Levon Helm and David Byrne

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Purity of spirit is one of the greatest ingredients of creative genius. And that's exactly what is captured in the new documentary about Levon Helm, the singer, songwriter and drummer from The Band.

The film, titled Ain't in It for My Health, is shot behind the backdrop of drug addiction, bankruptcy and throat cancer. But Levon Helm has no intention of surrendering and there's extraordinary beauty in the determination and acceptance that remains.

Born in Arkansas, Levon Helm began working his family trade in the cotton fields. The son of a sometime musician, he was fortunate to have seen Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley all before he was 17. He was hooked. After several attempts at starting a band, Helm joined with Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel. They called themselves Levon and the Hawks. Then in 1965, when Bob Dylan decided to go electric, he chose Levon and the Hawks for his backup band. But the contract listed the group name as The Band, and they decided the moniker fit.

The Band went on to make a total of seven influential records, defying the contemporary rock scene with their rock and blues style.

Levon Helm has also had a career as a solo musician and actor. When finances grew thin, and medical payments grew large, Helm opened his home for a concert series to raise money. The series, called the Midnight Ramble Sessions helps Helm pay his medical costs. Artists like Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Allan Toussaint are among dozens who have stopped by to lend a hand.

Mr. Helms' influence in rock and roll is immeasurable, and his character remains deeply seeded in the values that made The Band one of the most important groups in music. Those values include loyalty, collaboration, hard work and persistence, and filmmaker Jacob Hatley captured those values beautifully onscreen.

In Austin this week, I've also had the opportunity to screen another film about a music icon. Ride, Rise, Roar is a David Byrne concert film documenting the creative collaborations between Mr. Byrne, and the band, choreographers and dancers he performs with. His visual dynamics on tour meet his music standards on record. The tour featured the band and dancers all in monochromatic white clothing, forcing animated movements to create visual impact. True to David Byrne's art school background, everything onstage is choreographed, with split second timing for sound and movement. The result is a compelling concert film that underscores just how inventive and collaborative David Byrne really is.

Links to both of these films can be found at the On the Beat webpage at KCRW.com

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.