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.
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.
Dangerous nonchalance, tame the tongue as one would tame the Shrew.
Nigger owes you when it owns you,
tie the rope around the neck, choke the spirit behind the word till it sounds like Reggin.
Old words in new clothes begin aggin with new clothes on old pain.
Healers like dealers, double up on bad luck for crowned faces cried out in biro blue.
Thorny headed healers for troubled heart, trembling lips sip from the pimp cup, your child drinks your tears through breast milk, breathe easy baby.
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.
Hamburger aroma of weed smoke arising, latching onto hipster attire, Engineer’s banter louder than boom bap mutations, mute DJ slaying the Latin, cap on forward, sideways glancer catching a vibe, luscious lady, copper smooth, eyes find mine in hers, stepping out my mind to mingle with hers, just a sec or two, not a game, mature as you and I tonight, wrinkled and frank, digesting the jest, next questions begat more doubts than assurances, grown folks are childhood inventions, nurtured natures and fallen angels run the roost, while tall babies wag tails with tales, I’m talking and listening, I’m watching and fiddling with your thoughts and my attention spans the expanse of your face, the crevices, the creaky foot path across your mind and mine, gapping the bridge when I’d rather be inside of you, twister sister, mind over mister, feline recline, I’ve got you forged onto me.