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.
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.
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.