Photo from 2008 at Americana Music Awards

Larry's Eulogy at Levon Helm's funeral (April 27, 2012)

"My heart is heavy. We are so sad. But Levon has tricked death, in his Levon fashion: his light was so intense, death can't claim it. His light will forever lift and inspire. His life mission was about using the music to lift people up who were hurting in some way. He shunned posing, posturing of any kind. He only wanted honesty in his acting and his music and pulled anyone around him towards that goal. He was true to his mission, against so many huge obstacles, to the very end." (Written By Teresa Williams on April 20, 2012)

Quite a few years ago when I was in one of the darker periods of my musical journey, I was half heartedly skimming through a book called "Zen Guitar" by Phillip Sudo. Early in the book a paragraph ends with the phrase "most of all, play with joy" . . . I remember feeling a strange discomfort when I read this, because I wasn't really sure I knew what that meant. The words were simple; the concept was simple. I certainly knew what it was like to get enjoyment from playing music, but I sensed there was a more profound meaning that I just wasn't getting. And adding to that discomfort, I remember thinking that the only way I was gonna get it would be through a long period of tedious self examination and immersion into some cult-like eastern philosophy that involved fasting and uncomfortable body poses.

It wasn't long after this that one day in early spring my phone rang. It was Levon asking me if I wanted to come to Woodstock to make some music.

Though this wasn't the first Midnight Ramble, it was still in it's embryonic stages, and he was just beginning to tentatively regain use of that voice. The voice that so many of us were lamenting would be gone forever after his bout with throat cancer. When I heard him sing that night, I remember feeling like I'd just been told that the Beatles were getting back together or that JFK was coming back to finish his term. Having listened to Levon for most of my adult life and having shared the stage and recording studio with him a few times over the years, I knew what a great musician he was, and I could go on all day about that, but that night I caught a glimpse of something behind those drums that I hadn't seen before, though it was there all along. There was a glow. A light that over the next eight years became as bright as the sun. I soon came to recognize the various elements in his playing that fueled this light. He played with love, he played with honesty, he played with generosity, but most of all he played with joy: the joy of creativity, the joy of sharing and comraderie, the joy of self expression, the joy of telling the truth. He was incapable of having a false musical moment. There was never any distance between who he was and what he did. His playing and singing came out as naturally as breathing, seemingly without effort, (which was a good thing because the exertion of effort was never one of Levon's Daily Ambitions.)

His light would spread across the stage like a Santa Ana wind, igniting the flames of joy in all of us.

This band always seemed to be making music for the right reason: for the simple pleasure of making music. From the stage the light would spread to the audience and they'd be in it with us. Then we'd all feel the joy and power of communal experience.

Steven Bernstein and I did a radio talk show a few days ago, and someone called in saying he was a singing drummer who tried to play and sound like Levon. I told him I thought the best way to imitate Levon was to find that light within yourself. The light that shows who you are. To have the talent to get out of your own way and give that light a clear path to shine. In order to honor my friend, whenever I pick up an instrument from now on, I'll try to play with that in mind. But most of all I'll play with joy!