Young, Gifted and Black-A Tribute to “the Goddess”

Many years ago, when I was in my very early twenties, I left Vancouver Island to tour the backwoods of Western Canada with Elektraglyde, a group that invented itself out of the then Malaspina College Jazz program we were enrolled in at the end of 1983, which then morphed into “DV8” as members came and went. We were going to be rock stars, that much we were sure of, and although the incredible energy I was carrying around loved the release that “rocking” gave it every night, my heart was never really in it…which I guess is part of why we didn’t get to that goalpost.

I was raised spending a great deal of time with my grandmother in the first few years, in California, listening to jazz. She loved jazz, loved the blues and I would dance around while she listened to all the greats, tapping her foot and sewing. We moved to Canada and I didn’t see her again for a very long time, but she sure left the love of jazz and blues ripe in my soul, and once you’ve been fed a diet of that at a young age, it’s hard to chew on anything else…although I love many aspects of what we would call rock and roll, especially artists like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and I played the heck out of “Rumours” and anything Floyd, it’s never held the same tang in it’s bite as my first tastes of jazz, soul and blues have.

When I was a teenager, I knew of Aretha Franklin, of course, who didn’t!? But when I found my first copy of “Young, Gifted and Black”, second hand at a yard sale, that was a game changer. I ran back and started driving everyone around me crazy playing it over and over. “Oh Me Oh My!” How many times did I sing along with that? “Rock Steady?” Oh yeah! I sure did! Every single song I played and sang with and as I crawled into the soul of Aretha with every note, all the bullshit that was happening in my life then just melted away; her voice was balm for my soul and I basked in it like she was the sun, all warm and healing.

But then it was time to tour, to take my whack at the music biz, and I needed to store my records and personal things, so a good friend offered to put them in her basement until I came back to Nanaimo, which I never did, in any permanent kind of way. Around this time I came into ownership, if that is a word you can ever use with a living creature, of a cockatiel that I named “Joey”. It was lonely on the road, especially being the only girl, so adopting Joey gave me someone to talk to, when I had the voice left after a night of screaming top 40 hits, when the guys were all doing what guys do on the road. After a year or so, it became clear that Joey wasn’t enjoying the road life; he was looking a little mangy and sad, so the next time we were in Nanaimo, my friend offered to take him for the last couple of months left in the tour. I missed Joey, but it seemed the right decision at the time.

When I came home, I went to my friend’s to collect my records and Joey. As I walked in, she had a very sad look on her face when I asked after Joey. Wordlessly, she went to her freezer and took out a paper bag, I kid you not, with a little cross I think it was, and “Joey” written on it. This was around the time that Monty Python was going on about their parrot and it’s feet being nailed to the perch, so I was caught between feeling incredibly sad(to this day I can’t bear to see a dead bird) and trying not to laugh at life imitating art. I took the bag from her, not sure what to do with a frozen Joey, then asked about my records.

As fate would have it, they had had a flood in the basement where my were stored, and many had been destroyed, and I guess some would say that my copy of “Young, Gifted and Black” was ruined; on the edge there was quite a warp, and “The Border Song” and “A Brand New Me” were no longer playable. But I loved that record, scratches, warp and all, so I took it and Joey with me to the ferry back to Vancouver. I know my friend felt terrible…shit just happens sometimes.

Joey received a burial at sea. I still have my record and still play it on a very old portable record player and the years melt away every time. Thousands of plays later Aretha still gives me shivers and tears like no other. Just yesterday I watched, over and over and over, her performance of Adele’s “In the Deep” on the David Letterman show…stunning, just incredible!! Anyone in this music business who thinks that a woman over the age of 30 has nothing to say that the world wants to hear really needs to get their head out of their ass. Aretha is 72!!!! 72 and singing with an ageless soul, because her voice IS love and that kind of love that begs for the world to hear it doesn’t die in a soul just because it’s past the age of “twerking!” This world can be a big and scary place, and I question much of what motivates our “entertainment” industry these days. But as long as I have an Aretha to keep me warm when things just seem too cold, I’m good. And THAT my friends, is the power of music, the power of a Goddess, of THE Goddess, Aretha Franklin. Yup. Rock Steady all!:))