AL GREEN / “I Didn’t Know”

BoL has previously covered Al Green. Extensively. There is no need to repeat ourselves. (Go here, here and here if you want to read what we wrote over the years. Damn, we’re sneaking up on four years old; in internet terms that’s a real long time. What we have here is a brace of my favorite Al Green slow jams. Not my favorite Al Green songs in general, nor Al Green’s greatest songs—these are from that list written on my backbone. Listening to these songs straightens me out when I feel emotionally crooked, calls to mind the specifics of times long gone but never forgotten. I was going to talk about 1977 and the pivotal time when Al crossed back over, and, of course, “Belle” was his calling card and his 'ta-ta': hello Jesus, see you later Jezzy (Jezzy is the familiar for Jezebel, which in turn is the symbolic for the pleasures of this world in general and sex in particular). But we covered that too, in both depth and detail. However, what we never did was put together almost an hour of Al Green, enough to seduce even the most reluctant object of one’s attention. And as has been our wont of late, I’ve included some live performances that I’ve acquired over the years. All of that said, I would like to mention one idea I’ve been kicking around. Perhaps the biggest attraction females felt for Al had nothing to do with so-called “manly” attributes but rather with the emotional nakedness that cloaked his whole persona. al green 28.jpg I mean he was often perplexed, dumb-founded and conflicted. It’s all there in his music. And it’s all real. There is a photograph that I came across in my search for pictures to accompany whatever it was I thought I was going to write about Al Green. The picture above is one of the ones I had been thinking about. But there is another picture, one that I did not even know existed. Al is literally butt naked in a cotton field, holding what looks like a fur coat covering his genitals. The 1972 photo is by Bud Lee and the website  claims that this was one of the pictures that was intended to be used for the cover of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together album. I can’t vouch for the veracity of the claim but I know cotton when I see it, and I know what a naked black man looks like… and, damn, a psychologist could write for days about the photo below. (Notice i said psychologist and not psychiatrist; I don't think Al is or was any more mentally imbalaced beyond the normal teetering back and forth we all do but I do think al's life story and public persona make for fascinating study.) al green 30.jpg Al Green! But then again, maybe this is not even Al Green. Maybe it’s a double, or a thousand other maybes. Regardless, my point remains, this is a perfect illustration of Al Green’s edgy and direct way of illustrating our own contradictory nature. Dig it or not, understand it or not, this was the primordial impact and attraction of Al Green.  His music was absolutely both utterly naked and also utterly confusing in that he managed, somehow, to not only exemplify a certain internal tension, he found a way to make that tension palpable in his music, a way that few, if any, other singers were able to consistently do. The attraction of Al’s music is that it was always about more than one thing, which is, after all, the story of most of our lives: there is always more than one thing going on, or at least that’s the way it has been for most of the people I know and I pity those for whom life is a monotone. All of us, at one time or another, have been, well, shall we say, have been caught at a crossroads unable (or unwilling) to choose and so we simply let life sort of push us along, circumstances dictating whether we chose this or we chose that, or whether we even made a choice. Oh, how often are human situations the result not of choice but rather the result of what happens when we don’t or can’t decide, when the hunter surrenders, quits the chase and… I don’t mean to imply that this is the case all the time. Indeed, more often than not we are, to one degree or another, active in making life choices but there is always a time, always a person, or two, before whom we are utterly bereft of will power. These Al Green songs are the soundtrack for those moments. And as the old blues song goes: if you’ve never felt this way, I hope you never will. But, as life generally goes, if you live, your time will come. And what time would that be? That would be when you fully feel and relate to these Al Green songs of sexual and relational conundrum. In addition to “I Didn’t Know,” (from Al Green Is Love) which is my feature choice, I also greatly admire Al Green’s performance of “Jesus Is Waiting” live on Soul Train. Listen to how he has the audience totally hyped singing a gospel song on a televised secular dance show. It takes a special talent to do that. It’s one of life’s great mystery that after tens of thousands of years of human history, basic life situations can continue to mystify us. When it comes to matters of the heart the past is no help. Mama can’t help you. Daddy don’t know. You got to go there for yourself and there is nothing to prepare you for how you will (or won’t) deal with such moments. Just know that whether you look back and remember or look forward and try to avoid, regardless, there will come a time when these Al Green songs will have profound meaning for you. al green 31.jpeg Times not just of sexual search but also times of spiritual search, for the great genius of Al Green is that he knew and deeply felt the dialectic of life, and beyond knowing the contradictions he also knew how to sing about both sides with equal intensity, and for that I thank him. Thank you Al Green for these timeless songs, regardless of who or what our personal Belle and Jesus are. —Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, January 19th, 2009 at 2:00 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.

2 Responses to “AL GREEN / “I Didn’t Know””

Faye Says:
June 26th, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Wow Kalamu. this is an interesting article. This is the first time I’ve heard this song. Still processing it. If made in 1975, this seems to have come out somewhat close to Mary Woodson’s suicide.

I think you are right about his appeal to women that it has nothing to do with his masculinity. It’s his perceived vulnerability while exposing his heart. I don’t know why its so sensual but it does make you connect (or feel connected) to him.

I’ve really been into him over the last four months and I’m more puzzled as to why then intrigued by the inability to feel that you know him even though you see him perform and hear his thoughts as related or not related in an interview. And at the same time he seems elusive, he comes across as a people person and a friend. Wow. I can’t spend too much time on this because it makes me a little crazy. 🙂

mohammed sillah Says:
February 5th, 2011 at 8:18 pm

One of my favorite songs on the album. This indeed was a testominal apologetic song to mary woodson. Sounds like he recorded this in the dark or at least with dim lights, it has the kind of sensual eerie sound. I right off the bat knew it was dedicated to her, this album was cut a year after the incident. She wanted to commit and he was in the midst of the normal successful rock~n~roll lifestyle and didnt want to give it up.

Leave a Reply

| top |