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Words they lived by– Adrienne Rich and Levon Helm

Israel/Palestine
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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
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.

Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich

2. From Adrienne Rich’s poem. Quarto [2009], 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

philweiss
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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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4 Responses

  1. Taxi
    Taxi
    April 25, 2012, 2:22 pm

    I’m saddened… and smitten. R.I.P. Adrienne, you lovely poet. R.I.P. Lavon, you sweatheart musicman.

    And thank you Phil for bringing the memory and humble genius of these two artists to the forefront of mondo.

    I am gutted especially that Adrienne has passed away – a prolific poet and life essayist I grew up on. The poem above is astounding. There’s no need to further make either literary or political commentary on it, the words present on her page say it all – or as she would probably say: the absent words say it all.

    Oh dear I’m so sad.

  2. Pixel
    Pixel
    April 25, 2012, 4:46 pm

    Levon Helm: ” [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.”

    I’m afraid that I’ve never heard of the guy before but know he’s my kind of person.

  3. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    April 25, 2012, 6:53 pm

    RE: “No one writes lyric on a battlefield…But I think I can do it…
    …When they come with their crossbows and white phosphorus
    To recruit me
    Crouching over my drafts
    lest they find me out
    and shoot me…”
    ~ Adrienne Rich

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Wilfred Owen]:

    (excerpts) Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918) was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War.His shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend Siegfried Sassoon and stood in stark contrast to both the public perception of war at the time, and to the confidently patriotic verse written earlier by war poets such as Rupert Brooke. Among his best-known works — most of which were published posthumously — are “Dulce et Decorum Est”, “Insensibility”, “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, “Futility” and “Strange Meeting”. . .
    . . . On 21 October 1915, he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles Officers’ Training Corps. . . Owen started the war as a cheerful and optimistic man, but he soon changed forever. Initially, he held his troops in contempt for their loutish behaviour, and in a letter to his mother described his company as “expressionless lumps”.[3] However, Owen’s outlook on the war was to be changed dramatically after two traumatic experiences. Firstly, he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar, landing among the remains of a fellow officer. Soon after, he became trapped for days in an old German dugout. After these two events, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It was while recuperating at Craiglockhart that he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon. . .
    . . . In July 1918, Owen returned to active service in France, although he might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely. His decision was almost wholly the result of Sassoon’s being sent back to England. Sassoon, who had been shot in the head in a so-called friendly fire incident, was put on sick-leave for the remaining duration of the war. Owen saw it as his patriotic duty to take Sassoon’s place at the front, that the horrific realities of the war might continue to be told. Sassoon was violently opposed to the idea of Owen returning to the trenches, threatening to “stab [him] in the leg” if he tried it. Aware of his attitude, Owen did not inform him of his action until he was once again in France.
    Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice. . .

    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Owen

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