I met Dick Clark nearly 20 years ago at the opening of his short-lived American Bandstand Grill in Miami's Bayside Shopping Center. With his perpetual, ever-ready grin, he mingled freely with his guests and graciously agreed to sign autographs. I still have the 45-shaped invitation, on which he signed his names and offered salutations to my two young sons, Chris and Kyle, hanging in my music room. I suppose it could be worth something on Ebay now, but whatever I'd get wouldn't be nearly enough to cover the worth of those memories alone.
If that wasn't enough to absorb, we also just we lost Levon Helm. Naturally, Levon's legacy won't reap the kind of accolades accorded Clark, but he's deserving of them all the same.
The authentic heartland picker who found himself in the company of a bunch of boys from our neighbor to the north, he was the authentic personification of the Americana sound that the Band brought to rock. Yes, there had been others before -- the Byrds specifically and, to an extent, Buffalo Springfield -- but until the Band arrived, first in the company of Dylan and then on their own with the one-two punch of Music From Big Pink and their eponymous sophomore set, no one had procured a down-home, back-porch approach with such authenticity. They even looked the part, with their weathered visages, overalls, and thread coats posing stoically on a country road up there in Woodstock, as if to say, with all humility, country rock has arrived.
Levon, the drummer, mandolin picker, and frequent lead singer, gave voice to those rambling narratives, singing the songs that originally summed up their sound -- "The Weight," "Up on Cripple Creek," "Ophelia," and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" in particular. Watching him keep the beat back there on the drum kit and sing, head turned toward the microphone, one got the full sense of what the music was all about, the rustic resilience of those timeless tales and the lessons learned with them.
Indeed, though he faced crippling medical issues in the final years of his life, Helm's sheer determination never kept him far from the fray. After his voice weakened to a mere rasp, he fought back and sang stronger. His Midnight Rambles at his home in upstate New York became a new tradition of sorts, a gathering of both veteran and upcoming artists who were proud to build on the roots-rock sound he helped establish.
Even when illness forced him to the sidelines, he was an indomitable presence, a father figure not only to his daughter, Amy Helm, who continues his legacy in her band Ollabelle, but to musicians and fans alike who seized on the sound of his heartland traditions and embraced all they echoed.
So, here we are days later, looking back at the passing of two figures who meant so much and praying desperately that a third, Robin Gibb, the Bee Gees brother
, will somehow pull through. The music died twice last week. How terrible that it should die again.