Often times before a performance the band meets and has a “moment.” The idea is to ground ourselves in the task at hand so that we can attempt to enter fully into it. One of the most impactful and effective points of reflection for us is the reality that our shows are numbered. We often lose ourselves in the thought that there will always be another gig around the corner and, although this establishes a healthy connection to the performance, it is not totally true. Each performance has a number and that number is waning.
Each performance is also the direct result of the show before it. We carry with us the weight of the last show, the last year, the last five years, the last 10 to 25 and so on. So much time and expense has gotten us to that moment. Seen in light of this reality we understand that each show is “expensive” and not to be wasted! Every show carries with it the many years that each member painfully learned their instrument, sacrificed other wants in pursuit of their musical identity. Many hours, nights, days, weeks away from family, loved ones, special events and celebrations. As if that is not sobering enough, there is the reality that each yell or scream from my vocal chords depletes the voice changing the tonal quality never to be the same again! There is a weight in every performance that cannot be ignored and must be respected.
On March 13, 2012, I had the privilege of seeing one of my musical heroes in concert: Mr. Levon Helm. I was in musical bliss as I watched him play, pushing out each snare drum whack with a thrust of his shoulder, a concerned, furrowed brow followed by a small wicked grin. His body made visible the invisible ingredients of every musical master: joy and suffering. Joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin. The inescapable cross of every artist that burns, yet refines, the artist to a greater quality. Levon possessed these two ingredients and they were beautifully visible that night.
As I stood watching the last song I questioned how I became so lucky, so fortunate to be in the presence of such net worth. For 54 years Levon stepped on stage using his body to reveal his soul. He missed time with his family, broke relationships, lost friends, band members died, battled his dreams through reality, battled cancer and even lost his voice never to be the same again. His life was expensive. Not many can handle that weight, most would crumble under its pressure and most do. That night in March, for an hour and a half, I reaped the benefits of his investment.
As I watched the last song, my eyes welling with tears, I noticed one more thing. Standing next to Levon was his daughter and band mate, Amy. Behind their backs their hands close, they each had one finger holding the others. He wasn’t playing for me, he was playing with his daughter. As father and daughter they were having a moment. Creating a memory together in the twilight years of his amazing life. Because I have a two daughters at home this hit me the heaviest. How unworthy am I to be in this audience, to be sharing this moment? The weight kicked the air out of my lungs and left me with nothing but a muttering “thank you.” Thank you for your gift, your example, your time. Thank you for your investment, your commitment, your suffering and allowing me to experience a glimmer of the fruits. Thank you.
Levon died 37 days and 7 shows later surrounded by his family.
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