It was what they were all about, Levon and the rest of The Band, in 1968, when the country was coming apart at the seams. Nothing was holding, least of all Mr. Yeats’s center. There were tanks in Prague and there was blood on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. The traditional American values of home and family and neighborhood were being fashioned into cheap weapons to use against the people who saw the death and gore as the deepest kind of betrayal of the ideals that made those values worth a damn in the first place. The music was disparate and fragmented; the Beatles were producing masterpieces that they couldn’t or wouldn’t take on the road. Brian Wilson was long gone, spelunking through the canyons of what was left of his mind. Jim Morrison, that tinpot fraud, was mixing bullshit politics with kindergarten Freudian mumbo-jumbo and his band didn’t even have a damn bass player. Elsewhere, there was torpid, silly psychedelia. The British were sort of holding it together, but, in America, even soul was coming apart. Nothing seemed rooted. Nothing abided. Nothing seemed to come from anything else. The whole country was bleeding from wounds nobody could find.
Pierce’s magnificent tribute to what he calls the “true Voice of America” was inspired by an announcement on Levon Helm’s website that he is in the final stages of his battle with cancer.
A little more from Charles Pierce:
It was a summoning of the idea of the American community, which has never been about conformity, either to fashion or to the politics of the moment. And, if you didn’t get the point, there were some sly hints on the record that pointed you back towards what was important, that made you realize that there was an America worth the effort of finding, that there was a country to which it was worth coming home.
Thank you, Charles. And thank you, Levon Helm, for your music, your voice. You know it’s never been easy. We’ll do our best.