Drinking with Levon: The Session
This post was originally going to be very different. The spirit of this Session, I felt, was more to do with stripping the ‘moment’ of beer down, and not elevating it to heights that maybe remain hard for people to relate to. The People’s Moment, if you will. I had a few ideas, and spent a few days kicking them around in my head, as you do. As it happens, I fear somewhat that I have missed the point entirely of what Pete was trying to achieve.
Anyway, this was entirely out of my hands. On Friday the 19th, Levon Helm died.
Now, unless you listen to The Band, or music of that ilk, you probably won’t know – or care – who Helm was. To me, he was representative of something; a simpler time, and a period of my life that I look back fondly on.
When I was younger, I played in a band. I played Bass and sang, and was lucky enough to call a quartet of men who loved the same music I did – mostly termed ‘Americana’ or ‘Alt.Country’ nowadays – friends. We’d hoover up albums by Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Richmond Fontaine, Iron & Wine, Ryan Adams and countless others, regurgitating them into our own sound. We were good, to be honest. It was a great ten years or so.
I remember one evening in our rehearsal room, tooling about with some covers, and we decided to try out “The Weight”, one of The Band’s more famous songs. We sounded good, as we were, right up until the chorus. The song, if you don’t know, has this gorgeous harmony on the chorus; a rotating, rough-but-beautiful cascade of words and melody – it stops you in your tracks and puts a smile on your face.
Of course, we failed horribly. We couldn’t do the song justice, so we left it, stumped by that magical moment. We were missing that one thing that The Band had – a spark. The harmony isn’t technically hard; but it needed to come from the heart. And we didn’t have that, I guess.
When Levon died, a part of that memory became more poignant; I didn’t remember The Band – or Levon specifically – but my mind rewound to that night, those laughs, those red faces, and those renewed respect for artists who remain true to themselves, living together, living for music, in the moment. It was the whole package; knotted together. The music is the man, and the man is the memory.
There was only one way I could pay respect to that. The albums came out; headphones on, beer poured; a Coniston Old Man Ale (A subliminal nod to Neil Young, perhaps?) Eyes closed, its amazing what you hear when you really listen to something with a new impetus. The beer was good; it was fine. Rich, smooth, subtly strong; it seemed to suit the rough-hewn, salty feeling of The Band, a throwback to simpler times in an age of Psychedelia. I sat there for two hours, rocking in my chair, dog at my feet, beer in my hand.
It wasn’t maudlin; just me, a beer, music and memories.
The beer, ultimately, was unimportant. The feeling was what was important, the warmth of alcohol’s kiss ushering in reverie over any superficial style or ingredient. But I sat there, rapt, living in the past with a beer in my hand, and I’m sure many others did the same over the weekend. It wasn’t maudlin; far from it. It felt right at some point to acknowledge – in the best way I know how – a time of my life that I really, really enjoyed; with a beer.
At the opposite end of the scale, (and maybe more in line with Pete’s original vision), one of those ‘moments’ cropped up a few days later. I was in Sheffield, enjoying a lunchtime pint (Blue Bee’s Amber’s Nectar) at The Rutland Arms. The place was quiet when I got in, but soon filled up with people partaking in mammoth sarnies and good-looking pints. I sat at the end of a table, opened my paper to the sports pages, and started poring over the hype for the upcoming Manchester derby.
A few minutes later, a shadow fell across the table. A chap appeared, and sat opposite me. We looked at each other, nodded a greeting, and he did the same as me; opened his paper, took a gulp of his beer, and settled in to study his news in silence. Two men, enjoying a beer, with no obligations or need for conversation. If I could verbalise the feeling, the best I could say is ‘contented sigh‘.
I can’t boil down ‘The Moment’ in any definable way. There’s too many moments in life – and Beer – to do that. That’s the beauty of it. There’s always a moment around the corner, everywhere, and it could be with any beer, with anyone, or alone. Events transpire. So, that week, these were my moments. This time.
The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community which was started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s nice archive page.