Blood is only as thick as the cake mix added and stirred with it. You can put blood in the spotlight but it won’t dance on command. The blood howls. Its lashes out. It bites. Its unruly. The splatter is our history. Maybe blood will not reconcile with blood. Maybe they will find sacred ground and tread lightly around the pain. At a distance they might greet cordially and in their small talk they might reveal things they will not explicitly say about how they feel. That cake mix is not going to hold together the fragility and mistrust. Time won’t cast lots and aspersions to see who surrenders a position of advantage on a Chess board. But a thousand words in a photograph knows all too well that it won’t matter in the end. Who was right? Who was wrong? Did she hold you firm? Did she kiss your cheek? Did she brush your hair as your helpless torso rested on her lap? Did she watch you crawl to her when she returned from work to a cold appartment shared with hangers on? An abode of drifters taking refuge with a half wanted child and a mother who stayed the course, when the river pulled at her hem. Mothers and daughters and the waters between them….
This Roman city has been my stomping ground for all my life, and like a woman, it remains a mystery to me. A beautiful and sometimes infuriating mystery. And with all its challenges and failings, it has a beating heart that dares you to embrace it. Its old architecture and industry built from the profits of the slave trade, colonialism and the far reaches of the British Empire are part of London’s legacy. As a post colonial descendant, I am able to harness the history of London as both a symbol and witness of the city’s possibilities. The immigrant blood that upholds the NHS and that has permeated its way into the life and culture of Londoners is only one of many ways in which the history contends with the present. I try to see the beauty, resilience and hope that escapes into the polluted London air. I see the London of the Arts. I think of the fact that London can claim Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye as former residents. Its been the city of visionaries like William Blake. It gave the world the genius pathos of Charlie Chaplin. Its the city of Shakespeare and boasts the world’s greatest theatre scene and tradition. Charles Dickens did not hide the ugliness and brutality of London. Neither did Dizzee Rascal. As reflected in the Grime and Drill music, London has a screw face too. Knives and young lives have not been kind to eachother. But I’ll always be grateful to London because its where I found the great love of my life. She knows who she is. I hope that we will enjoy this city together again someday. A man can dream. I love London.
Once upon a time I presented this painting, ‘The Deep Thinker’, as a gift. It was turned down because the person who it was gifted to, said the face had no eyes. And that it was tantamount to bad luck. I’ve never dealt in charms but I graciously took back my painting. It seems the only eyes we recognise more often than not are the peep holes for our iris to take a snap shot of what we percieve in surreality. In real life as we term it, we are blinded by sight or rather blunted. The optical illusion of the vision is only equaled by the delusion of what we choose not to see in plain sight. We are all complicit in the great deception and visionaries will burn at the high stakes of our unseeing eyes.
Clementine kisses you on the nose. Rose button drowned in your eyes. I drank your milk of kindness through my lies. Red wine and coke, you must play through the madness. Best thing you ever heard in your blindness. Muted tongue on pause bites the lip that feeds you. I remember what mama told me. And I remember you. Oh so tall in stature till they bent you over the bullsweat. They have teeth to match your fangs. And tongues of fire to heat up your secular soul. It burns just as hot on the outside of the inn. Keep it. She’s a keeper said nobody but your gentrifried mind. The flame dies but twice. Let it burn like the bushes of vanity, skin deep and heart swept feet off the ground, you put the foot in the mouth but forgot to bite down on it. Deep dead on it. Liver for the thrill. Killer of sheep you ran through the mill on a goose chase for the ages. Bronzed behaviour patterns after laughter and the clock is tocking.
