Monday, August 11, 2008

I Never Really Cared For Isaac Hayes (R.I.P.)

Isaac Hayes passed away. I never really cared for Isaac Hayes. But I loved Isaac Hayes, too. Just not the guy you're thinking of. This is Isaac Hayes, for instance. Hint: he's not on the screen.

That's The Astors. I don't imagine they're related to John Jacob. They look shell-shocked to be popular, but they shouldn't have worried -- it wouldn't last long enough to present a problem for them. The songwriter was never going away. Hayes. The media goes overboard when a celebrity dies now. Everybody gets their Princess Di moment, the special guest star at the funeral, who can't defend themselves anymore and so serves as a big broad brush for critics to talk about themselves.

That's why they're talking about Southpark and Hot Buttered Soul and Shaft. Isaac Hayes as the prototypical Mr.T clown, outrageous in dress and baritone of voice. I looked at Southpark once. Children swearing is funny -- for around twenty seconds. I'm informed that the show ran for more than twenty seconds -- thus, a failure.

Shaft was a bad movie and a lame soundtrack, mistaken for a bad movie and a good soundtrack. Trouble Man was a lame movie with a great soundtrack. Superfly was a bad movie with a great soundtrack. Across 110th Street was a bad movie with a great soundtrack. Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack did a lot more with their opportunity than mumble over another guy stomping on a wah-wah pedal while scratching his guitar, all the while fighting with a lounge-act horn arrangement for attention while wearing a towtruck chain. Shaft was a joke, and when you break out laughing watching Bart and Lisa Simpson sing it at karaoke, it's funny because it's lame and lovable and incongruous,not because it was any good in the first place.

But I told you I loved Isaac Hayes, and it's true. He was my favorite kind of artist: He was talented, cultivated that talent, and he worked all the time. When I was a young man, and I wanted to play music, I started mining old music to play. I discovered the glittering mine that is Stax/Volt records, and I've never seen its like since.

Stax/Volt was like the Warner Brothers cartoons to Motown's Disney. It was hipper and edgier and funkier and sounded more like a few guys banging on instruments and singing than the posh Motown sound. Isaac Hayes was fixture at Stax, one of those guys that the public would never hear about until he shaved his head and put on a chain and acted the clown to get attention. Can't blame him; setting yourself on fire and standing out front pays better. Diana Ross is still cashing checks, after all, and James Jamerson sleeps in a pauper's grave.

The Blues Brothers discovered Stax, and made a good-natured mess of liking it. It said Hayes on tons of those 45s under the title of the songs. Sam and Dave. Carla Thomas. People like that. The house band for Stax was Booker T. and the MGs, and I always think of Steve Cropper, the MGs guitarist, in the same way as Isaac Hayes. That's Steve's name on Dock of the Bay, for instance.

If you don't like Green Onions, you're not an American in your heart and should leave now.

That's Stax, and Isaac Hayes was one of a hearty handful of interesting people that made it go. Isaac Hayes was talented, he worked hard, he had a hard time of it here and there, got up off the floor when his circumstances put him there, acted the clown when it was required of him --his version of the clown was to be very serious-looking, of course--and practiced his craft. He's gone now, but his little reverberations will echo pleasantly around the place for a good, long while.

1 comment:

KRW said...

I need to quit doing productive work and start a website where I can declare who is or is not an American based on specific Booker T & the MG's songs. Not to mention being able to write off as a "failure" the only pop-culture success that exposes young people to libertarian values, just because I don't like it. Sheesh, lighten up, Francis.