DIONNE WARWICK / “Alfie”
It has been a hard week, a terribly hard week. Early Wednesday morning I received the troubling news that fellow poet and all-around real good people, Sekou Sundiata made his transition. I fought through the fog of sadness and tried to continue to work but then, unbelievably on the same day within one hour’s time, I received even more disconcerting news: Doug was dead.
Visual artist and co-founder of Ashe Cultural Center in New Orleans, Douglas Redd expired after a long illness. Since April of 2006 I have been spending at least six nights a week sitting with Doug, making sure he took his medication, talking with him, viewing all kinds of films together, dapping each other, hand-holding, embracing. The last couple of weeks were extremely taxing. Doug was mostly in and out of partial consciousness. Sometimes moaning and speaking in tortured tongue. And I could do nothing more to help him but be there. Hold his hand, touch his arm. He died early in the morning. I pulled the night shift; we saw each other, spoke, touched, mere hours before he died.
For a minute after getting the word I couldn’t see the computer screen. Really it was more than a minute. And then a song came to me. “Alfie.” That opening line: “What’s it all about….”
Instantly I knew what I would be featuring as the classic for this week’s BoL. (All the Warwick tracks are available on Walk On By: Definitive Collection.)
I don’t listen that often to Dionne Warwick. It’s hard for me to stomach the corny pop arrangements, nevertheless, the schmaltz and schlock notwithstanding, Dionne was absolutely in a class by herself when it came to breathing life and passion into music that might otherwise be best suited for Lawrence Welk’s bandstand.
First off, Dionne’s voice was distinctive, immediately recognizable; if she was on the radio you couldn’t just walk on by without pausing to listen to the diamond clarity of her notes, the seemingly effortless grace of the way her voice soared. Second, her phrasing was impeccable even if she was uttering something as jejune as “what the world needs now is love.” (Sure we all need love but that pop ditty was so clichéd.) Third, Dionne made you believe the drama she was singing about was a tale drawn from personal life experience. She asked, “Are you there with another…?” and in our heart of hearts we knew the answer and from the way she sang it. Furthermore, we knew Dionne also knew the answer was yes.
I got into Dionne Warwick back in the early sixties. I started collecting her albums from the beginning. Within four or five years I moved on to musically deeper waters but there is still a soft spot in my armor when I hear Dionne turn Hallmark greeting card sentiments into serious statements that sonically capture particularly crucial life moments.
“Is it just for the moment we live?”
Perhaps, these songs will not seriously strike you and maybe the melodramatic pop arrangements will push you away, but then again, perhaps, just perhaps, something has happened in your life recently: a love lost, a betrayal, a setback, a missed opportunity, a death, something serious or tragic or that you honestly regret, perhaps, and because of that, perhaps, you too will share a silent moment with me, pause and reflect on the deep contradictions of life, accompanied by Dionne singing something that seems to perfectly articulate where you and I are at at this hard moment. Perhaps, you and I, accompanied by Dionne, will say a little prayer before moving on to whatever is next on our life agendas.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
An R.I.P. for Doug
Baba, I have to say an R.I.P. for Doug too. I never really knew him—the times when he and I were around each other, I was just a kid. I do remember a little art studio crowded with canvases and ink and mallets and metal. I remember an epic set of dreadlocks, skin the color of fresh tar and a constant smile.
I remember the last time I saw him too. Believe it or not, I was delivering milk to the Ashe center. Doug unlocked the side door for me. He started to help me, but I could tell he was in the middle of something. I told him I had it under control and he told me, with that constant smile of his, "Cool." He asked about you and Mama and the rest of the family, and then off he went. That was it.
* * *
So, Dionne Warwick, huh? I have to say, I'm at quite a disadvantage. The problem for me is, all I really know about Dionne Warwick is "Walk On By," the Mos Def sample from "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and the Psychic Friends Network. I'm not going to lie and say any of these songs are about to turn me into a fan, but if her music helps in a moment like this, more power to her.
And Doug, R.I.P. my man.
—Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, July 22nd, 2007 at 12:20 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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