Some years ago, I spent a considerable amount of pounds to get my hands on a first pressing of this record. It wasn’t the first nor the last time I would splash out for Aretha rarities. I spent beyond my means on many occasions for Aretha records, and I didn’t regret it because I loved her. Its a perculiar thing to say, because my relationship with her was strictly through her music. But I know why I loved her and always will. It goes without saying that she was set apart when she emerged into mainstream consciousness. She was of a tribe and community but yet she was different. Unique. Singular in her genius. She was the Mount Olympus of popular music singers in what is sometimes referred to as the Rock era. Her sound was and is both ancient and future, so the era which she is associated with, could not hold her captive.
I have been reading two books about Aretha in recent months. One is about her album, Amazing Grace, and the other is about the warts and all of her life. I put down one of them and stuck a pile of books on top. I’m slowly advancing through the other. I recognise people in Aretha. People that I love but who will forever remain something of a mystery. There is no book that can be written that will quell the intrigue or reveal her more precisely than her voice and rendering of songs. Lady Soul and her voice belong to the mystery and the wonder of faith in the divine. God gifted we often say. Death is a mystery as is life. And so is love. And so is God. When Job cried out in indignation, he was confronted by that mystery. So it is love and God, the mystery of mysteries that I hear when I listen beyond the pain and pleasure of death and life in her voice. Life affirmed. Resurrected from death. The pleasure coiled around the pain. The sensuality of life. The fragility. The indomitability of the spirit that hollers. The soul that bleeds. Loud. She resembles my mother in a lot of those late 60s to mid 70s images captured by publicity departments and press. Old photographs are things of wonder. And my mother’s face in her youth is as beautiful, vibrant and full of possibilities as Aretha’s voice. All that history is interwoven with all that future, which we can only live to know. Aretha Now. That was not just an album title. Taking heed of a moment on a journey that is still ahead. With hope in God.
I don’t remember when I first became aware of Daley Thompson. Somewhere in the timeline of my childhood it would seem that I would chance upon him either through my own research and the footage of his exploits on replay at every global Track & Field championship aired by the good old BBC. Old commentators whose prime like Daley’s was behind them, would remind the nation that he was once the world’s greatest athlete. They wouldn’t say arguably, though they knew that Carl Lewis amongst others had a legitimate claim to that unofficial title, but it was merited. He was an imperious performer on the biggest stage when the Decathlon determined who was the heavyweight champion allrounder of athletics on the ground. It wasn’t just winning, but the glory was in the audacity and cheek of his dominance. There is the iconic image of him standing over the field of his adversaries who all lay prostrate on their backs after a race at the end of a grueling competition. Thats the Daley Thompson who merited the moniker, ‘world’s greatest athlete’.
For his 60th birthday, he launched a pop up gym session in the Southbank and as coach and co-host he drilled amateurs like myself in one hour sessions to push ourselves physically and mentally with the emphasis of dream chasing. My patched up body took on the challenge aided by the might of spirit and temperament. I took it all in as I gave it all up. He chastised me and I smiled warmly. He mocked and scuffed at my ruined rotator cuffs that limited my mobility and I smiled harder and kept on pushing through my pain threshold till it could not go any further. My partner was equally game and exhausted at the end though she faired better than I. The experience was pleasurable after a bit of rest and recuperation. Daley challenged my manhood as if I was an inferior rival from his glory days, but it was good natured and as much about entertainment than anything else. His charisma and machismo is still in play mode and its good to see that he has not let all those years of input and endeavour go to waste. It was a privilege and honour to train with him and see where i’m at. Then Pizza, Belgian Waffles and Hot Chocolate restored vitality to my bones. A lot of water too.
“His own perception of himself as ugly derived from features inherited from his black great-grandfather; nevertheless, he persued love affairs with some of the most beautiful women of his time.” – Elaine Feinstein
I’ve been wanting to delve deeper into Puskin for a good while. The so called father of Russian literature was a fascinating guy. Almost as ink worthy as his African ancestor, Gannibal, the ‘great’ Moor of Petersburg. Great as in a man counted worthy of the position and honours bestowed on him. All biographies have to be taken with a pinch of sea salt as it is impossible to imprison the fullness of a human being in words. But there have been earnest attempts that bring us a little closer to the inner workings of people who have turned pages and stamped an impression of something resembling a virtue of the soul and spirit of a human being. If the genius of Pushkin is considered in the fullness of who he was or assumed to be, then words can only reduce him. Yet words were the tools of a craft he mastered and was subsequently made a servant of. Gannibal did not have such concerns, it would seem.
I wonder how much of his ancestor who acquired noble distinction, informed and impressed the young Artist who would become the literary conscience of a zealot nation. Who did he see in his past and future reflection? His children are Dostoevsky and Nabokov, but they were not tainted by the questions in his blood. They inherited his noble literary service to country, comrade, and the human condition. A poetry of conscience which stirs like an insomniac in the restless, earthbound night that writes one side of a story and notion of truth into a fictional world for consuming eyes to reassemble beyond the page. Onegin is not a novel in verse. It is poetry and song restrained by form. Words that speak of lives that burn and crash like waves carried by a storm in rage. Pushkin is a strong drink of passion. Vodka perhaps.
