Friday 31 August 2018

God bless Aretha Franklin

All respect
As the world bids farewell to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, the tributes are many from far and wide for the sensational person, artist and figure she was.
Yet, for most that mourn and also celebrate her wonderful life, she will be remembered mostly in her many songs. What is so amazing is the number of songs that she covered that she brought a life and an interpretation to that went well beyond the original.
Respect was written and first recorded by Otis Redding, with the man, the husband, pleading for respect when he gets home, Aretha Franklin took it and sang it from the perspective from the woman, the wife and the rest is history. Two Grammy awards and the induction of her version into Grammy Hall of Fame.
The salvation of talent
There are many other songs that people have come out to sing in charted a literally 7-decade-long career.
A difficult childhood, she had, parents divorcing when she was 6, her mother died of a heart attack just before she was 10, having 2 children at the ages of 12 and 14 respectively, she was a preacher’s daughter, but it did not save her from a cruel world out there. Her talent did, and it did greatly.
However, the song that registers the most to me as delivered by Aretha Franklin was written by the Beatles, she again took it and rendered it in both a haunting and a somewhat uplift tempo, the words of the song, full of meaning that made you think. It isn’t Think. She wrote that with her then husband, Ted White.
Eleanor Rigby was written in 1966, first by Paul McCartney and completed by the Beatles, but credited to Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

Remembering the lonely
Between the version written by the Beatles and the version that Aretha Franklin performed, she basically took a fictional person with a life story of a nobody, about whom nobody cared except for what needed to be done in burying her after she died.
The Beatles – 1st verse.
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window
Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
Aretha Franklin – 1st verse.
I'm Eleanor Rigby
I picked up the rice in the church where the weddings have been
Yeah I'm Eleanor Rigby
I'm keeping my face in a jar by the door
If you want to know what is it for, Well
The juxtapositioning of being unknown as a nobody and the reality of being a lonely person is a haunting and fearful thing to think about. Yet, there are many, unknown, unsung, unseen, unheard, untouched, unloved, and more that have a life and then a death that would speak like that of Eleanor Rigby.
When Eleanor Rigby died, she died in the church, Father McKenzie whose frugal life is noted in darning his socks, having written an eulogy, a tribute to Eleanor Rigby, to the hearing nobody to the fact that in the Beatles version, nobody was saved by what may have been a moving tribute, but who can tell?
Making a person real
Aretha Franklin takes the abstraction to the involved, creates a person and speaks in the voice of that person. This is deep empathy rather than plain sympathy.
This is where Aretha Franklin made Eleanor Rigby somebody, a person, a story that began in the first person and then it became a story told to many. Eleanor Rigby took a place in our minds, the minds of many of us seemingly lonely people in many ways social, emotional and much else, with the promise that we would be left unsung.
When I first heard Aretha Franklin’s version, I thought Eleanor Rigby was someone who lived at a certain time and after her death was recognised for something. I had not heard the Beatles version before that.
Eleanor Rigby is almost a premonition, a niggling anxiety, yet, whatever happens when one is dead is really for the living to take care of, and that is a hope of sorts.
Aretha Franklin herself is definitely no Eleanor Rigby, she did not have to pick up the rice where the weddings have been. She died surrounded by family and will be eulogised by the high and mighty, along with millions paying tribute. She, however, has given a voice and life to the lonely people and at the end, she said, ‘God bless, yeah gotta love some lonely people.’
God bless you, Aretha, you made more than a difference.

Friday 10 August 2018

Thought Picnic: Damn, I was so into you

Like you used to do
The thought started with, ‘Like you used to do’, the sad reality of loves that I once had and have lost for reasons I have not fully understood. I reflect and wonder at what could have been, yet we never really got to explore that unity of mind, of soul and of life.
The moments are collected as memories, each reminder a cut to the heart as the search of real and true love continues in a resignation to fate rather than a determined yearning for it, even though the latter is a deeper feeling than the former.
My life appears to be crowded out with exes, lovers who became dear friends, lovers who passed on, lovers who became fleeting acquaintances, lovers, long forgotten with the pain that they brought and the baggage they refused to shed.
I’m ready, you’re not
However, what is most striking is what I was ready to invest and what they were not ready to put much faith in. It is no doubt that I bring a challenge to certain lives and with that optimism that upsets the sedentary with new possibility. Elements of my personality, though introvert can provoke either the positive or the negative.
Reactions to it also can inspire or tire me out as the balance and stability I seek is in finding refuge in person, place and situations. Arms to embrace, shoulders to lean and the absence of inhibition to be free with each other.
Writing about this does not make it easier, for I have been blessed with means and ability well beyond those of partners that there was rarely any thought given to sharing of that abundance in everyday life, the pursuit of happiness and the pleasure to be derived from it. Just like you do.
Damn, I was into you
I have had those fears before, that where you could have taken then leap but hesitated, vacillated and procrastinated until time and tide took away all the options and left you with regret. Anticipation is also another thing on the part of both partners, I have plans and I have dreams, they can neither be executed nor fulfilled in an instant.
There is a process of growing and knowing, flowing and glowing, sowing and owing to the point where the stars are aligned and destiny takes the wheel.
For all that the heart wants to do, the head must review and assess, lest, in the end, we become as fools. For the few, I really could say, ‘Damn I was into you’, I can only wonder when did it go astray.

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Young men need to calm down

Kicking the bus in the balls
He was shouting and probably remonstrating about something when he got off the bus and without catching his breath, still in a tirade, he proceeded to kick the bus. The bus winched and groaned at being kicked straight in the balls.
Not exactly. Whatever might have started the altercation, he was really ejected from the bus, in his anger and petulance, he began kicking the bus to make a point. Meanwhile, the bus rolled away from the bus stop and he was left there to kick a bin and then the bus stand.
It is not the end of the world
Young men need to learn to calm down. Take control of their emotion and exercise a bit of self-control. Whilst, a lot can so easily escalate, that same situation can be tempered down to irrelevance. It all depends on how a person decides to react.
He missed a bus journey he probably could have enjoyed and had to wait probably another 15 minutes before another bus came by. It is quite likely, he would have simmered down by then, rather than have fire, smoke and steam coming out of his mouth, nostrils and ears in that order.
As I pondered on this matter walking back to my hotel, at another bus stop, someone asked me a question in French that I did not understand. Before I could explain myself, he began swearing and cursing at me, he also kicking the bus stand. I was exasperated, saying nothing, I kept walking along, now wondering about the many angry young men who lose out just because they cannot calm down a bit.
Maintain composure and perspective
This brings me to an event in the news a few weeks ago. This about two young men who by my reckoning could easily pass for my son, if I had by happenstance had issue. They were fledgeling models building a profile in their professions when the one said to the other than he had slept with the other’s girlfriend. [BBCNews]
By the time you knew what was happening, they had met up for a fight, one side armed with dumbbells and the other armed with three knives including a machete, over an unsubstantiated claim of one having slept with another’s girlfriend. The young man who took umbrage at having his girlfriend in the arms of a rival got stabbed and he died.
What needless, senseless and careless loss of life over what by terms should be a trivial matter. Egos and personalities without capacity or inclination to contemplate consequence. A gross lack of apprehension for the future, by living only in the present and now. Respect has become a precious commodity, linked with a feigned sense of honour and dignity that everything is sacrificed to maintain that status after which all is lost.
What if they decided to reflect for once and step back from careering down the road to perdition? A silent voice that spoke into the consciousness of one that suggesting, backing down does not mean a loss of face, defeat or person.
Calling me chicken doesn’t make me one
I know the number of times I have been called a chicken, in the desire of that person to get me to do what I have decided not to do. A chance encounter could define an entire future, but that encounter alone when veering towards the negative is probably the best sign to disengage.
Walking into a park one sunny afternoon and seeing a friend, I went to offer greetings and pleasantries as one of his acquaintances urged me to sit on the grass. I had no intention of sitting on the grass, so I stated, I would rather sit on a bench. At which point he called me a pretentious git and asked if I thought I was better than those sitting on the grass.
I responded, everyone has made their choice to sit where they want to, I have decided, I prefer to sit on the bench and I don’t care for whether he accepts my decision or not. We parted company, not in the friendliest of terms, but I knew that only that circumstance would have put us in the same space. There was every likelihood, there would be no other encounter between us.
Take a time out and take it easy
I take a laidback approach to things, I hate to be in a rush, I make time for activities I have planned, I would step out of the way of those to whom time has become the most expensive commodity. I can take offence yet refuse to be offended or slighted. This all comes with a keen sense of self and the ability to brush it off.
The quest for respect is not a goal, it grows out of conduct, comportment, demeanour and stature. There are cases where respect needs to be demanded, it is never with brawn. We have reached a level of civilisation where conversation, ideas, knowledge and wisdom should suffice in settling issues. We can agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable as we aspire to a greater level of gentlemanliness.
I do hope that young men begin to realise there is more to life beyond that momentary hot-headed where the absolutely regrettable becomes an ever-present possibility. There is more respect, honour, dignity and integrity to be had in the future if you can walk away from a volatile situation now.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Paris: Boulevard de l'Unpretty - Revisited.

