I wanted to meet Levon Helm. Unfortunately, I never will. The cancer he once defeated had returned. On April 19, 2012, Levon Helm left this world. Since his death I’ve become a bigger fan of his. I didn’t know it was possible. Yet, I’ll never be able to meet him and tell him. He would have appreciated the kind words. I feel like I know him, and in a lot ways that’s far better than a passing handshake. On another plane from a quick, awkward picture. I know him from a book. His book.
This Wheel’s On Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band. But more than anything it’s the story of one man. It’s the story of Levon Helm. The country boy from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas. He escaped the hard work of Mississippi Delta cotton farming with music. His love. His passion. It’s the central theme. The main artery giving life to the many stories of Levon’s life. You can add storyteller to his list of talents.
The first thing I noticed was the style of narration. This book wasn’t written. It was told. That’s how I felt while I read it. I felt like I was sitting in the room with Levon, listening as he told me a bunch of cool stories. I “pulled a chair up to his fireplace while he rolled one and we opened some beers.” Just as he invited me to do in the Prologue. Southern hospitality from a southern gentleman. It was as if they recorded everything he said and transcribed the tapes. You can “hear” Levon’s “voice” echo through the pages. That’s why I feel like I know him. He didn’t let somebody write his story for him. He told it himself. He had a helping hand along the way from Rick Danko, Ronnie Hawkins, and a few others. Their appearances don’t feel written either.
There’s a brutal honesty in these pages. No sugar coating. No glossing over anything. No bullshit. Just a man standing “naked”, wrapped in the stories that are the fabric of his life. He’s tailored a fine suit for himself. It’s stitched together with every emotion known to man. There’s something here everyone can relate to, or should.
By the time I reached the Epilogue, I felt I made a new friend. I didn’t get the chance to tell him anything about myself, but that’s alright. I wouldn’t have wanted to bore him. Besides, he did a wonderful job of keeping me entertained. I wouldn’t have wanted to interrupt. It was one story after another. The final story though, wasn’t his to tell, and as I write this I feel a sadness rush over me. I knew what was coming. I felt a sadness I didn’t feel back in 2012. Back then I wanted to meet him. Now, I feel like I know him, and I have to say goodbye to a new friend. But it isn’t a true goodbye, I know where he is. When I want to listen, he’ll be more than ready to talk. He’s waiting on my bookshelf.
Copyright © Drew Martin 2015