It’s different…just enough…from the Texas twang. It’s nothing like that south Louisiana marbles-in-your mouth—cultural bouillabaissed obtuse tongue. Or the IQ attenuating “y’all aint from ‘round here are ya?” treacle of the Carolinas’ (the elegant Charleston lowcountry South Carolina accent being an exception).
I saw briefly last night before the drugs kicked in, a scene from one of those television shows where they trace the ancestors of a celebrity. It was Oklahoma’s own Reba McEntire and she was in England, standing in a 17th century church graveyard, pondering the interment spot of her seventh great grandfather and his life in Cheshire. A rather staid and stoic English historian was standing beside her and the contrast was, well…American. Reba’s fiery red hair seemed to be the only color amidst the sooty stone Gothic backdrop for her contrived self-reflection. And then she spoke. Let me just say that the Okie accent and Reba energy doesn’t do for a Cheshire graveyard what Levon of Arkansas did for The Band.
What the flip does this have to do with Levon Helm and maybe, if ADG will ever get to it, The Band? Be patient. I know what you are thinking—this is just another one of ADG’s maudlin-mawkish flounderings…shrouded in some kind of regional accent themed wallow. Nope. But I do admit to meandering from time to time. I think that this one American—this Arkansan—Levon Helm, did more than anyone to make valid the eclectically gritty, unpretentious and mixed genre nature of The Band—not that Canadians can’t be gritty and granular. And Levon says that he never really considered himself “a singer.” Are you kidding me? Whose voice do you mostly hear on all of The Band signature songs?
Have a brief visit with Levon courtesy of the video clip below. Maybe you’ll sense some of the same things about Levon Helm that I have. And just in case you don’t watch the video, here’s a couple of keepers for you…
“Nothing’s a guarantee. It’s the old one day at a time. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be I guess.”
“What’s it like to sing on an album with your daughter?”
“…I wanted to get well enough to do that…”
Cancer, bankruptcy and two Grammys are part of his last decade’s oeuvre but I still intuit a can’t be faked level of gratitude, humility and sincerity in Levon. Levon of Arkansas. Levon—the roux from which The Band was made.
And Levon Helm didn’t drape himself in decorative scarfs.
Onward. ADG II of Old Town. Linguist in a scarf.