Love is a mountaineer on stilts. No flips. No tricks. No short cuts. Battle hardened. A general and an infantry with the fortitude and frost bitten resilience to march the marathon of bow tied conundrums. And if it rises up like revolutions that combust in the fire of trials made of eternal fears and custodial sentences for the passion behind bars that bend around malleable hands, to hold the heavy length of derision, softly, it rises down like death in the doorway of presumption.
In hands that see as clear as touch, the vision is felt like a fire that cools the head that burns the heart. The why dies before the question is ever asked. The despairing can not make sense of these hands.
White of eyes. Framed in the frame. Blood brother of brutality’s murder rhymes slips off the tip of his tongue and civilisation is lost.
Undigested malady, hoist me on the shoulder of your affection. I do not exhale a priceless thought. You are not reading me. A page has yet to turn, like a neck to see if you are looking back at the beauty which momentarily passed you by. Like life. Like an idea, swift uppercut and pasted on your heart. I have lived your sighs. The marks on the bitten end of your chapters are mine. Dog eared. Black of lies. Yellow on top. I am writing you into me.
They mispoke my name once and again. I am besides those whose eyes can not see clearly enough to fly. Beside pages of pain or painted refrain of ages gone slow, to be born again. The oldest child is the mirror of the man who denies himself the peace of reason and souls burn on the wavelength of insanity. Words out of order. A semblance of order. A reason not forthcoming. The questions of why. The long endings that do not end on goodbyes. Is that true?
True say we say it means something but it is not true to say that we know the answers to the questions of why the white of eyes and black of lies behave the way they do. Greys integrate well with blue beards, if you let them live amongst the masses that breed on unstroked chins. Up is down and down is out but who is counting up the hairs on chins that have not been stroked and greased with questions in bed with questions that plague your head of aches? And the red noise of information which feast on your white of eyes? So green, so low down, so dependant on the drug of knowing. And what do we know? Who are we? What are we? Why are we? A mystery to ourselves. To each other. Yellow on black. Or of it.
Godmother of reality and her children suffer, blows of reckoning, headshots, eyes reddened, and unrecognised as the hugs of Joe. Snatched at death. Woe the tides that come to sweep laughter off the shores of John Doe, lamentable dreamers of our digital days, nightless and wide screened. Wide as fear stretches intrusively into the safe space. Enchanted tears roll back the years of sleep.
Where is your gravestone? They ask. Double chin up, but you ran out of time slowly. Dragged your bones forwards for your bastards to pick at the choices. Sounds right. She loved you dearly. Nearly. Had you. Hindsight. Beloved burden, clearly marked for some kind of purpose if not a living born outside of life.
Light hearted but the older the lie, the harder the trust bites the lack of. Dearly beheaded, buttered up the heart with sayings and cholesterol calamitous promises. Words stray further that the eyes can see. I can see further than the stray. But I can’t feel that way west or some south eastern mystery that dies with us in a fry up. Did we learn well? How long the tarry, and how merry the folly. Only fools and Horses, and the company of the dead who bury their own.
Last year in the same stadium where Usain ran his last individual race tonight, I watched him run a pedestrian time (by his standards) in his favoured sprint event, the 200m. Then I looked at the awe filled faces around me after he had won less emphatically than he was accustomed to. Old and young faces of various shades wore identical expressions.The after glow illuminated those same faces that perhaps had more in common with the grey of London than their sunny disposition . They had seen the fastest man in recorded history do the inevitable. Winning was never in doubt. I left the stadium with a sense of an ending. I had watched him run well enough to win another race and it couldn’t last forever. Not long after that night, he added three more gold medals to his tally of nineteen (Olympic and World championship). A flawless resume, untainted by missed or failed drug tests. It was time to go. The body knows best. But in some peculiar way, the fact that he didn’t win tonight will endear him to the world even more so than a 20th gold medal might have done. We finally got to see him face defeat in a major championship final and he handled that adversary with grace. How we lose is just as significant as how we win.
We like our superheroes to have some semblance of weakness to remind us that they do exist on the same surface of the earth that we bestride. Father time is krypton’s leveler restoring balance and the order of things. I’m glad that I am a witness to his boundary breaking efforts. He kept the sport of Track & Field Athletics alive at the worst of times and I’m sure there will be a lot of new borns named Usain in Jamaica for years to come. In defeat he remains very much a champion of a medal far more illustrious than gold. He won the hearts and minds of the people. Common folk from all walks of life. He will remain the people’s junk food loving and living champion. He leaves the track as arguably the greatest sporting phenomenon of my lifetime.
