Living with Levon

Levon Helm’s story was that of a modern Job

Friday marked the first anniversary of Levon Helm’s death, and I have spent a goodly part of that year reading about him and listening to his music and meeting his friends and writing several articles and finally-WARNING! NAKED PLUG APPROACHING!–a short 50 page monograph about him called The Book of Levon: The Trials and Triumphs of Levon Helm that’s available digitally and as a paperback. I had been a fan of The Band in their heyday, but what really gripped me about Helm’s story was what how he weathered what happened to him after The Band broke up. Not only did his style of music go out of favor, but he then endured one loss after another: the suicide of his bandmate Richard Manuel, the loss of his house in a fire, the death of one close friend and then another, imminent bankruptcy, and finally throat cancer, and the subsequent radiation therapy that cost him his singing voice. Through each of these painful moments he kept pressing on and making music and entertaining audiences, until finally, almost miraculously, his voice returned, cracked, worn, but still authentic, and he hit upon an idea which reestablished his career and revived his creativity and reminded everyone what a great artist he was. Through it all, he remained generous, gregarious and optimistic. Helm played pretty nearly until he dropped, making his final, pain-wracked performance less than three weeks before his death. His was the story of a modern Job, stoic and courageous. and I found it enormously inspirational, in these times and at this stage of my life. Maybe you will, too. In the meantime, here’s Levon, joined by friends in the fullness of his years, performing The Weight.

Thanks for letting me have the run of the joint this weekend. I’ve enjoyed it.

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.