It dawned on me this week that its been 20 years since I’ve been writing songs. Over that time I’d like to think that I’ve learnt a few things about music composition and myself. I’ve always loved creating and over the years I’ve enjoyed painting, sculpture, and various genres of writing, but nothing has been as rewarding as seeing the germ of an idea travel through the universe of my heart, mind and soul into a song. It is a thing of wonder. At one point in time I was meticulous in keeping records of my work. Dates and places. Not so meticulous about equipment. I’ve worked with a variety of keyboards on the low bracket and three guitars. I’ve worked closely with one songwriting partner for a period but mostly alone. The gift and the curse is that an idea can take over your life. You persue it, in or out of pocket, whether its affordable to dream it into reality or not. You dream about what a song can be when given its wings. I’ve studied the work of many songwriters, famous and obscure, but when I create, its from the blood of my soul. This year I had the pleasure to complete the recording of a song that meant a lot to me at this stage in my life. I had to wait almost two years to get the artist I wanted to breathe more beauty into what was already the apple of my eye. I still can’t say I’m done with it but the journey is its own reward. I feel fortunate to have written it and the hundreds of others. I am also grateful for the people who have helped me in collaboration. Musicians and engineers. Friends and hired hands. The inspiration has come from every conceivable thought, memory, feeling,…all corners of the human experience. I thank God for my inner ears and the organs that work together with the spirit in me. Curtis Mayfield is one of my many teachers, and I know I wouldn’t have become the songwriter I am without the lessons I learnt from the craftsmanship of masters like him.
July juxtapositions strangers and life is an exercise for eyes that lament the unanswerable. Streams of thought drown out the intrinsic fear to ask of who they are and what they know. I often wonder about what they have seen when they gaze at the wind or the silence that screams their middle names out of view.
A man wrestling is a man whistling.
Do you always see ghosts and tell of their whereabouts? Hiding places are the low tide. I never question the voices unheard in the storm of ones incoherence. Or the certainty of the unbelievers in the masquerade. What burden of proof will you wear today? And how will you dress down your despair? Welcome is a mask without a face to invent. I wear every doubt you’ve ever had about me with pride. Shameless like you wouldn’t believe. But then again, most of us were reborn naked. Some of us will die that way
Curtis’s hands were important. Not more than his heart. When he recorded his last album he had only the use of his neck and the head attached to it which housed his genius mind to do the work of breathing out hope into a world that had tasted too many losses to inhale the optimism extolled through music. His heart still functioned effectively and the evidence of soul and spirit was still audible. Lying on his back he recorded one short phrase at a time. Phrase by phrase, a word became a line of lyric. Phrase by phrase, a line of lyric became a verse. And then a chorus. And then a bridge. Curtis’s hands remained still and silent through this process. The eyes watched and waited for something that the hands knew would never happen again. Curtis could not find feeling in the physical form of hands that had mastered a style of guitar playing that was unique to himself. Hands that shaped sounds for Hendrix and Marley to study. Hands dramatically and unwillingly put to rest. And this is why those hands are a great teacher. In their absence of use he martialed the figurative hands that survived the destruction of his body, from the neck that shouldered the weight of his head, with a voice which expressed his deepest feelings in song. A lifetime’s worth of wisdom and openess to the mysteries of life. I remember listening to New World Order and being humbled by Curtis’s generosity of spirit, and in awe of what he accomplished in terms of sonic life affirmations in such desperate circumstances. The testament of the spirit when it intersects with the divine is all one can hope for when one puts in the work of exhalation. Curtis Mayfield’s musical soul holds the hands that raise up the weary hearted head of hurts. Unbowed.
Today is a wedding ceremony. A marriage of possibilities. My cousin has exchanged vows and time will study and tell what it has seen, heard and known under God. Black life like black bodies have long been a surrealistic feast for the voyeuristic eyes of fetishists and fantasists. Joseph Conrad could not open his eyes even behind the safety of his pen, to straddle his imaginative reconstructions of the monolithic burden bearers in the heart of darkness situated in the continent of his mind’s perception.
Baldwin generously invested the deformed and fragmented faces of exotica with the unusual idea that they were worthy of being depicted as fully human, even in a foreign land. The continent is not a country. And a country in this context is not a geographical destination. The poetry of Baldwin is not merely the words sentenced to a page but rather the lives affirmed by his words dancing to the tune past the margins of hate and redeemed by love. In his writings love is the great pacifier even when it sets fire to our expectations and challenges our notions of who is worthy of grace, and the horrors that transgress the invisible inhabitants who are generational custodians of a manifested multifaceted curse with wings.
Barry Jenkins painted the poetry of James Baldwin beautifully in ‘If Beale Street Cold Talk’. Next week lovers around the world will serenade each other with cards, gifts and kisses flavoured with wine and chocolates. Babies will be conceived. Lies will be ever more creative. Truths with be earnest and unsparing. Death will still be in business. Card or no card. Life will go on. Love in its bittersweetness covers the multitude and will endure the fall out. A torn page is the pity that a chapter can afford to lose.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”