On There’s A Riot Going On, Sly Stone sings with ancestral depth about his vocation. He declaritively sings that he is a poet. There is the poetry of rhyming words. But there is also the poetry of a life that reinvents itself or endures something which is far more profoundly poetic than the rhyming of words. Verses so lived in, that survival is not even the monument. A Poet who not only survives but thrives before words are accorded to her voice. We may never read her words, yet she existed.
A complex beast is the capacity to make music that is more humane than we can sometimes be to each other. The horn plays the player as much as the player plays the horn. Francis might have been the miles of music he heard after she was gone. Do we always hurt the ones we love the most? And did that thought ever cross his mind?
Here in this candid moment we project the idea of him that is safest for us to hold. The totality of a life is not safe to hold. We are dangerous terrain and our journey to meet each other might be on an unpaved road. The sign says I Dare You. Travelling miles alongside you to discover a fraction of the universe that you are, is several lifetimes we will never live. But you can play Blue In Green. It will tell you something. Maybe enough to go down that unpaved road of the lover you uncoiled for.
Perhaps the light knew something I didn’t before I walked into studio C without a plan. Just loose ideas and the accumulation of years lived. The life I’ve been privileged to endure and delight in, tells on itself on such occasions as this one. Both sides of a coin put in a bid for what my heart subconsciously knows. I’m still learning to speak an old language.
Your mind drinks the sound of rain. Nurtures peace. Paints possibilities. Come take your bow and find your sweet music in me. Play your song as tender as a mother’s embrace. I won’t leave you for treasures of Gold. We are bound as one. Night and brown. Round in tone. We chase dreams for fun. And when I hear your voice speak through the hollow of my body, it resonates in the realm of the unseen. A language for healing hurts. We escape into the melody. A step ahead of the drift but not too far behind the beat. The tempo of my heart quickens when I see you smile in C sharp. Your joy dances across the strings that keep me sane.
In a world of sand papered expressionists. Of clowns with crooked faces, and shiny knights made of Marzipan wishes come true, I find you in those quiet moments when the noise of grown ups fades into the shadows with your tears. I’ll never leave you for Emerald and Sapphire.
Play me again when I’m old and despised. I’ll be in the hollow waiting for you to release me from the indigo silence, that we might travel once more into new colours unimagined. Brighter than we ever sounded before. Lighter than the weight of careless words aimed at us. Stronger than fear’s hope to bring us down below the groove of love. Not for Ruby and Amethyst
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.
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.
Picture a world uncaptured that doesn’t own you, but pays no more and no less than what it owes you. A world without music. A world without light. And picture a boy with a shyness that transforms before your eyes into the magic realism of a world of your own imagination. Paint it with tears. Paint it with the sweat of toil that labors feet that know the joy married to pain, in repetition. Paint it with the blood of experience which betrays our imagination. Paint it with the love of song and dance that flies on the light of a smile returning home from the miracle of being born in the weathered land that is ours to tear up and reimagine. Not a song. Just a chord that strikes once or twice in time.
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.
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.