Friday 6 July 2012

Barry, Luther, Otis & Marvin

I love that they existed.

If you were black and singing in the 60's and 70's, you're probably a hero of mine.

The thing with Luther Vandross, was that he was so vulnerable and open. And you'd think, because he was so loved and successful, that he had it all figured out. But then you hear a song like ''If I Didn't Know Better', and he breaks your heart. It's a song about his best friend, who's driving him crazy -- leading him on and convincing him they're together, and then claiming they're only friends. I mean, who'd have thought LUTHER FUCKING VANDROSS would have to put up with this shit?

If I didn't know better, 

I'd think that you were mine,
You're with me all the time. 
If I didn't know better,
I'd swear we're more than friends, 
You're touching me again.

It turns out than the vulnerability and loneliness that permeated through his records -- it wasn't fiction, it was his life. I found this out a few days ago, quite by accident. I was listening to 'Dance With My Father', a song that, quite honestly, I can only listen to about twice a year because it's just too much, too open; too honest about the sadness of life. It's a beautiful love-letter to his father. And as I listened, I wondered if it's a song his kids can bear to listen to.

And then I found out that he didn't have kids. And that he was a closeted homosexual. I never knew that. I read this old article that was written about him in
The Guardian, it broke my heart more than a little.

"He was a major iconic figure for black gay men and, although he never disclosed his sexuality, it was generally assumed that he was gay. 

He lived alone in a 25-room mansion in exclusive Greenwich, Connecticut (his nearest neighbour being the somewhat reclusive former tennis star, Ivan Lendl), and he battled occasional bouts of depression, and a serious weight problem that saw him frequently soar from 190 to 340lb. However, Luther always suggested that music was his only real partner, and he poured the truth of his own story into his art always spoke directly to fear, isolation, and the anguish and ache of unrequited or hidden love."

We have all these visions of success, and what it means. And you'd like to think of Luther Vandross as living a charmed life. But did he? Was '
Never Too Much' a part of his life, a person, or just a figment of his imagination and creativity? 

Well, who needs to go to work to hustle for another dollar?

I'd rather be with you 'cause you make my heart scream and holler
Love is a gamble, 
And I'm so glad that I am winning,
We've come a long way,
And yet this is only the beginning. 

Barry White
's 'You're The first, The Last, My Everything' is one of my all time favourite songs. I just think it's magical, it makes everything better. Even those who don't dance at the party, they tap their feet to this song. How can you not? The joy, the love, it's inescapable. How can anyone not love this song?

My kind of wonderful, that's what you are.

I'm listening to it right now, it's so alive and free! It's so rare to find in music -- everyone wants to come across as deep and troubled. Nobody will just sing a song that says "I love you I love you I love you yipppeeeeeeee!" 

I've seen 

So many ways that I
Can love you till
The day I die.

I hope Barry White died with that love in his heart. It's sad to think about Vandross; we can only hope he knew just how much people loved him. 

Otis Redding recorded the vocals for '
(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay' three days before his death. THREE DAYS! we were so close to never having this song at all. Can you imagine going through life without this song? Almost unthinkable. He recorded this song and three days later died in a plane crash.

The beginning is beautiful.

Sitting in the morning sun,
I'll be sitting when the evening comes
Watching the ships roll in
Then I'll watch them roll away again, yeah. 
I'm sitting on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away.

It's one of the greatest songs of all time and it's about a guy sitting in the morning sun. Amazing. Listening to Otis (and in fact, any of these guys) you can't help but be aware of the fact that the reality shows get it all wrong. A good singing voice is not enough. It's not about the notes, it's what's underneath. It's the experience, the pain, the hope, the person. The story.

Sitting here resting my bones, and this loneliness won't leave me alone.

Marvin Gaye is another tragic case. He gave his father an unlicensed gun for him to protect himself with. Months later, his Dad shot Marvin and killed him. All because Marvin stepped in during a family feud. 

There's far too many of you dying. 
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some loving here today,
Father Father,
We don't need to escalate.

And 'Let's Get It On' is perfect.

It's sexy. It's honest. It says all the things we never actually say.

Don't you know how sweet and wonderful life can be? 
I'm asking you baby, to get it on with me, 
I ain't gonna worry, 
I ain't gonna push, 
I won't push ya baby
Come on on come on come on baby,
Stop beating round the bush, 
Let's get it on.

You know what I'm talking about? Just a perfect song. Sometimes I listen to it on repeat about fifteen times, because you pick up on so many different things. I imagine the day they recorded it, Marvin was on top form, the sound engineers were at their peak, the weather was great and they'd all had a nourishing breakfast. You just sense it in the music; the world conspired to make one of the greatest songs of all time. 

Not that 'Sexual Healing' or 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' are any worse. In my head, I imagine that absolutely everybody is a fan. How can you not be? 'How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By you)', 'What's Going On', 'Mercy Mercy Me', 'Abraham, Martin & John'; the list is endless. 

Like a fool I went and stayed too long..

Stevie Wonder lives. The poignancy of his death will, unfortunately, one day come. But for now; he's doing what many artists do - a parade on the victory lap. And he deserves it. The live performances these days aren't as riveting as the records, but who cares? It's great to have him with us. A legend of a time long gone; when nearly everyone else disappeared for one reason or another.

He was signed to Tamla Motown at 11 years of age. His career has spanned nearly five decades. And the weird thing for me, is that I can't quite articulate how I feel about his music. I can't put into words what it means to me.  Is that because he's still alive? What an awful thing to say. But somehow, you can't look back at Otis and Marvin and Luther without knowing feeling the weight of their full story.

I'm not religious. But these guys were definitely a gift from somewhere. And think of all the people I left out! Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, The Funk Brothers, The Four Tops, Al Green. The list is endless. Some are still here, ageing gracefully - but most are disappearing as the sands of time do their thing.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone? 
Oh, he freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good die young, yeah,
I just looked around and he was gone. 

Care to share?


  1. Great post. By the way, Otis Redding Live at Monterey Pop might be my favorite live performance from anyone.

  2. I loved this post Kid. Dock of the Bay was one of my dad's favourite songs and he used to play it on a Sunday afternoon when he was relaxing from the stresses and strains of his job. Years later I do the same thing.

    I was lucky enough to see Stevie Wonder play for the first time in 2008. I was impressed that he didn't have a warm up act and played well after he was scheduled to finish. It was an experience I will always cherish.

  3. Marvin Gaye is my favorite musician of all time and "Let's Get it On" is my favorite recorded track in the history of music. Love Motown sound. Great write up here, and with such good music to jam to!