When I Go Away

This Levon Helm performance of When I Go Away is a telling example of what to make of the idea of “swing”. Swing can be the tension around on or off the beat.

There is a Dixie Hummingbirds version of this song as well (go to about 3:00 on the video), but this Helm version is the one that got me. It’s a great notion of what Helm could do.

The highlight is the bridge section, which goes into a four-part vocal that plays with the beat, creating tension over where the rhythm swings. And it works because this song is upbeat but morbid…in other words, perfect as a memorial of the tensions of being both good and bad, deserving and undeserving, sad and joyful. Home to leave my troubles in the graveyard…