Requiem for Levon

I am on a ferryboat from Hollyhead to Dublin when I get the news from home: Levon has passed away.

First thing I do is turn my head to the window and find the cold blue sea beyond, the waves like a living, dancing quilt rolling out to meet the sky.

Could it have been little more than a month back that I sat on a wooden bench not five feet from his drum-riser as he played and sang Ophelia with the grace of a veteran dancer, the spirit of a country preacher, at once lithe, weather-worn, fiery, weary, imperishable.

It is true there was a gleam in his eye. Like a school-boy skipping classes all afternoon to while away the hours with friends down by the river's edge, elemental wonders, overjoyed just to live within earshot of the sound of music.

I am lucky enough to have had the extraordinary privilege to share the stage with Levon on occasion, one of the great honors of my life, just to have been one of those children dodging the truant officer, our toes in the rushing water, the widest smiles.

Levon Helm is more than a drummer. More than a singer. He is a natural force, akin to weather and sunlight, not very different from the quiet wood in which he made his home, the wind that whips the trees. You could walk from Arkansas to Alberta, Winnipeg to Woodstock and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more soulful, gracious man.

I can't assume to know where our heroes go when they die. Nirvana. Heaven. The tremendous band in the sky, assembled in the round, together there on a sun-kissed, better shore. Whatever it's called, wherever it is, you can bet the farm that today the bells are ringing there, and the people are singing. Because Levon knows what we can only guess: That there is no last waltz. That we'll forever file in through the barn door with the ones we love, drawn by the firelight, grab our children and go round and round in a dance interminable. We doe-see-doe. We stomp the boards. Shout. Kiss. Cry. Sing. Spin. Laugh. Squeal. Study the stars through the gaps in the ceiling.

Simone Felice, 19th of April, 2012