Analytics or alchemy? Celebrating Levon Helm
Delaney Turner 270003RQ8K Delaney.Turner@ca.ibm.com | | Tags:  ibmsoftware information-insights
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Analytics can work wonders for business; can it do the same for the soul?
There are some things I hope we never figure out. To that list I'm adding the special alchemy that was the drumming of Levon Helm, drummer and vocalist for the legendary band known simply as The Band. Helm died today after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 71.
Music was like oxygen in my house growing up and The Band's music was always on heavy rotation in my dad's playlist. During high school I'd come home, put The Last Waltz on the turntable and crank the volume so high the walls and windows shook.
I, however, didn't move. I simply stood stock still and listened. I marveled at the rock-solid songwriting and the effortless give-and-take of the tight ensemble playing. At the vital center of this was the propulsive and fluid drumming of Levon Helm. Here's a prime example from The Last Waltz. For me, the four-second fill from 3:06 to 3:10 are four seconds of heaven on earth:
Helm was diagnosed with throat cancer in the late 1990s and endured 28 grueling radiation treatments in one-month span to beat back the disease. Nearly bankrupt but too weak to tour, he turned to hosting late-night concerts and recording sessions at his home near Woodstock, New York. He called them "Rambles." The Rambles attracted such notable acts as Elvis Costello and The Black Crowes, who recorded an album there.
Eventually Helm regained his strength and his voice. He won a Grammy Award for Dirt Farmer, the last CD he would release. He also returned to touring, this time sharing the stage with his daughter and a crack band of seasoned session pros. Two years ago I saw them perform at the Ottawa Bluesfest. As a volunteer driver I had the privilege of driving him from his hotel to the venue. Our encounter lasted mere seconds, but it's one I'll never forget. We should all at one point in our lives know the same joy he showed on that stage that night. Their performance of It Makes No Difference - a song made famous by his late bandmate Rick Danko - made time stand still.
As Virgil Caine in the song The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, he sang "They should never have taken the very best." But they do.
We all have the chance to leave our mark on the world, to leave it a more beautiful place when we leave than it was when we arrived. For me and for the thousands of fans now leaving tributes on YouTube, Levon Helm did that and much more.
R.I.P. Levon, and thanks.