Story by Bob Girouard
Photographs by Matt Mac Haffie
I can’t imagine a world without Levon Helm. My world, your world and the lives of everyone he touched. The magic he created with his drumming and voice – never to be duplicated again – is hard for me to even fathom.
Several years ago, I had the rare privilege of getting to know the man and regularly visited with him. Initially awestruck at being in his presence, he quickly put me at ease as only he could with his larger-than-life persona. There was that familiar twinkle in his eye along with an approving nod… making me feel like had always been a part of his family. To Levon, it was never about the accolades or fame, it was about making the music.
As a fellow drummer, I was blown-away that he treated me like a peer and would always spend a generous amount of time shedding his light on the “how-where-and-why’s” of the instrument, his own lineage and the true stories behind some of the greatest music ever made. The hours seemingly went by like minutes, which made me hunger for more.
On the drive home, my head would invariably be filled with renewed passion for my chosen path… knowing I was being blessed; literally given something beyond anything words could describe. But that was Levon. More than anything, that was his core: Selfless, straightforward and unabashedly the genuine article.
In 2003, after I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, it was on Christmas Eve that my phone rang out of nowhere. It was Levon on the other end saying, “Hey, Bobby, this is a brother of the drum, and you stay strong, ya hear?” Here it was, one of the foremost musicians of our time taking a moment out of his life, while battling his own lethal illness, to help mine. And there were plenty more occurrences like that… much too numerous to mention here.
To me, and just about everyone, he was more than a mere mortal. Just being in the same room with him could
inspire you forever. And it did. Since 1993, when we first met on the Band’s tour bus, my life was and will be forever changed. Now, I’m alternating between tears and laughter… reflecting along with countless musicians and music lovers everywhere… giving righteous thanks to an icon, mentor and friend.
God bless you, Levon. The pleasure has been all ours.