The poet Adrienne Rich died on March 27, and musician Levon Helm died April 19. Below are two quotations from their writings.
Levon Helm in 1976
1. Excerpts from This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band (1993) by Helm (with Stephen Davis). The excerpts begin in 1965, before The Band was the band, when Helm and Robbie Robertson were backing up Bob Dylan in his first electric tour. Dylan was getting booed but he was forcing his fan base to adapt to a new sound.
I began to think it was a ridiculous way to make a living: flying to concerts in Bob’s thirteen-seat Lodestar, jumping in and out of limousines, and then getting booed…. We’d never been booed in our lives… Sometimes the booing would get to me, especially when they’d throw tomatoes or whatever, and my drums would get stuff on them. A couple of times, when I thought Bob wasn’t looking, I’d give ’em the finger…
We were seriously booed during a two-night stand at the Back Bay Theater in Boston. That’s when it started to get to me. I’d been raised to believe that music was supposed to make people smile and want to party. And here was all this hostility coming back at us. One night Richard [Manuel] said, “How are we going to take this thing to England next year?”
I said, “Richard, it seems a long way around–England–to get where I want to go. I can take getting booed here; this is my country. But I can’t see taking it to Europe and hearing this shit. And anyway, I don’t really want to be anybody’s band anymore.”
He looked at me and said, “You’re gonna leave.”
…[Robbie Robertson said,] “Bobby’s opening a lot of doors for us, man. We’re meeting important people, learning how to travel, making contacts that we’d never make otherwise…. Lee,” he said intently, “we’re gonna find this music. We’re gonna find a way to make it work so that we can get something out of it.”
“Not with me, Bubba,” I said. “It just ain’t my ambition to be anybody’s drummer. I’ve decided to just let this show go on without me for now.”
Robbie asked where I was going, and I told him I didn’t exactly know, but that they could always find me by calling J.D., my dad down in Springdale, Arkansas…
[I]n my heart I’m still Lavon, the hambone kid in the 4-H show. In fact, the main thing that still gets my juices flowing is to get over to the venue on the night of the job, wherever it might be, anywhere in the world. The man that’s running the joint knows we’re coming, and he invites me in and helps me set up my stuff. We play some music, and then he pays us. That’s the only way I ever wanted it.
As for The Band, we never sold millions of records or got attacked by groupies, but we’re still here. We never thought our ‘career’ was more important than the music. That’s our whole story, right there.
2. From Adrienne Rich’s poem. Quarto , in the latest issue of the Nation:
No one writes lyric on a battlefield
On a map stuck with arrows
But I think I can do it if I just lurk
In my tent pretending to
Refeather my arrows
I’ll be right there! I yell
When they come with their crossbows and white phosphorus
To recruit me
Crouching over my drafts
lest they find me out
and shoot me…
There is a price
There is a price
For every gift
And all advice