Levon Helm passed away April 19, at the age of 71. The outpouring of grief following his passing was massive, and deserved—Helm’s music touched many lives through his long career. But in a way, it felt incongruous with his life: Helm’s life in music was a purer thing—it never felt like he was chasing celebrity or fame, it was just something that needed doing.
The best parts of Helm’s biography read like the stuff of legend: he famously quit touring with his Band bandmates on Bob Dylan’s electric jaunt in 1966 to go work on an oil rig, the kind of move that’s practically a Bruce Springsteen album in and of itself. But the beautiful thing about Helm’s life is that he carried it out without conceit, without a sense of self. Unlike Robbie Robertson, who likely would have actually written an album about quitting a touring group to work on an oil rig, Helm just did it, and then went back to playing music.