It was the first Band song I had heard since Levon Helm, the group's sometimes lead singer, drummer, mandolin player, even occasional pianist, died Thursday of cancer.
I had gone to church by myself that day. My lovely wife was a bit under the weather, though she is better now - thanks for wondering.
I sat in the garage to listen to the rest of the song and made a mental note to pull out some of my Band CDs and listen to them.
While "Dixie Down" was never my favorite Band song, as a Southerner it has always managed to move me.
Since I hail from "the free state of Jones," I likely would have been a Union sympathizer. But still, to listen to the story told by Southerner Virgil Cain, who like his father before him "worked the land" and had endured the horrors of war is both moving and in its own way educational.
The line, when talking about his brother who was killed in the war, "I swear by the mud below my feet you can't raise a Cain back up when he's in defeat" is one of my all-time favorite lines in literature.
Robbie Robertson, a Canadian, is credited with writing the song as he is most of The Band's original lyrics. No doubt Helm, an Arkansan and the only non-Canadian in the five-member Band, had considerable influence over the writing of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." And no doubt, Helm's haunting yet powerful tenor vocals on the song bring to life Virgil Cain and all of Dixie's suffering.
To see a truly great performance of the song, watch the documentary "The Last Waltz" where the camera is fixed on a close-up of the drumming Levon Helm as he performs the song.
I went to just enough music appreciation classes at the University of Southern Mississippi to earn my degree, but in my humble opinion that is what good art does - makes you feel what someone else is feeling - whether it is joy, sorrow or pain. And it makes you think more about the life experiences you have had and how those experiences might have shaped who you are and how you think.
I have always liked the music of The Band, though I didn't think too much about them or know much about them until about the time Jill and I married in the early 90s - long after The Band had broken up. My interest was really piqued when I realized that Jill and Helm both hailed from Phillips County in Arkansas, though Jill was a city girl from Helena and he was from Elaine, and as a teenager started playing with a group that toured Canada where he met Robertson and the other musicians who would later form The Band.
In 1994, Helm, along with two original members of The Band, played the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena. Jill and I were there, along with two good friends from Tupelo, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.
Robertson, who feuded with Helm for years, was not there nor was Richard Manuel, who had committed suicide in 1986. Organist Garth Hudson and bassist Rick Danko were part of the group with Helm in Helena that Friday night.
I planned to run a five-mile race early the following morning. I did and had a good race despite my late night. Despite that race, I was intent on seeing Helm no matter how late.
My recollection was The Band was scheduled to perform about 10 p.m. that night. The festival was running behind. It was probably closer to 11:30 p.m. when the group took the stage.
We had been standing all night and continued to during The Band's more than one-hour set.
I do not think Helms and The Band played "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" that night.
But near the end, perhaps as an encore, I was looking at Helm, sitting behind his drum kit when he look at the Danko and simply mouthed the words "The Weight."
Soon another familiar intro began and Helm launched into the lyrics - "I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin' about half past dead. Just need to find a place where I can lay my head. 'Hey mister can you tell me where a man might find a bed?' He just grinned and shook my hand and, 'No' was all he said."
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau reporter in Jackson for the Daily Journal.Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.