This Wheel’s On Fire

by on May 15th, 2012
This Wheel’s On Fire Cover Image

Everyone knows what Levon Helm sounds like, and I’m happy to report that his authorial voice matches that exactly.  Were it a wine, it would be a rich, downhome red, with a pronounced twang and hints of vulgarity.  Barbecue wouldn’t overwhelm it, nor possom for that matter.

Helm had a lot of interesting friends, a lifetime of road stories, and plenty of practice telling them.  He was, after all, mentored both by rockabilly wildman Ronnie Hawkins and The Bob Himself.  He backed Dylan on his first electric tour, and describes the surreal experience of riding a private jet, staying in the best hotels and getting booed every night.  It shook him so much, he quit music for a time, and worked on an oil rig in the gulf.

He also kept a molten anger against Robbie Robertson, The Band’s primary songwriter.  Helm felt the songs were more collaborative than the songwriting credits reflected.  Playing music was his whole life, so Robertson’s decision to break up the band didn’t sit well either.

How much of this to believe?  Can’t say, tho parts of it seem pretty well embellished.  I doubt they really blew up a nightclub after the owner declined to pay them.  Or if they did, that the police let them go because the owner was a jerk.  On the other hand, “Well, it ain’t easy to come out and say I shot myself in the ass” has the ring of truth to it.

Helm died last month.  Nobody’s going to forget The Band anytime soon, but his late-life records (after surviving throat cancer) Dirt Farmer and (especially) Electric Dirt are well worth your attention as well.

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