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.
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.
And while we’re on the subject of life and the virtues within this mortal coil, living through all senses, and awake to the wonders our eyes breathe in to exhale the fumes of melancholy and her lover’s kiss on the hand that held you back from the possibility of escaping death, a persistent aroma that lingers around you and confides with the fears you try to hide in your past’s pocket, it took less than a moment to find your hope transfixed, with your doubts swept away by the sheltering wind that clothed you when your love was naked. You hear it too.