The Past slipping Away
When you reach my age there are those days when you are reminded how your past is slipping away. Today was such a day. I woke up to read that Levon Helms is in the final days of his life and later in the day there was the news that Dick Clark died.
Music has not been a life long interest of mine. But during those formative years every young person has when music seems so important, it was so with me. I was of the post war generation of teenagers who spawned teenage culture. Music played a big part in shaping teenager's lives in the relatively prosperous 50's and 60's. This has been the experience of young people every since, but different music shaping different cultural realities for another generation.
In the 50's in Canada we looked to the United States to experience youth culture. We lagged somewhat behind culturally, (I have since learned that the Australians lack culturally somewhat behind Canadians.) A large part of this experience for my generation was Dick Clark's American Bandstand. A group of us in junior high school would rush from school to watch this show on TV in Barb Mutter's basement recreation room. For a couple of years this was a very significant cultural experience for us. We learned all the pop music. We got to know, by name, many of the regular teenagers who danced on the show. Those where culturally rich days. How we envied those Philadelphia students who could be their. How did they get out of school so early that they could go. School must have ended there about 3:00 PM while we were in school until 4:30 PM. (We never really figured this out.) We learned how to dress and act. We saw for the first time black entertainers.We also go to see our first really popular Canadians singers on this show, like Paul Anka (from Ottawa). We learned the latest dances: the twist, the stroll and jive (the jive was not new our parents may have danced it, but it was new to us and very popular. In a year or two I mastered it when I took part in dancing classes in our area). We owe all this to Dick Clark, he was a rather straight laced person who sold us on American pop music. More importantly, he sold our parents on the idea that pop music was not a threat to the moral upbringing of their children.
Stop laughing!!! We thought this dance was really cool.
Dick Clark continued on TV for years after American Bandstand. He never seemed to age. We marvelled at this. It just continued to remind us of those formative years, so long ago. For me, he will always be remembered as the host of American Bandstand.
When I got older in the late teens I became aware of much more powerful rock and roll music in the Toronto area. This is where Levon Helms comes in.
We did not have to look to the United States for powerful rock and roll. It came to us from Arkansas in the form the Rockabilly music of Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. They came to Canada to perform and Ronnie Hawkins stayed to become a enduring figure in Toronto's popular music scene. He most often performed at Le Coq d'Or in the city. Levon Helm, his drummer stayed on while the other three members of the Hawks returned to the US. Hawkins replaced his lost band members with three promising Canadian musicians: Robbie Robertson,
Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. Levon Helms and Ronnie Hawkins, with their great musicianship and discipline in their music shaped the Hawks into one of the most, if not the best, accomplished rock band.
When the Hawks outgrew Ronnie Hawkins it moved to Woodstock, New York, where Levon took up residence, and made their own music occasionally playing for other singers, most notably Bob Dylan. It was now known as "The Band".
The guitarist by his side is Robbie Robertson. Levon Helms is on the drums.
Levon Helms, when Robbie Robertson left the Band, became the undisputed leader of the group, which underwent several name changes but always with Helms at it helm.. His life was dedicated to music and performing. He even survived throat cancer to once again sing and perform with his band, until recently. He was a musician's musician.
The likes of Dick Clark and Levon Helms live on in our memory and have shaped a little of who we are. In the electronic age we can revisit them but all the same when the die, we feel we have lost a little of what we once felt was a part of us. We miss them and we feel a little older.
Postscript: Levon Helms died today April 19. 2012. The Toronto Star had a nice article about him.