Former columnist for the Los Angeles Post Examiner, the Baltimore Post Examiner, and Gatehouse News Service

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Haunting Performance from A Multi-Talented Man

One of my all-time haunting movie performances (right up there with Robert Duval's performance as Boo Radley in "To Kill A Mockingbird") is the performance of a fine actor who played Loretta Lynn's father in the amazing "Coal Miner's Daughter."  Together this actor and Sissy Spacek portrayed a very close and connected father-daughter relationship that even transcended death, when Loretta, not knowing her father has died, sees him after his passing.

I remember the scene that always chokes me up in "Coal Miner's Daughter" - the scene at the train station, where they stand quietly, the father coughing from the coal miner's Black Lung that will eventually kill him, waiting for the train.  This train will take Loretta away from him, and into an uncertain future, where all he can be sure of is that she will be poor. "I won't never see you again, Loretty," he says softly, heart breaking.  And indeed, he never does.

And who, do I find out today, was this actor that so naturally and heart-breakingly played Loretta Lynn's father?  It was Levon Helm; drummer, all-around instrumentalist, mandolin player, and voice extroardinaire for The Band.  He passed away this afternoon, and those of us of a certain time and age also see some innocence and true musical style of our own youth passing with him.  "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," one of the best jam/funk/rock songs ever produced, reminds almost all of us of a specific time and place when we were young, and we all sang along.

We won't never see you again, Levon.  And yet we, like Loretta Lynn and her father, will see you again.  More accurately, we'll hear you, and we'll remember to sing along.

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