Levon Helm: Fast Facts
- Helm was born and raised in Arkansas, making him the only American member of The Band.
- He played many different instruments, including the drums, the guitar, and the mandolin.
- Ain’t In It for My Health tracks his post-remission efforts to record a new album, Dirt Farmer.
The Country Sound of The BandIn the 1960s, Levon Helm and other members of The Band helped establish a new sound in rock and roll. The film Ain’t In It for My Health is an inspiring look at his courageous journey back to making music, after an arduous struggle with throat cancer, and the people who supported him.
Helm, the group’s drummer and one of its lead vocalists, was the only American member of The Band (the others were Canadian). Helm had been born and raised in Arkansas to parents who were cotton farmers. The Band was ranked 50th on Rolling Stones’ list of the 100 greatest musical acts of all time. Lucinda Williams wrote, “You couldn’t categorize the Band’s sound, but it was so organic — a little bit country, a little bit roots, a little bit mountain, a little bit rock — and their vocal styles and harmonies totally set them apart.”Read More
A New Album
Ain’t In It for My Health documents Helm’s effort to record a new album, Dirt Farmer, his first since his illness. In the inspiring film, he talks about growing up on his parents’ farm. “I had my own little farm under the front porch,” he says with a smile, reminiscing about “that soft, cool dirt.” Friends, family, and fellow musicians smile while he reminisces.
Indeed, during his recovery, Helm found a strong community of loved ones and fellow musicians around him.
When someone you know is battling cancer, it can be hard to figure out how to help them. Here are eight ways to do just that.
Ways to Help
Do some self reflection first. You will inevitably feel a lot of emotions when you learn that someone you care about has cancer. You may find yourself crying, you may feel angry, or you may feel helpless. You may even experience all three at once. You may even withdraw or feel like you want to disconnect. It’s vital that you figure out your own feelings first before you connect with the other person. Think about it: the last thing a person who has cancer needs is to try to comfort you. Process your own emotions so that you do not unintentionally burden the person you care about.
Respect the fact that they may not want to talk. People who are diagnosed with cancer are grappling with overwhelming emotions. The instinct some people have is to confide in you, while others may withdraw. Respect the way in which the person decides to handle it. The American Cancer Society advises, “Let them know that you’re open to talking whenever they feel like it. Or, if the person doesn’t feel like talking, let them know that’s OK, too.”
Understand that they are grappling with a range of emotions. Dr. Scott Irwin, a board-certified psychiatrist and Director of Supportive Care Services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet, “Grief comes in waves. It often gets better over time, but at certain days, it can look like depression. And other days, people look perfectly normal and can function.”
Offer to help. Keep your offer open-ended, but be specific about what and when you are available to help. “I’m here for anything you might need. I’m off every Thursday, for example, if I can pick up the kids or drive you to appointments.” Brainstorm practical ways you can help them. This depends on how well you know them, but some ideas would be to pick up their groceries, deliver meals to them, or help with household chores.
Remind them of their strengths. Dr. Samantha Boardman, a psychiatrist and author, tells SurvivorNet that, when counseling patients, she advises them to begin by “tapping into your strengths [… and] then trying to use those strengths in constructive ways to navigate their cancer journey.” Help the person in your life remember the strengths they had before their diagnosis, whether it was a talent for art, being a good friend, a sense of humor, or a love of music, like Helm.
Be flexible. If you make plans, be ready to cancel, or adjust if they are not feeling up to it after all. Be sensitive to the fact that their energy levels may fall suddenly, especially if they are going through treatments. One other important point: in general, plan to continue doing the events you always did together. Don’t “assume” they cannot attend a concert or go on a trip, if it is something they would have normally enjoyed pre-diagnosis.
Don’t let all your conversations be about their illness. Certainly, if they want to talk about cancer, listen and engage them. But also talk about the things you always talked about: your children, current events, work, politics, music, and other topics you both regularly enjoyed.
Offer verbal support. Tell them you care about them and you admire them. Say things like, “I’m here for you, anytime, if you want to talk,” and “I’m thinking about you.” They need to hear these affirmations, especially because their battle with cancer may be long and fatiguing. This will let them know you are willing to listen when they want to talk. Boardman explains that, for people dealing with cancer or chronic illness, an important “coping strategy” is “reaching out, talking to others. Having support we know is really critical in the healing process.”
In 2008, Dirt Farmer, which Levon Helm worked so hard to complete, won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. His next album, Electric Dirt, won the 2010 inaugural Grammy Award for Best Americana Album. Though he lost his battle with cancer, dying of complications in 2012, his legacy lives on in his music.
Stream Ain’t In It for My Health, and other inspiring stories, on SurvivorNetTV.