Saturday, April 21, 2012

Levon Helm brings memories of uncle Gene

17:59 This station is Northport My uncle Gene was a tough man, he had a beard, a raspy voice, smoked Camel non filters. He had tattoos up and down his arms and there were a few naked women their faded inked still breasts caught my attention the most. I wanted a tattoo of a naked woman on my arms. It never happened and doubt it ever will. Back in 1976, we were visiting Uncle Gene and Aunt Betty in California. The Band played a farewell concert live on TV. Was it the Last Waltz? I recognized some of the songs that were played that night, it may be the fact I heard The Weight so many times, but I recall the care free Robbie Robertson wearing a sports jacket and looking stylish up on the stage while the rest of the players were banging away at their instruments. I think it was Robertson who broke up the band, wanted to be a solo rock star. When it was time for the band to play their last song, I heard my tough uncle crying, this was it…The Band was no more. His hands were in his face and I was surprised to see he was that upset. The next time I heard him cry was the time I had just moved to Cali and we were in a bar in Los Gatos drinking beers. I told him I wanted to be like him, drive a truck across the country. No, he said and grasped my hands as if praying over them; be like your father…he is a good man. It’s difficult for a young ignorant man to know their father is a good man, responsible, but the life on the road was more appealing. I moved to California to follow a dream and was getting a lesson on life and learned more about despair and addiction. Gene died of cancer a few years after that, he was a broken man. One of the last times I saw him, he was homeless living in the back of a barber shop with my aunt. Levon Helm passed away yesterday of cancer, he was the leader in The Band and for the past few years has played live. He was diagnosed with throat cancer back in ’98, so the idea that I could see him brought back memories of uncle Gene who I am not sure if he saw him or The Band. Anyway, I bought tickets to see Levon Helm play in central park a few summers ago. It was a night like this, overcast yet warm with a breeze blowing. Since I couldn’t find anyone who really wanted to go, I went by myself. The backdrop of the city buildings against the passing stream of low clouds was breathtaking. On the stage the man played his drums, so happy to be playing with a wide smile on his face. They played a song from the Brother Where Art Thou movie and I was loving it, even with the eventual pellets of cool rain and flashes of lightening, the show was distinct and while the music filtered through the crowd I thought of uncle Gene with his faded tats and nodding in unison to the beat from the passing clouds. May Levon continue to bless the crowd with his music.

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