Levon Helm has battled throat cancer since 1998 and subsequently lost his voice because of the illness. However, when his cancer did go into remission he regained his voice and was able to perform once again. Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm documents his recovery as he sits in his home studio in upstate New York working on his first album in 25 years; the Grammy award-winning Dirt Farmer and gives us a look inside some of the final years of a musical icon.
Less a film that documents the man’s life and career, it is very much a slice of life in his day to day existence. The film provides us with a handful of talking head moments as we chronicle the road that got Levon Helm to this particular point in his life, and while we still see a little bit of the hard bitterness that the business took out of him, this is mostly a portrait of a man who is at peace with his place in the bigger picture of his musical legacy.
When we see those quiet, off to the side intimate moments, we see a man that has been hardened and pained by events of his past, particularly when he can’t sing or perform. But once he’s behind that drum kit his eyes begin to glow and the troubles of his world simply wash away. For him it is about the simple pleasure of playing music, plain and simple.
Ultimately, much like the title suggests, Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm is not a story of a man who sought out fame or recognition, he simply wanted to play and the rest of the music business simply enervated and aggravated him to no end. It truly does make sense that a man who only wanted to get out on the road and play was in a group simply known as The Band, as he would have been equally happy playing in front of 50,000 people or in front of 5.
Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm is currently playing in Toronto at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Directed by: Jacob Hatley