In July, 2008, I, Princess Rachella, Intrepid African American Girl International Journalism Consultant, pulled up stakes once again and headed to Nairobi, Kenya. Through my various adventures, I've concluded that if I get any MORE explosively fabulous in these prequel years to "THE BIG 5-0," I will have to register myself with the Pentagon as a thermonuclear incendiary device.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Saying "Yes, Yes, Yes" instead of "No, No, No"

Earlier this week, I had the most fun I've had in AGES rocking the house with a couple of 50 and 60-something American expat friends. We were at a Nairobi club known for playing smokin' old-school tunes, the kind that are almost guaranteed to make you squeal "WHOOOOH! That was my JAM!" after the first few chords are played.

This particular night, the anonymous Kenyan DJ was killin' the Otis Redding catalogue. I mean, I thought I knew there was so much more to Otis that the classic "Dock of the Bay," but I was just blown away by the depth and range that brother possessed! Turns out I recognized about half the songs I was hearing, but there were a bunch I'd never heard before. They ALL got me movin' and groovin', in a deep down in your toes kinda flow.

For a while there, though, I was feeling kind of wistful. I mean, admitting you know the lyrics to quite a few early Staxx tunes, and that you know who Sam and Dave were, and that Isaac Hayes did a lot of the back-up horn arrangements on those classic early-mid 60's tunes, can age your ass in a heartbeat. Finally, somebody forced me to sing the lyrics to Joe Tex's "I Gotcha," and all pretense was lost. I was my old-ass self, and lovin' every minute of it.

"You promised me the day that you quit your boyfriend/That' I'd be the next one to ease on in./You promised me it would be just us two,/And I'd be the only man kissin' on you./Now KISS me, hold it a long time, hold it/don't turn it a-loose now, hold it...."

I skerred MYSELF by that point! But hey, when you're almost 50, and you had a lot of older siblings who got off on that Staxx/Motown/R&B groove, ain't no sense in perpetratin'. Anyway, I'm rambling, so let me get to the point. After that recent funk-fest, it felt really hollow and ironic and sad last night when I learned that Amy Winehouse was found dead at 27. I'm not claiming to have been a rabid fan, but I did really, REALLY like "Back to Black." Of the latest crop of British Neo-Soul singers, I personally thought she was the best--or at least had the most potential to become a powerful influence in the musical world.

Sure, I also heard the stories about the drugs and booze and erratic behavior. But I guess my mind always drifted to Whitney Houston, and how somehow SHE managed to survive a severely dark decade or so with drugs and insane behavior. Of course, now it's rumored that she's slipping again, but hey, we can always keep praying.

Come to think of it, I guess most folks didn't consider propping up Amy Winehouse in prayer because she was still so young. Even though her addictions were ravenous, I guess everybody thought it was just her fumbling, stumbling way of coping with enormous fame. We all hoped that once she finally got tired of bad press, bad men--and just plain got sick and tired of being sick and tired--she would pull herself together and fully embrace her god-given talent.

Before the world knows what really went down, all we can do is speculate about what killed Amy Winehouse, based on her past behavior. In a way, it's like she signed her own death warrant by making millions of dollars through publicly admitting her resistance to getting clean. I remember it struck me as a bit skeevy the first time I heard "Rehab;" it was almost like the record company decided, "Well, if she's gonna be a fuck-up, at least let's all get paid from it." But like everybody else, I grooved to the funky rhythm and to her raspy wail.

But now Amy Winehouse is dead. At 27. Getting that news reminded me of last Tuesday night, shakin' my ass in that chair at that Nairobi bar, and also shaking my head at the incredible vocal power and talent of Otis Redding. It just seemed so damned impossible that the guy singing that amazing music had died at 26. It made me wonder if there isn't some immutable "off-switch" that kicks in for some extraordinarily talented musicians and singers at around that age: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison....

But the main thing I take from this week's crazy arc of musical musing is that for the rest of my life, I want to say "Yes, yes, yes" to life, instead of "No, no, no." I want to affirm my power and expertise and energy in positive ways. I want to keep on contributing something worthwhile, and I want to help somebody along the way. I also want to achieve more of my own personal goals, which include finding the man I want to spend the rest of my life laughing, learning and loving with.

I guess all I'm saying is if I had died at 27, I would have missed out on 23 incredibly interesting years. I'm banking on at least 30 more. And I kinda wish Amy Winehouse could have visualized herself as an 80-year-old broad "sangin'" her guts out on a concert stage someday. Instead, my heart seized a bit as I heard Tony Bennett on the BBC describe recording a duet with Amy earlier this year, and recalling that he'd told her she sounded like Dinah Washington. Bennet said she'd been somewhat nervous until that point, but when he gave her that compliment, she instantly relaxed, and lit up like a firefly.

Apparently, poor, tortured Amy wasn't able to close the gap between how the rest of the world saw her and how she saw herself. I mean, if Tony Bennett paid ME a compliment like that, I'd have spent the rest of my life trying to prove he was right, instead of running as fast as I could in the other direction, screeching "No, no, no" all the way.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's one of Amy's other lyrics:

"I cheated myself, Like I knew I would. I told you I was trouble. You know that I'm no good."

I rest my case. Rest In Peace, Amy.

No comments: