Saturday, May 12, 2007

Triggers of Memories

This week, I have been listening to Aretha Franklin. Not the soul stuff, but the jazzy ballady stuff. I was first introduced to her album Sweet Bitter Love when I worked a Cameron's in the early 90s ... back when I had given up on rock music because I thought it all sucked. I absolutely loved this record. I played it almost every shift I worked at the store. Her voice is so strong but beautiful and memorizing... the overly stringy arrangements don't bother me. Her voice. Her voice. Her voice.

As I've been listening to Sweet Bitter Love this week, I cannot help but think of my old friend Craven and our post-college years together in our apartment in Durham. We lived on the second floor of this large fabulous brick house which balcony porches and french doors and a little telephone nook. Individual songs on Aretha's record bring back such specific memories.

"Nobody But You" reminds me of a Christmas when Craven gave me claves (one of the best presents ever) and we drank a jug of wine that my parents had given me for my birthday. I can remember the sound of Craven clomping up the stairs and the squeak of the door as he entered the house every night after work when I hear "Try A Little Tenderness." "Accentuate the Positive" calls up times of wearing wigs and lighting matches off our teeth and dancing in front of the fireplace. "Today I Sing the Blues" conjures up memories of cold winters and looking off the balcony at the snow on the ground and the weird people on skis on Mangum Street. "Sweet Bitter Love" reminds me of Craven eating corn chips on roller skates in our kitchen.

[Photo taken by Craven's mama in Fall 1990 during our sophomore year of college.]

Every time I hear "Blue Holiday," it makes me tear up a little. It makes me wish that Craven didn't live across the country and that we hadn't let our friendship slide as much as it has. He's getting married in a few months... a weekend that Aretha Franklin is playing at UNC. I'll miss the Aretha concert, but I'll see Craven. I hope that he'll save me a dance to "Accentuate the Positive." But we don't have to light matches off our teeth.


Anonymous said...

I think you meant "Nobody Like You." That is one of my favorite Aretha tunes. It was originally on her second Columbia album, "The Electrifying Aretha Franklin."

If you know anything about Aretha's upbringing, like I do, you probably wonder how they can "compare" new singers to her, who've never lived the kind of life Aretha lived. The experience she got growing up with the greats of jazz, blues and gospel floating through her home. The coaching she got from artists like James Cleveland, Art Tatum, Dorothy Donnegan; the years of gospel singing competing with the greatest singers in the field. By the time she reached 18, all that living was in her voice, so was the experience of growing up in a racist country with segregation, racism, bigotry and Jim Crow.

For Joss Stone or Amy Winehouse to suddenly be compared to Aretha as singers, is ridiculous There is nothing in their voices that even hints at anything that Franklin had to endure. They've never been discriminated against because of their color, had to sit in the back of a bus, denied accomodations in hotels and public restaurants, etc. They've come to this country and have paid no "dues," were immediately accepted and jumped right over American-born soul singers and landed right on Leno, Letterman and other network shows. Plus, they didn't have to play anything similar to a "chitlin' circuit" for years before they got a break. Most US soul artists have never been invited to appear on any of those network shows. Well, this is America, right?

Craven said...

DOOD! That photo! Sorry about you're missing Aretha but I save a dance. Should I bring some matches too?