Thursday, May 18, 2006

Stop Me Before I Wear Plaid Again

Let's go down the seventies rabbit hole again. What the hey, I say.

This is not nostalgia, trust me. Happiness was the seventies in my rear view mirror. I think people really have forgotten how crummy that decade was, every which way, and live in a dream world that it couldn't happen again. I notice a certain similarity in the fiddling politically here in Massachusetts to thirty years ago, and wonder if the accompanying Rome burning will follow in its train again. Boston looked like Beirut thirty years ago, except Beirut had beautiful Mediterranean beaches; you could walk across Boston Harbor and barely get your feet wet then -- no miracle involved -- on the dead fish and sewage in 1975.

And disco did not suck, by the way. When times are hard, people generally turn to happy music. Disco is happy music. You can tell people don't really have a care in the world these days; the music is miserable. No one seeks out depression if they've got it already.

That brings us to today's seventies wonder, the least depressing music, well, maybe ever: Al Green.

He was born Al Greene in Arkansas; later his family moved to Detroit. He sang in the family Gospel group, The Greene Brothers, when he was as young as nine years old. My, those Detroit soul phenoms. Later, his father grew perturbed that young Al was listening to secular music, (how could you not listen to Jackie Wilson?) and booted him out of the band. His family dropped him, he dropped the "e" at the end of his name.

Al tried to be everybody but himself for awhile: James Brown; Wilson Pickett; Sam Cooke. But when he met Willie Wilson from Hi Records, he decided to be himself. Good move.

It was a good move, because there really is no one else like Al Green. He sings most often in falsetto; but unlike most falsetto singers, his voice sounds powerful and masculine despite the register. Michael Jackson, Frankie Valli, Lou Christie, BAH! Shrill dog calling. Only Marvin Gaye could go up there like Al Greene. But Al Green didn't just go up there; he lived there, invited you over, and you better bring two girls -- or you'll end up with none.

Like the greatest nightclub singers, he could stand alone on a stage, and sing an achingly slow ballad, with nothing but his beaming face and mellifluous voice to hold your attention:

Like so many people who show a sunny face to the audience, Al Greene's life has had a lot of darkness in it. Let's not dwell on it. After all, he doesn't, exactly; Al Green just keeps on smiling, and we smile along with him.

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