Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Queen Walked the Earth

Let us all be happy to know that we were witness to a time that a queen walked the earth.

Ozymandias  - Percy Bysshe Shelley
"I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . ." 

Aretha Franklin has passed away. It is a sad irony that she has left behind an amazing legacy of music and activism, yet left behind no will. Her musical achievements are formidable to the point of other-worldly and I don't believe that I am alone in saying that there are some of her songs that are not only memorable, but even makes one feel that they can walk a little straighter and hold your head up a little higher because of her talent. 

"Near them, on the sand,"

Among the things that I do, I am a DJ. I collect music, read about it, study it dance to it, enjoy it. My Brother-From-Another-Mother Jason Stone and I have a monthly spot at the El Myr Burrito Lounge in Atlanta and we play Soul, Rhythm and Blues and some Gospel every third Saturday. We skew toward the rare, because radio tends to showcase the blessed few that research and other factors deem acceptable for the masses. Franklin was one of them, so it would be unfair to say that we played a lot of her music over the years, but truth be told, we didn't really need to. Her repertoire is so much a part of culture, it was almost, for the best possible reasons, unnecessary. If she had been around as long as she had and not been as successful (i.e., Nancy Wilson, who is certainly acclaimed and has recorded even more, but is not as well-known), it would have been criminal. There simply isn't a year of my cognizant life that has gone by when I haven't heard something by her. 

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The night of our monthly gig arrived and Aretha Franklin died not too long before. For the first time, I had to do the spot solo, which is not a logistical strain, but without Jason's erudition, enthusiasm and camaraderie, it's not as much fun for me, but I soldiered through. The DJ booth is above the restaurant floor, so I climbed up, put two Aretha LPs in front of the turntables and after I said the sentence that opened this blog entry, I played "Rock Steady" and started my four-hour set. 

"The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

To be certain, I played SOME Aretha that night, but I didn't do an all Aretha set. First, it's a bit boring to hear the same person's work for that long, even from such a great artist, but let's be honest, what could you play and say you have played the definitive Aretha Franklin set? Suppose I were to play the records that made the Billboard charts in the allotted time. Well...

You CAN'T! You would run over time if you tried this. You'd even have enough for quite a lot of a second night.

"Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare..."

I ended the set by playing "Lee Cross", a great set-closer and a testament to her ability to make any song her own, whether she's covering the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel. I switched the equipment over so the iPad in the booth is now playing. After my vinyl-only shift, it's back to digital music and "Don't Change" by INXS plays over the sound system.

I climbed down from the crow's nest after four or so hours, with no break. A woman sitting at the bar smiled at me and said, "Thanks for INXS. That's the best thing you played all night!"

One of the great singers and pianists of our times has gone, an international star and cultural institution. The crowd, in general, was appreciative, and the staff (hello, Ginger!) digs our stuff, but that was...weird to hear after my set was over 

R.I.P. Aretha Franklin. Saying hello to Michael Hutchence is strictly optional.

"The lone and level sands stretch far away."

And let us all be happy to know that we were witness to a time that a queen walked the earth.