Published: Oct 27, 2010
In the book I’m writing, I’m approaching the moment when everything skids south and a very nice man is brought to his knees. It’s not like he did anything “wrong” or “evil.” He has only the best intentions; he just miscalculated. As did his wife — yes, his wife is right there with him. And then she isn’t. And he finds himself alone. On his knees. Broken.
These are not surface feelings. Because they cut to the bone, they are, in fact, a pain in the ass to write. It helps to have a reminder of what I’m aiming at. Fortunately, I have one — “The Immortal Otis Redding.” [To buy the CD from Amazon for a fortune, click here. For the sensibly priced MP3 download, click here.]
Otis Redding was one of those Olympians who are fantastically good at everything. He could shout. He could dance. He had a straightforward, honest, high-testosterone presence — he was, as one of his hits had it, a “love man.” Watching footage of him performing is a revelation. The Rolling Stones drove teenagers into spasms; Otis’s female fans were adult. They’d had sex, known love, experienced heartbreak.
Hot, he was soul music: “Respect.” “Satisfaction.” “Shake.” But the test of authority is when a singer slows it down. The aching, endless pain of love — Otis sang like he invented it. [To buy “Dreams to Remember,” a terrific, 90-minute DVD about Otis, from Amazon, click here.]
The song that I’m trying to rewrite as a chapter — it’s called “Think About It” — is one of eleven on a record that is aptly titled. Otis co-wrote it. The first few stanzas will give you the idea:
Before you walk out that door,
hang your clothes in the closet.
You’re forgetting one thing —
I’m the one who saved you
From a long lonely life.
I’m the one who gave you
Your first taste to paradise
Look how you’re payin’ me back
Look how you’re packin’ your bag
Please don’t do me like this, honey
All this good love you’re gonna miss
Think about it, honey
You really ought to think about it
‘fore you leave
It’s hard to be that simple, that direct, that naked — it’s hard for a man to beg. But listen, for that is exactly what Otis does.
So I’m setting the bar high. Really, I can’t set it higher. For in 1967, Otis was simply flawless. He released the wonderful concert album, Otis Redding Live in Europe. In the summer, he triumphed at the Monterey Pop Festival — Janis Joplin sat in the front row so she could figure out how he did it. In the fall, he recorded enough songs for three first-class albums. In December, he recorded “Dock of the Bay.” And then the small plane ferrying the band to gigs in the Midwest crashed in a Wisconsin lake. Otis was 26.
The titles of the songs on this record — the first released after his death — tell the story. “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.” “You Made a Man Out of Me.” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” “Thousand Miles Away.” “A Waste of Time.” “A Fool for You.” And three rousing affirmations: “Champagne and Wine.” “Happy Song.” Ending with “Amen.”
“I know you said he was just a friend/But I saw you kiss him again and again” — nobody said it better. If I can do half as well, I’ll be thrilled.