The Blind Man Sees—While The Sighted Stumble In The Dark
We've talked here before about great American songwriters—folks like Willie Nelson and Curtis Mayfield. This post is about a not unsung songwriter/performer—one Steveland Hardaway Judkins, better known as Stevie Wonder.
Music fans don't have a lot to gripe about with the great Stevie—save for the fact that he's been so prolific and long-starred that there has really been no proper compleat anthology of his hits for at least 30 years. He's one of the very few living artists worthy of the Dylan “Biograph” treatment (believe it or not, Prince is one of the others). Stevie is a rare creature indeed—a product of the Motown factory system who spread his wings upon contract emancipation and graced the world with the raw, unfiltered brilliance of his talent. He reeled off seven consecutive phenomenal albums—1971's Music Of My Mind, '72's Talking Book, '73's Innervisions, '74's Fullfillingness First Finale, '76's Songs In The Key Of Life, the grossly underrated at the time Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants from 1979, and 1980's Hotter Than July.
An unabashed romantic, there is just about no one who's penned more songs singing the praises of unconditional, un-dying love.
When I Fall In Love, It Will Be Forever
My Cherie Amour
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
I swear I could give you ten more.
But Stevie, like Curtis, and Marvin Gaye at the same time, could reach within himself and deal beyond the beautiful selfishness that is the love between two individuals, and hit the nail square on the head when it came to matters of people as a whole.
There was the rough, rural-urban mini-opera that was “Living For The City”, his scathing indictment of the Nixon administration “You Haven't Done Nothin”, and his tuneful urging for a Martin Luther King holiday (it worked!) “Happy Birthday”.
This past weekend though, Mr. Wonder came to New York City on tour for the first time since 1996—a rare treat for us in town, and all the more precious as there's a dearth of top-line live entertainment due to the Broadway stagehands strike.
According to several reviews, he did not disappoint. He was in fine voice, radiated ample energy and had as helpful onstage aides de damp, the performers Aisha Morris (his daughter, and the name-checked inspiration for 1976's “Isn't She Lovely”), and Tony Bennett who he duetted with on “For Once In My Life”, and he conjured up a surprise sideman in a “spectating” Prince—who supplied blazing, impromptu scratch guitar on “Superstition” (Goddamn!).
But it was this little bit of patter during a vamp in a song that stuck out for me in the New York Times' review of the performance:
Over a vamp in “Visions,” he opened up a long monologue, bellowing at the top of his pitch range. “I can’t believe it,” he shouted:
“Here we are in 2007, and we’re still practicing the same bad habits that we had centuries ago. We love the God that we serve, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or whatever we might be, and we still ask our God to give us the right to kill in his name. It’s unacceptable. I can’t believe it.”
He returned to this theme at the end of the show with equal conviction. “Hate is unacceptable,” he said. “If you can’t do nothing but hate, why don’t you go on and die and go to hell?”
And there you had the spectacle of a blind man from Saginaw, Michigan, schooled on the hard road during his teen years of touring by a tutor from the Michigan School For The Blind, seeing the world and how to make it better with a thousand times the clarity than the sighted Yale and Harvard educated, alleged “leader” of the free world. A thousand times the clarity of every sighted, backward-thinking supplicant and enabler as well.
The Malkinite/Ingraham-ette flying monkey squad like to screech between poop-tosses, “Shut up and sing!” to performers who dare challenge their hate-oozing, grand-high-exalted-mystic poobahs of prickishness.
Well, I vehemently disagree. For every lunk-head who croaks out a practically government-approved “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)” there is a space for artist to sing, or say otherwise. Or, to quote the Bible—(oh, my wingnut brother's gonna hate me for this) specifically Ecclesiastes 3:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven...
Stevie found that time to say what had to be said. Never mind the rhyme, or meter—the key or pitch...it was delivered perfectly.
For all of us. From the “Jesus Children Of America” to “Big Brother” to the “Black Man” in “Village Ghetto Land”.
You said what had to be said...and that's NEVER wrong.
Workout Stevie, work-out.