The Final Days of Levon Helm

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The drummer for The Band, that influential group whose members were accomplished musicians in their own right, is about to leave the stage, of life.

Levon Helm, the drummer with the Band, has reached the final stages of his battle with cancer, according to a note posted on the musician’s Web site. Mr. Helm, 71, received a diagnosis of throat cancer in 1998 and nearly lost his voice, though he has continued to sing on albums and at concerts. The note, signed by his daughter and wife, asked fans to send “prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey.”

I’ll never forget the first time I watched the documentary The Last Waltz. I wasn’t used to seeing a drummer sing. I’d seen drummers sing backup, but never the lead. Helm sang “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” with real passion. He didn’t even have to focus on his drumming, which obviously came naturally. His attention being put squarely on the words of the song. The soul of it. It remains one of my most favorite performances.

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God Speed, Levon.

UPDATE: Helm dies.

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