By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Aug 15, 2012
I’ve spent more time than usual in the car this summer, ferrying the child around. Naturally, we listen to her music. And I must admit, it’s catchy stuff. But when I’m back at my desk, I look for more substantial fare.
Correction: I look for pure protein. Major thrills. Titanic emotion. And I want it wrapped up in a musical package that’s every bit as compelling as Usher singing “Scream.”(As in: “If you wanna scream/ let me know and I’ll take you there.” It’s killer. Listen up.)
I bounce around my downloads, looking for ultra-real, and more often than not, I end up in the same place.
I was in college when he died. I heard the news when a woman I barely knew but very much liked knocked on my door. Her face was streaked with tears. For half an hour, we sat together --- a silent vigil, submerged in gloom.
This sounds ridiculous. Neither of us had ever seen Otis perform. And as an Ivy League English major, I had nothing visibly in common with a 6’2” African American from Macon, Georgia who owned, at his death, 200 suits and 400 pairs of shoes.
But on the level of manhood, he was my guy. And the same for my friend. Because although he was painfully shy, he was the one who wrote “Respect” --- and seemed to mean it. In concert, he begged, strutted, testified. Night after night, the reviews used the same word: pandemonium. He was the King of Soul.
I’ve written before about two of my favorite Redding records.
Live in Europe is an adrenaline rush and a two-handkerchief weepy; it covers the entire spectrum. If you’ve ever been broke and wished you could do more for your beloved, “Try a Little Tenderness” --- “Oh she may be weary/ them young girls they do get wearied/ wearing that same old shabby dress/ but when she gets weary/ try a little tenderness” --- will have you on the floor.
The Immortal Otis Redding was released after his death. I feared the worst: an overwrought title, tracks that would never have been released if he had lived. But the title is exactly right. And the music soars.
Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to another posthumous release, again aptly named. “Love Man” has a bunch of songs that soul singers had made into hits. You hear their echo, and then you leave them behind. What Otis sings, he owns. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download --- no single songs are available, you have to buy the whole thing, not that there’s anything wrong with that --- click here.]
I’m especially playing the last song, “Got to Get Back.” The first attraction is the situation:
I saw her dancing, dancing
In some old smoky place
I bet I was the only one there to watch her face
All night I never saw a smile there
'Cause she didn't even try
You know for just a little while there
I saw a tear in her eyes
He’s “got to go back to watch that little girl dance.” But he’s no remote appreciator:
I wonder how it is to love her
I toss and turn in my bed
The way she dance to the music
She got me going out of my head
And the music! Memphis horns. A bass player who might as well be playing lead guitar. Some background singers who make you wish there was a video. And, of course, Otis.
There are other songs that are, for me, essential. The titles make the case: “Your Love Has Lifted Me Higher.” “Direct Me.” “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Us.”