Over the last weekend I went to a memorial service for two souls who are believed to have lost their mortal lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. Their premature death, or life, depending on how one perceives life and death, has been politicised as is par for the course these ominous days. They have become symbols of the wealth and class disparity in Tory Britain. If one was to reach into conspiracy territory, they are sacrifices for the status quo. I’m aware that it is a loaded perspective and sensitive to speak of such things at this time. I had met the woman at the heart of this trajedy in the weeks prior to the apocalypse that met her and her son, two floors above the ladder’s summit. Her big and beautiful brown eyes held all the mystery and vitality of the Sun that replenishes what the grey of life’s trials is so adept in sucking out of us. I’m also ashamed to admit that I stayed outside during portions of the service for no good reason other than perhaps the trauma of knowing, only to later learn more about what happened in their attempts to escape. It turned out to be far worse than I imagined. And yet to hear that there was a valiant fight in vain to survive and not merely succomb to the flames and poisonous fumes is in keeping with the character of one who had overcome so much, and fought to the end. As of my writing of these words, they have not yet found the body of the mother and child. They will not find their spirits either. Their remains, if found, can not testify of a mother’s love but her story lives in the memories of a transformed life that beat some great odds in earlier chapters. In her final moments it was her faith that stood between her and the figurative September. The new term ceased upon her life like the old enemy it has always been. Death has no friends but faith, hope and love are its foe.
On Monday evening I ventured on my way to one of London’s prettiest cinemas, The Electric on Portebello road, to watch a documentary film about the demise of one of the great vocalists of our time. Along the way I saw posters of the missing people of Grenfell in all kinds of places. I moved between Kensington and Ladbroke Grove and had to stop every so often to look at a face stuck on a highstreet shop window or wall with a name in bold. I was struck by the image of a little girl on a poster attached to a pole. The face of the little girl was open. A blank page of possibility. Then I remembered that on the bus I took to Notting Hill, there was a woman carrying a picture of a girl who looked similar to the one that had caught my attention and brought my footsteps to a halt. I stared at both faces, the one in front of me and the cloudy image in my faltering memory. It may very well have been the same girl. It dawned on me that the woman on the bus might have been out on the streets searching for any strands of information. She was not giving up hope of finding the dead or alive body of a little blank book of a life yet to be written, amidst a seemingly hopeless circumstance. Perhaps in time we who live to remember will reason that the fire stole many lives but it did not consume all of our hope. Pain is timeless but so is the hope that one day pain will be no more. This is the burden we carry from one heartbreak to another, with a wry smile alongside the tracks of our tears.
Spring departs like the kisses that dressed you down to play grown up games with fisted fears. The visceral image collapses as your heart attacks the mirage we were. I had to write this twice. Say something sweet and spit on it. Then put a foot on it and twist. Fast and hard. That’s how words work. Quick as the sinking sanded song we wobble on in chordination. I had to tie my hands behind my back so that it wouldn’t cheat the eyes that nourished our hopes. Living the lie was almost too good to be true. Work the hips, grind the wrist into action, wreck the moment, burst the balloon, and pop the lock of your bubble headed majesty. Oh we play hard ball with twisted tongues, daring the heart to watch the flight of our shooting Star as it explodes inside our cocoon. I almost caught her watching me lose her to my fantasies. The kink in my armour, comes undone. I almost found me watching her lose us in her astonishment that I could love all the things that made her loathsome in her own eyes. I only loved her soul because I couldn’t afford the possibility of everything wrapped around it. So I lusted after her flesh to make a man out of me. I bit into the fruit of her neck, carefully so as not to tear open her sacred honey coloured skin which illuminated the Temple of her Spirit, to mark her as mine. And I watched her marvel at the pleasure it induced which became ointment for the pain. She dared me into the whirlwind of wreckless abandoned and I surrendered to my nature’s intent. I watched her watch herself knowing it couldn’t last the storm to come. Those secrets between the high fiveing thighs were not the children we had hoped for, but they were ours to burn on the altar of love, for better or worse.
Like daylight on wings, a year has passed. Facebook didn’t bake me a Cake but its cool. A lot of small deaths have happened since that day. Usually the face stays the same but I find that the neck changes. Oh and I’ve discovered more strands of grey amidst new faces and adopted words. There have been a lot of changes in relative terms and even my own eyes have concealed pertinent things from me when its been necessary to do so. The main thing about the passing year is where I find myself in my ongoing story. I’m happy to say that after a year, a deep wound has healed. The dressing is finally off, and the emotional scar matches the one on my forehead. Its distinctive but not too big. I can’t say for sure that time rubbed the salt in it. Time and I don’t have that type of relationship. Its hands off and head up. I’d say living has a lot to do with the choice one makes to dig a grave or dig the foundation on which to rebuild after the fire which has all but consumed the life behind the projected image that is perceived by everything that leans against it. Long sentences be damned and sentenced to death but not so easily. Death is as passionate as life, but its not as picky. The meat and potatoes of life is first you do what you must to survive. Then once that mountain has been conquered, you do what you must to protect your heart (your love). Then you live forward. By limp, or by crawl. If the back is bent, and that hump is conspiring to keep you down, then you find something to hold you up and steady. Then you walk. In time you may run again, and flying isn’t as far gone an idea if you can pick up speed. Love is a kind of regal audacity. The lighter the load on the heart, the heavier the love. I’d like to believe that I still have the capacity for the heavy love that knew no boundaries. Once was. To see. Once again. To be.