Talking hair is not cheap
Hair is politics, or should I say political. It is also commercial, it is big business. Yet, it is quite personal, the choice of expression with or without hair is interesting and sometimes just left to the observation.
Then, you come to the real issue, the one of hair for black women. I was walking down the road on Boulevard de Strasbourg, just after the Saint Laurent Catholic Church on the left, before the street changes to Boulevard de Sebastopol and I observed something I had not seen before.
There were men stood in front of shops accosting women and doing everything to persuade them to come into the shops, black women that is, and these shops had dangling from every window and hook as you peered in from the shop windows and the doors, hair of every dark shade, ready to be used as augmentation of natural hair.
How long has this been going on?
Now, I have seen architectural works of the hair that I cannot fathom how much skill and time it has taken to put those creations on the heads of the wearers and they do not come cheap by any stretch of the imagination.
I have written of this section of Paris before, both sides of the street teeming like an African ghetto that even I feel too much of an outsider to be able to relate. Literally, every shop sells hair and cosmetics, and as they are all selling the same things, you do wonder about what makes each shop unique as competition is brisk, if not cutthroat, you probably need men to literally muscle in the customer off the street.
Travelled the world and the seven hairs
The hair, however, is a different story, having travelled off the shorn heads of poor people from the hinterland of Brazil and India, the hair has become the travelled dream of people who probably would never see miles beyond their locality for a lifetime.
The profits from these lengths of follicular fancy would hardly get to them. That is absorbed somewhere in the value chain by people who have probably become billionaires in the purveyance of this fleeting enhancement to beauty.
I would not know if there is a fair-trade hair construct that ensures a bit more of the profits of this arbitrage goes back to the source communities of the hair. That is another element of the opacity of capitalism.
Where’s the shampoo?
I guess for me, the only hair product I use is a razor and shaving gel if that counts as hair products. I shave my head just while I shave my beard, or whatever those itchy bristles are. It was funny and cheeky when my friend as he was using the shower ventured then declined. He then said he could not ask me for something I basically could not have. Shampoo!
That is another story. The trade in hair is about to get nasty and it is in the pulling of customers rather than of their hair.
Like TLC does say, “You can buy your hair if it won’t grow.”

Friday 3 August 2018

Thought Picnic: Remembering the day you were told, you smell like a toilet

In juvenile detention
I left the office early today at the end of a 2-week working visit to Berlin to be able to beat the rush-hour traffic to the airport. Even that did not mean we were not caught up in traffic until my taxi cab driver used his smarts to cut a detour that took probably 20 minutes out of our journey time.
Down one of the byroads, I noticed high fences and barbed wire on top of the walls. Military, I thought until I saw the sign in German for young offender’s institution. The taxi cab driver said it was a place for pickpockets.
I thought about the parents of the kids in that institution and how they might have helped or failed their kids. Maybe there was nothing they could do about the situation.
The threat of detention
Just then, my thoughts wandered to the many instances where in my father’s displeasure, he threatened to have me locked up in a police cell, for no other reason than the breakdown of communication and the thought that the experience might just toughen me up and make me probably more amenable to the thinking and the respectful subservience to his obstinate will.
Whilst the threat was never carried out because others intervened, and I was to humble and humiliate myself at his feet to placate him, the thought that he would threaten this police cell idea remained a lasting blot to what could have developed into a more rewarding father-son relationship.
It is no stretch of the imagination that I was at times a difficult and unruly child, in some ways the rebelliousness was seeking a way of independent expression, some of which might well have landed me in a young offender’s institution.
When to them you smell
Things finally came to an irredeemable schism when on failing my course he decided I would be more useful on his failing farm. It was conceptually a gulag neither I nor my mother was keen on the idea. I guess on the running of my luck, I had become more of a mother’s child than a father’s child. The morning we were to go to the farm, my sister gave me some money and I left my home for good.
However, I find myself writing this blog because I just read reports of an excerpt from Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ book called Small Fry in which she talks of the difficult and sometimes strained relationship she had with her father, the legendary Steve Jobs. [The Telegraph]
She visited him just before he died and sprayed on an expensive rose facial which she found in one of her father’s bathrooms and his acknowledgement? “You smell like a toilet.” This after hugging her.
A destructive streak
It is sometimes difficult to write about the complicated relationship between a parent and a child. The joy in your being born could soon dissipate into condescension, obloquy, disparagement and condemnation. “You smell like a toilet”, is a paraphrase that means many things from disappointment, disillusion and anger on the part of the parent.
You’re not measuring up, in the many ways you by osmosis were supposed to not just to meet the standard but exceed it, whatever that unspoken standard was. The times I was not fast enough, I was not man enough, I was not athletic enough, my teeth were rotten, my mouth was smelly, I was stupid, blind, dumb, an altogether a sense of shame that I could ever have been their offspring. When nothing else worked the ultimate putdown was, you were not responsible.
Take heed what you say
There is a coming of age to this whole process though, from the earnest desire to please and receive praise, through the fear of offending locking you into a state of stupefying stunted lack of agency, the need for acceptance then tires you out to the point of seething resentment, by which time indifference leads you to live your own life the best way you can regardless. You shrug it all off.
I cannot remember when the desire to please my father lost its drive, it was before I was 20 and I had already failed at simple and difficult things. I became the ward of another who allowed me to explore possibilities in ways that gave me a sense of direction.
In some ways, I have a good relationship with my father now, in others, flippant statements in the tone and intent of “You smell like a toilet” have a way of sticking in the recesses of your memory for a lifetime. They are never forgotten. You always remember those things, for they cut deep, stab you in the heart and recovering from the blow is almost impossible, maybe only time can heal the pain.
Take heed what you say to a child.