded it.) A few people who have heard it have said that even though the lyrics are uplifting, even elegiac, the song makes them cry, and they are not sure why. I had the same experience, and I’m not sure why, either. There are no “facts” in these lyrics, no literal references to our lives, beyond our combined assimilated experience and unstated values.

A few people who have heard it have said that even though the lyrics are uplifting, even elegiac, the song makes them cry, and they are not sure why. I had the same experience, and I’m not sure why, either. There are no “facts” in these lyrics, no literal references to our lives, beyond our combined assimilated experience and unstated values.

We are so deeply limited by language, and so ennobled by it. Songs are the attempt to convey what is under and behind language, and so it is counter-productive, if not counter-intuitive, to clutch at exactitudes of circumstance that retreat further in meaning the more desperate we become to quantify them.”

You Want Life, But It’s Never Long Enough

Twilight’s Ambiguity: Vagueness and Possibility

Rosanne Cash spoke about how some persons have reacted to hearing this song by saying that, “A few people who have heard it have said that even though the lyrics are uplifting, even elegiac, the song makes them cry, and they are not sure why. I had the same experience, and I’m not sure why, either.”

Just what is it about the lyrics of this new song that evokes the uncomfortable feelings relating to ambiguity and uncertainty? From my own perspective, the feeling of uncertainty, of not knowing, reflects the shadowy, twilight realm known as unformulated experience, which is so often characteristic of our greatest longings, as well as our desperate need to have them “heard.” Rosanne Cash’s wonderful contribution intentionally focuses upon some of our deeper emotional experiences: love, life, peace and time (to live). Sadly, those very wishes too often engender unbearable sources of frustration, the wishes seeming to be either unfulfilling or not obtainable.

Elvis Costello’s verse,”You want imagination but you cannot pretend,” poetically reveals the distressing sense of paradox that is inherent to the nature of our deeper emotional wishes, which can in turn serve as a barrier to maintaining a sense of and attaining our objects of benign hope. Kristofferson’s verse, “You believe in dreams in a dream-forsaken land,” is a similar reflection of life’s fundamental, ongoing and painful sense of paradox, with many-layers of potential meanings. In many areas of life, especially those mentioned in Roseanne Cash’s lyrics, the struggle to achieve a genuine sense of independence and maturity similarly means being able and willing to sustain the essential, complex tensions of paradox until one can achieve a new understanding, supported by a view of experience as emergent. All of these, in turn, call upon a wide-ranging capacity to recognize and appreciate multiple perspectives.

And be not afraid of courting surprise.

Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson: “April 5th”

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Grizzly and Final Fantasy Release “Possibly Maybe”

Ed Droste of Grizzly and Owen Pallett (a.k.a. Final Fantasy) have collaborated and contributed their own fluttering version of Possibly Maybe to Stereogum’s brand-new, 12-track Enjoyed: A Tribute to Björk’s Post compilation.  Reports are that they transformed Possibly Maybe into a minimal wonderland of musical twists reminiscent of the late Charles Arthur Russell.  They joined covers by other groups, such as Liars, Dirty Projectors, High Places, Bell, Pattern Is Movement, Evangelicals, Xiu Xiu, White Hinterland, El Guincho and Atlas Sound.  You can stream or download their MP3 or the entire album and for free.   Enjoy it!!

Ed Droste and Owen Pallett/Possibly Maybe:

During the course of their collaboration in Toronto, they were interviewed by Out.com, where they talked about boyfriend issues and such.  You can read their interview here.

Plus, here’s Björk’s new Wanderlust video:

Björk: Wanderlust

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