The summer The Last Waltz came out, my Dad took me to see it at least three times. This was before the days of video and long before you-tube, so if you saw something you liked and wanted to see it again, you had to go to the movie theater. It wasn’t my choice exactly but I remember loving it, partly because it was the first documentary I'd ever seen (a movie with real people! who talked to the camera!), partly because I knew and liked some of the music, but mostly because my Dad loved it so much. We sat together in the movie theater while my brother and sisters (who really were too young to enjoy it, but it was summer and they didn’t have a babysitter) ran around in the aisles. “Whose kids are those?” my Dad would say, loudly and indignantly, before settling into his seat.
My Dad liked Robbie Robertson because he was the creator and he admired his elegance and poise, but I think he identified with Levon Helm, who, like him, was a drummer and singer, and had a voice (speaking as well as singing) that could be high-pitched, gravelly and Civil War mountain-man-ish all at once. They were both funny, cool, hard workers, and (at least in my eyes) the one you’d watch on stage. My Dad was a working actor at that time, but he loved music and dancing, and I think, would have loved to be part of a band like that one. Which is why he kept going back to see it again and again. I felt honored (or whatever the comparable word a young teen would use) to be included, like he was sharing something secret about himself specifically with me.
I first heard that Levon was dying, from an announcement on Twitter that said, “Levon is in the final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send prayers and love” and even though I hadn’t thought much about him for years I was saddened by the thought that he was about to go. He died two days after that. I remember thinking what a great and full life he had, and how he was so good at telling a story through the way that he sang. I remembered too, how I felt watching him in the air-conditioned movie theater in the Valley: mature, sophisticated, and honored to be included.
This was my favorite song.