Echo Helmstrom Casey died in California last week at 75. She was said to be the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s haunting song, "Girl From the North Country" – and for the wonderful covers that live to this day.
The song will be a classic as long as people have drifting thoughts of the first girl/first boy they loved.
I didn’t know anything about Echo Helmstrom until Laura Vecsey, my eldest, sent me a link from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Of course, there had to be an Echo Helmstrom.
Echo. Not even Bob Dylan could make that up.
She echoes in the soul.
It’s a winter song. Winter in New York, early 60’s, and the former Bobby Zimmerman is thinking how cold it must be in Hibbing, so he writes:
Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see for me if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds
What kinder thoughts could anyone have for a girl back home in the north country?
According to the very nice article by Matt Steichen in the Star Tribune, Echo Helmstrom was a seeker, much like young Bob Zimmerman; they met in high school and then parted. Later, he must have known – Bob knows everything – that she also got away from the howlin’ winds, and moved to California, and lived her life, often complicated by the Dylanologists. (One of them even went through Dylan’s garbage in Greenwich Village but that’s another story.)
There’s no sense that Bob and Echo ever met again, or kept in touch. Then again, Dante met Beatrice only twice, fleetingly. But Dylan thought enough of Echo and her piercing eyes and blonde hair that he wrote the song about her, and really, what else is there?
The music and the lyrics live on – in Dylan’s original, and in the covers which can be tricky, ranging from the ridiculous to the masterful: Levon Helm and The Band acing Springsteen’s “Atlantic City;” and KD Lang owning Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” in my opinion.)
I came to Bob Dylan via my kid brother Chris, who sang and played guitar and harmonica in coffee shops in the mid-60’s.
In 1969, Dylan made the immortal album “Nashville Skyline” in the city that had long resonated with me. Johnny Cash, who admired the brash kid, welcomed him to town and came into the studio, clearly not having totally mastered the lyrics to “North Country,” and he fluffed some entries, but Dylan let it flow because it was Johnny Cash and because it was real.
(NB: the version above is from Dylan’s respectful visit to Cash’s TV show later. Cash had long since mastered the lyrics and the beat of the song.)
Impromptu or rehearsed, what a duet – Dylan’s cutting brilliance, Cash’s throbbing pain, singing about a girl from back home.
See for me that her hair's hanging down
That's the way I remember her best
The song is perfect today, nearly half a century later. Rosanne Cash included it in her 2009 CD. “The List,” springing from the 100 songs her father deemed vital to the American soul. There is a very sweet guitar riff by her husband John Leventhal, and backup by three other musicians.
“The Girl From the North Country” lives, whether by Bob Dylan, or Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, or Rosanne Cash, back-to-back-to-back, on my iPod.
Now Laura Vecsey has an idea, which she has posted on Twitter: Rosanne Cash and Bob Dylan should record a duet, to complete the circle, to honor the girl from the north country.
For she once was a true love of mine.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.