The central conceit of Ain’t In it for My Health, the documentary of The Band’s recently deceased drummer, Levon Helm, is that its subject is compelling enough to sustain interest in his daily chatter, visits to the hospital and scattered observations. It’s not.
Helm is closed off, we learn from a fellow musician, because “Levon’s got demons he’s struggling with over this whole Band legacy.”
If you dropped Fat Boy over Japan, I can see you struggling with demons over your legacy. In contrast, it is tough not to juxtapose Helm’s bitterness with an excerpt from a recent article I read on Bob Dylan: “Now, though, he was out on his own – after eight years’ abstinence, just as rock touring reached new debauched depths. The Band had roadies take Polaroids of girls wanting to get backstage, poring over potential beauties like horse-traders. Cast-offs were handed to the crew.”
Still, I was game. Helm’s issues with The Band and posterity’s treatment of same could be interesting. Of Robertson, Manuel, Danko and Hudson, their travels and impact, Helms says that . . . . “the credits and the money” on the third Band record was a “screw job” (Robertson was the writer and got the royalties) and after that, well, it was pretty much all over.
That’s the whole of it.
Otherwise, Helm just broods and ambles and lounges amongst younger acolytes (including Billy Bob Thornton) and these scenes are interspersed with nature photography of Helm’s property in Woodstock, NY. Near the end, surviving wives and girlfriends tell us that the real downfall of The Band was drugs and alcohol.
On the plus side, there’s some nice old footage of The Band, some later footage of Helm who played live not long before his death, and the portrait of the musician at the end of his career, with cancer ravaging his voice, can be poignant