AIN'T NO GRAVE

Everyone says “don’t meet your heroes,” like it’s some kind of wise platitude that’ll save you from embarrassment down the line. I think it’s stupid. Why would I care if someone I admire is a major dick in real life? I’ve heard all the stories from people who claim they’ve met this and that celebrity and were disappointed when they didn’t start bawling with happiness at knowing they had a fan. They’re famous. They’re rich. Why should they care. As long as they keep doing what they’re doing, I’m willing to accept that some of them are less than decent people.

     That being said, I always wanted to meet a celebrity. As in, one particular celebrity. Let me give you some backstory.

     If you’ve never heard Jude Levon’s music, do yourself a favor and look him up. He came into his own sound in the mid 70s, when rock was fresh and music hadn’t been corporatized. He was never one of the really famous ones which is too bad, because I personally think he was better than any of them. There was a certain sound to his music that I haven’t heard anywhere else: think Bob Dylan’s voice with Paul Simon’s lyrics and David Bowie’s sense of mystique.

     For the few people who actually followed Levon back in the day, the most iconic thing about him was his nihilistic worldview and gallows humor: I mean his most popular song was called Death From Above, and his second-most popular song was called Death From Below. His trademark image was a raven smoking a cigarette, and he liked to joke that he was here for “a bad time, not a long time.” I wanted to meet him so badly.

     But, alas, Jude Levon died when I was three years old. Lung cancer, surprise surprise. He went out like a badass, though – his doctors gave him three months, he wrote and produced one last album in four. The album was called Changing Faces, and it was about as successful as his others: meaning, his fans bought it, a few other people bought it, but it wasn’t enough to put him on the top rung. Hands down the best song off Changing Faces was called Remember Me, and it was pretty much Levon’s way of asking that we make him more popular after his death than he was in life. But that wasn’t even the most popular song, unfortunately. It was overshadowed by the one track on Changing Faces he didn’t write himself: a cover of Ain’t No Grave by Johnny Cash. Good, but not as good as Remember Me.

     My dad introduced me to Jude Levon as a kid, and by the time I hit high school, I was living and breathing his music. I had every single one of his songs memorized, I owned all of his albums, I even picked up guitar just so I could learn his breathtakingly good music. But it wasn’t till I was a little older that I realized what it all meant, how Levon’s music and lyrics connected to me and my obsession.

     I was eighteen, hanging out in my dad’s basement, smoking a joint and listening to the title song of Levon’s hit album Impressionable Boy when it struck me – I was an impressionable boy. For some reason I felt like that was some great revelation (bear in mind, I was stoned), and I sat there thinking about it for a while. I must have been impressionable, cause Levon had impressed on me. Pretty cool, right? No, but I thought it was. When the song ended, the next one started: a tribute to the Vietnam peace protests called Flowers, Guns, and Joints. I remember feeling the drugs working in my head and looking down first at the joint in my hand, then at the flower printed on my T-shirt, and finally at the locked gun box my dad kept under the futon.

     The next song actually had my name in the lyrics. I already knew that, obviously, but it never meant anything other than getting to hear Levon say it out loud. Now, it felt a little different. I felt like Levon was talking to me, through the years, from beyond the grave, speaking through the tinny speakers of my record player. But what was he trying to tell me? Whatever it was, it probably couldn’t mean anything now, right? He was dead, and he couldn’t say anything that wasn’t already recorded.

     When the drugs wore off I felt uneasy. There was no way Jude Levon, who died when I was a kid, could be trying to tell me something through his music – especially since I’d heard all his songs countless times and had never picked up anything like that before. So why did I feel this weird tugging in the back of my mind, like there was something that required my attention immediately?

     Then it hit me – Levon had been a dark man. Dark, depressive, nihilistic, he was the poster boy for what we in the 21st century would call “edgy.” Or even “emo.” But what if he was more than that? what if he was legitimately part of a darker subculture, one that focused on the occult and the supernatural?

     I guess what I was thinking was – what if he had put some kind of supernatural plan in motion years ago, and I was at its apex?

     Over the next few weeks I did almost nothing but listen to Levon’s music and look for what I may have missed. I heard countless lyrics that sounded like hints or clues, but I couldn’t tell if I was just looking too hard. Maybe I was just overthinking the whole thing. But then, one day, I realized: Levon didn’t do covers. Ever. He didn’t sing other people’s songs, as a matter of pride – until his last album. Until Changing Faces. Until Ain’t No Grave. Why would he suddenly decide to cover a song by Johnny Cash instead of writing his own, especially on the last album he would ever make? Unless…unless he was just after the title. Unless he wanted to tell us that there really “ain’t no grave can hold his body down.”

     Anyways. Sorry for going off on a tangent, I just wanted to give you some context. I’m about to meet my hero for the first time, does anyone have any advice?