We were so torn apart by the death of Levon Helm that we broke out of the stupor that had kept us from doing a Popdose Podcast since November. We were also so upset that not once did it occur to us to make a mom joke. And this was in a memorial to the guy who sang ”Rag Mama Rag.”
Still, when we decided to do this show we knew it would be tough to get Jason involved. As Jeff explains, he’s been on paternity leave lately after his wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl (congrats!). And we also figured that Jason wouldn’t have much to about him given that Levon, to the best of our knowledge, never worked with George Michael or Richard Marx.
Instead, we reached out to a member of the Popdose family, Judd Marcello, to help us out. Judd’s only written one piece for us, an account of his trip to one of Levon’s Midnight Rambles, but it’s one of our most beloved pieces. That makes him Popdose’s equivalent of Jim Mason (a cookie goes to whoever gets that reference). Judd’s knowledge, insight and enthusiasm are on full display, and we hope he writes more for us soon.
So give this a listen. We’ve sprinkled in some classic songs from throughout Levon Helm’s career – from The Basement Tapes to his career resurgence in his last decade. We can only hope that we did justice to the legacy of music he left us in his 45-year career. Rest in peace, Levon. We miss you already.
The Popdose Podcast, Episode 23: Levon Helm (1:13:07, 67.0 MB), featuring Jeff Giles and Dave Lifton, with special guest Judd Marcello.
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Music: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band (from The Last Waltz).
0:45 Judd talks about his discovery of The Band and his experiences at three Midnight Rambles (here’s his famous 6,000-word piece about his first). We also discuss how Levon’s authenticity was important to the success of The Band. (Music: “The Weight” from Music From Big Pink)
19:46 Jeff asks Dave how he got into The Band, which involved seeing The Last Waltz on PBS. We talk about the movie and the staggering amount of cocaine involved. Then Jeff talks about his introduction to The Band. (Music: “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” from The Basement Tapes)
29:31 Judd talks about how the Midnight Rambles are an extension of Levon’s sense of community, and admits to stalking Dawes across two continents. (Music: “Tennessee Jed” from Dirt Farmer)
42:43 Dave talks about Levon’s unique drumming and Judd makes us even more jealous by saying that Garth Hudson was at one of the Rambles he went to. (Music: “Up On Cripple Creek” from The Band).
51:51 We discuss the impending mortality of all of our music heroes. (Music: “Atlantic City” from Jericho)
54:57 We offer our final thoughts about Levon. Jeff mentions Joe Henry’s tribute called “Gone / Not Gone: Levon Helm In Motion.” Dave talks about how Levon’s singing was inherently empathetic (something comedian Rob Delaney also said). Judd says that there was no difference between and his music. In between it all, Jeff and Dave argue. A lot. (Music: “Ophelia” from Northern Lights – Southern Cross)
Wrappin’ It Up
Judd offers to bring us pie!