I wrote about Levon Helm the other day and then realized I’d left out part of the story – my personal connection: the thing I stole from him.
I saw the Band at Woodstock (supposedly they were disappointed with their performance – I certainly wasn’t), again at the NY Academy of Music in 1970 and about six other times up until they first disbanded. I kept tabs on Levon and the others over the years and desperately wanted to go to a Ramble but one thing or another kept me away.
A few years ago, when I was writing ‘Mindbenders’, I created a character, Mark Tauber, to represent the old American mindbender program. I saw Tauber as a strong person who’d fallen on hard times and become frail but who still possessed character, a reserve of strength he could regain through this mission. Those were my feelings about the character but I didn’t know yet how to embody him. I had written a set of scenes that he participated in but the man hadn’t really come alive for me yet.
And then I saw a YouTube video one day of Levon at a Ramble. I don’t remember which video it was but it showed him walking out onto the stage and – just in the walk – you could see the frailty of the cancer survivor. And then he sat at the drum kit, picked up the sticks, kicked into ‘Ophelia’ and the whole place shook. And so did I.
I had Tauber from then on. I gave him Levon’s inflections, the kinds of phrases Levon would say and even used a couple of Levon’s quotes from the Last Waltz in the book. He was a force of nature, a father figure and a fallen angel.
Anyway, it’s my tribute to the man and I figured I should come clean. Say what you mean and mean what you say – it’s Levon’s way.