“Jesus H. Christ, Walker, the answer is Levon Helm and it's the start of another perfect day in cactus and baby-shit brown paradise.”
Levon and Robbie Robertson were the backbone of The Band and Walker had gone into low-grade panic the day he heard, “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” and couldn’t remember that.
He had gone through the usual mnemonic device of alphabet surfing. It was the same idea as HOMES for the great lakes and Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge for something else he was taught in school, but forgot long ago.
That's how I started my novel, “Pale Blue Jesus.” The primary character, Geoff Walker, an aging boomer, created a mnemonic device to check his memory and used Levon Helm as the trigger. He went through the memory test every morning and, if he remembered Levon's name, he knew that he had escaped the terror of Old Timer's disease for one more day.
Where was I?
Oh yeah, Levon.
As you all know, Levon Helm died this week in his early 70s from complications of throat cancer. I have no intention of changing the opening paragraphs of my novel. I don't know any of the current crop of music groups and my character would never use Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, or Lady Gaga to trigger anything. They can form the memory triggers for the Gen-Xers and their children.
This aging boomer can't remember why he chose Levon as his character's memory trigger when he wrote the book. I hope that it was because I was listening to his music at the time and it just fit, but I can't swear to that.
There is an old joke that there will only be two things that survive a nuclear winter. Those two things are: cockroaches and Keith Richards. It may be true that Keith is a being beyond the normal rules of nature, but Levon is a reminder that, for boomers, the musical icons of our misspent youth are passing. There is nothing that I can do with, or about, this information, but every now and then we are reminded of our mortality in ways beyond the increasing numbers of candles on our birthday cakes. The departure of our musical heroes is one such way.
RIP Levon, you will be missed.