Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm
Levon Helm is widely celebrated and beloved among musicians for his collaborative and joyful attitude (unlike Ginger Baker, whose documentary I covered last week), but for the only documentary about the legendary drummer of the Band, it shows a surprisingly very different side of Levon Helm. The film covers the recording of his first album in 25 years, the eventually Grammy Winning Dirt Farmer, but more importantly his ongoing struggle with throat cancer, which would ultimately take his life in 2012.
So you don’t get the normally vibrant Helm, but rather a deteriorating, downtrodden, and often bitter Helm. They chalk some of this up to what happened after the Band broke up and some heartbreak over his lifetime, but more than anything, it appears that his sickness and age is getting the best of him. While it’s no way the most glowing look at Helm, it is a fascinating look how sickness and hard trials even affect the best of us, even if it’s only shown behind closed doors to those we are closest with.
And that’s one thing Ain’t In It For My Health gets very right: It’s one of the most intimate documentaries I have seen. You get in on the hospital visits, small family moments, and the uncomfortable moments. It feels like a very true look.
From a narrative standpoint, this documentary doesn’t hold up too well, but rather works in its smaller moments. Whether it’s Helm struggling to sing “Amazing Grace”, or Billly Bob Thornton picking his brain for memories from the Band, it’s the small moments that win out in Ain’t In It For My Health.
While it’s not the look I expected for a Levon Helm documentary (I expected something way more about the Band and why everyone loves Helm so much), it was an unexpected if difficult look at one of my favorite musicians. It’s available now on Netflix if you want to give it a shot.