The Nation: Levon Helm, The True Voice Of America The inimitable singer, songwriter and drummer of The Band Levon Helm died yesterday at the untimely age of 71 in the wake of a long battle with throat cancer. Peter Rothberg of The Nation writes a eulogy for him.
NPR logo The Nation: Levon Helm, The True Voice Of America

The Nation: Levon Helm, The True Voice Of America

Singer and songwriter Levon Helm performs at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Presented By Shell at the Fair Grounds Race Course on April 25, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Rick Diamond/Getty Images hide caption

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Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Singer and songwriter Levon Helm performs at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Presented By Shell at the Fair Grounds Race Course on April 25, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rick Diamond/Getty Images

The inimitable singer, songwriter and drummer Levon Helm died yesterday at the untimely age of 71 in the wake of a long battle with throat cancer.

Helm rose to fame in a legendary rootsy rock group, The Band, that featured three extraordinary singers. But you could always tell which voice was his: he was the stern Southern preacher, the broken Confederate soldier and the dirt farmer at the end of his day.

In a beautiful remembrance, Charles Pierce called Helm the "true voice of America." I agree.

"I want to thank him for the way he sang, and for the throb of his drums, and for the way he helped point the way home for all of us who thought we'd lost our country. He brought us back to what was really important: the fugitive grace of a young democracy, that America, for all its flaws and shortcomings, for all its loss of faith in itself and its stubborn self-delusions, was a country that was meant to rock. For that, I return his salute from long ago. Thank you, neighbor. And godspeed."

Pierce also talked about Helm's amazing generosity of spirit, which I was fortunate enough to experience once when, as a teenage Deadhead, I asked him a question after a show at the old Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, which quickly turned into an invitation into a cramped Green Room — and from there a crawl to a local bar and one of the best nights of my life. RIP.