There are certain films that are not merely great to me. They’re not merely my favorite films of all time. They’re so ingrained in the cultural, intellectual, and emotional DNA of “Lee Hurtado” that when you see them, you might actually understand me a little better.
And one of those films is The Last Waltz.
For those who haven’t seen it (and you really, really should), the film is Martin Scorsese’s document of the final concert of The Band. It’s a meditation on the musical life, and the toll of constant touring, the pressure to create and perform. But more than that, it’s a history of American music itself, in all its strains and all its beauty.
I was aware of who The Band were before I first saw The Last Waltz, and I had some sense of their history (any fan can tell you about their origins as Ronnie Hawkins’s backup band, about how they were right there with Dylan during the storm that raged when he Went Electric). But it wasn’t until I saw the film that I truly appreciated them for what they accomplished in their time together.
And from the beginning to the end, Levon Helm was there.
It’s impossible to say that any one member was the “heart” of The Band. The beauty of their music, and the poetry of that Last Waltz, came from a chemistry between the five members that could never be duplicated. So, it’s impossible to argue that what they created together could have happened without the presence, the soul of Levon Helm.
As a drummer, Helm was unmatched. As a singer, he brought a purity to every recording and every live performance. As an actor, he was pretty damned good. And as a herald, a solo ambassador for American music… was there anyone better?
The musical odyssey of Levon Helm was our odyssey. In his voice, we heard passion, tragedy, joy, life. His music affected me in ways I may never be able to articulate. And so his passing has similarly affected me.
But there’s solace in knowing he found peace at the end (especially with Bandmate Robbie Robertson, who reached out to bridge their long divide before it was too late). And there’s a strange comfort in knowing that even though Helm’s weight has been lifted, “The Weight” will always be ours to bear.
So I can’t think of a better tribute to a man who exemplifies all I love in music than to leave you with that lasting piece of Levon Helm’s legacy:
Once again, thank you for your support as I try to make sense of what I’m feeling. Until the next time…