Levon Helm of the Band dies at 71

Just over the wire from MSNBC:

Levon Helm, singer and drummer for the Band, died on April 19 in New York of throat cancer. He was 71.

“He passed away peacefully at 1:30 this afternoon surrounded by his friends and bandmates,” Helm’s longtime guitarist Larry Campbell  tells Rolling Stone. “All his friends were there, and it seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left we sat there and he just faded away. He did it with dignity. It was even two days ago they thought it would happen within hours, but he held on. It seems like he was Levon up to the end, doing it the way he wanted to do it. He loved us, we loved him.”

In addition to his musicianship with The Band, Helm was also an accomplished actor in supporting roles as Sissy Spacek’s father in A Coal Miner’s Daughter, and as the wingman to Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, with a stick of Beemans (the official gum of test pilots) always at the ready.

Incidentally, as someone who wasn’t a fan of The Band and its mythology in the 1970s, what’s the deal with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?” Its pro-Confederate lyrics are the very definition of politically incorrect. Is it granted a pass by the left because of The Band’s association with Dylan? Does it help that it’s describing the end of the Confederacy? Or are fans simply listening to the melody and the dynamics of the song and not paying attention to the lyrics? (When I saw the Funk Brothers, the Motown house band, play at a Northern California winery five or six years ago, I got a chuckle out of couple of thousand Bobos in Paradise, few of which are likely NRA members, shouting every word of Junior Walker’s “Shotgun;” presumably Robbie Robertson’s song gets a pass as well.)