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.
Sunday prayer, a confession of tears that painted the tracks, long enough for three sides of a story, cut time rhythm, my word is gospel when i’m silent I sing the loudest, laughter can’t find where I hid the jokes. Its on you. A pity party only needs a jester for intermission. The crown of clowns is to sweeten the pain of truths told for cheers and jeers, and fears freshly laid out, the city crawls behind you now. A short prayer, longer than we lasted, music makers of myths and heart breakers breaking out of old skin, dead as last night.
It’s been interesting to observe the H words of our national team’s advancement to the semi-finals of the Russia 2018 World Cup. The England national football team has been host of a peculiar neurosis that our collective psyche has suffered for many moons and tournaments. I do recall the last time the boys hustled their way into the semi-finals in Italia 90, and though our national team extoled all the virtues of our notion of greatness, we lost to a dogged German team in a contest of heightened drama. Tears we did sow. Sweat and a little blood too.
A new era of English football would follow on the heels of the romance that was our Italian adventure. In my head I hear Pavarotti belting his tenor of dreams through Nessun Dorma. My introduction to Opera. I can still vividly see Maradona imposing his will on an Argentine side that didn’t have enough to go all the way on paper. His presence on screen had an aura which abides with me. Its strangely Chaplinesque. I can recall the colour and polyrhythms that Roger Miller and his Cameroon brothers entertained us with. I can see the outpouring of emotion in the light of Toto Schillaci’s eyes, and the passion of his goal celebration. You know the one. The soul of Italy was summed up in that moment. He seemed to me much like the spiritual twin brother of the character, Mario Ruoppolo, in the film, il Postino.
After the trip of nostalgia I’m always brought back to the H words. History. Hysteria. Hype. Hypocrisy. Hope. Our national game’s national team embodies all of that. All of that and much more.
In my head there is also the image of a fleet footed Des Walker. So swift and precise in the tackle. So dependable. So determined. I had never heard him speak until today. Old footage on Youtube. Old news that is new to me. I was thinking about him and realised he was the most silent of the moving images in my mind. There is a poetry about his presence in that team and yet he was the personification of England’s footballing ethos in the nochalance of fulfilling a duty. For country. For Queen. For self?
28 years later a nation once again measures its sense of self worth and identity with all the H words and sibling alphabets. Alpha but no omega. And a longing for football, their prodigal son, to return home. With such high stakes, it is more than a game. England is perpetually in search of its soul. And perhaps that is true of all nations.
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.
Boomed and baped with that machine gun funk fire, boppers wore saggy jeans in 94, baggy from the seams to the screams of black bodies dying. Head nodding, beat rocking beds and boats, blunt rollers toasted, cops and the killer East coasters, Mingus cool and the ugly beauty of colloquialisms, native to your borough, drop deep like the lyrics held captive in the flow. It’s unbelievable.
I like the music of equipment punctuated with grunts and exhalations of grind. Not Grime. Not Trap. Not happy House or Acid. I’ve got enough toxins to deal with just from the warm air in circulation. If it got any warmer we’d be gossiping Harpies haggling for a ride before being escorted away to endure a crimson Carson sterilisation. Banter tonight is who would be a Gunner? Think i’m playing? The noise of the apparatus put into action alkalinises my mind. The silence in the space between an extended hour and leg extensions never sounded better. Yep. Who would be a Gunner tonight. Jolly good thumping and the young men that spoke a good game crumbled. Extended hour never seemed so long as it crawled tonight. Stretched out like her name before me. An apparation. A song in waiting.
Yesterday I felt almost as worn as an old record, but Neo Terra awaits the woken, broken, polka dotted. A sigh. A stumble and a landing, and a neck turned head that isn’t hising. Blushing tongue will pay later. Flushing eyes will smile again. Toxin taxes taxied out of town and laughing longs to crown your heart. Lungs to run the clown out of paper truths. No lie. Lungs so long, you dare not reply. Too much breathing. This is life. A song. The hat of the heart and your hand over it. Held back. Chords that cheer down the upper. Mellow up the downer. Spinner. Head tripping, thinner, like blood to clot, vital too.
We woke up today and watched you walk out of the dry seasons, and run through the scales of the uncertainty that is so dear to you. What would you do without the trigger and the chase of reasons? Hand me your curiosity and drop the grinding axe. We beheaded our love to know about everything. Polytonal like the sweet nothings in a kiss. To know is to know that you will never know why I like the way I feel inside you when i’m outside of me. Riffing without a score, I bet the house I don’t yet own that i’ll never love like that again.
Bring in the Garrison and hold down the fort. Hold that thought while McCoy takes flight. John knows his way in through the back door, and Elvin’s cooking soul food ’round midnight. Anchor the heart that beats in time, the rage of mad men who curve the line, five four, who mend the wings of broken dreams, not gods or monsters, but sacred sinners who swing five for love between the marrow.
Track 9 sounds like trauma passed down Atlantic waters, translated in generations (deep waters are shallow too) by the ignoble scribe. Sounds like holocaust left overs compressed into psychic muscle memory. And the denial is also in the DNA. It sounds like guilt and complicity, because when you suffer long enough you forget that you were once innocent, until you pass by the time that passes by the mind’s eye and come to find that you were never so pure. Holy water flushes your insatiable appetite’s indulgence down to sewage glamour. Survival tastes good when your hungry to exist. The years have had you fooled in the fix of first impressions and belly butterflies. You were born old. You harbour generations (shallow waters hold secrets just as full as fear’s skeletal bones). It’s the itch you can’t scratch off your skin that seemingly condemns you in the reflected gaze of the beholder that holds your imagination captive. Now if only you were born young….Maybe the hump wouldn’t sound so steep. And generations of blood forced out of flesh, left without the host of a body to call their own, might take refuge in the agony and misery and pain projected and regurgitated, in your walking vegitated, agitated, itching, scratching, sloganeering, facade of pride, you are still a conversion in progress. A baptism of unspeakable things. A revolting revolution of ideas. You are upside down and inside out obviously. And you are not on a road or a river. You areally a floating gestation, gesticulating in the clumsy circus act of the affairs of the heart. Traumatic as hoarded desires. What you want might free you. It might kill you too if you weren’t already dead as the night. Black as the opposite. Night as the brightness of attractive opposites. Repeating words like mistakes, like lives repeating, mistakes like words that oppose what is being said, meaning and metre, timbre and diction, tonality and terror, black as light hidden in misread signals, come hither, black knight as white as right that rides a pale horse into the dark night, homeless night, lonesome night, thoughtful fears of what that night could be for us on the otherside of mourning.
Some say Time is relative. They say Time has no malice. They say it flies, but it never lies. Time will tell of man’s tall tales. Time will reveal the value of a man’s endeavour. Time has no favourites. It remains silent where the tears of sentiment and sweat of strife fall. And great men fall…before their Time, and some live beyond it, through the fruit of their labour, the joys born out of the struggle of existence. Passions forged in fire, stirred up in song, find their voice and take flight with Time. Ten years ago on this day, a man faded from view. Returned to the dust. Time watched. Time did not wait or waste away like his flesh. Time listened and heard his cries, watched his struggle to hold on. To breathe. Time captured his breath for posterity. Lynden David Hall still breathes.