Sunday, August 10, 2008

Black Moses

This afternoon, in Memphis, Isaac Hayes died. I turned 27 a couple of months ago. It was a fairly miserable birthday. There were thoughts about aging and about how far I have (but more to the point, have not) made it in this life, and there was also an overwhelming feeling of loneliness, none of my friends too interested in my birthday, that making me feel incredibly glum.

There was only one thing I wanted to do. That was to see Isaac Hayes in Prospect Park. I was set on this, determined to see him. I ended up making the long train ride out there by myself and on that train ride, by myself on my birthday, I really started to get down, wondering about my friendships with people, getting wrapped up in the same self-pity I have wallowed in every birthday since I was a little kid.

I set out my blanket I had thought I would be sitting on with other people and sat down by myself and listened to Issac Hayes sing from behind his keyboard and became happy, that to hear this man, to hear this voice live that I had listened to so many times before in recorded format, made me so happy. There was a period of time in my life when I was really into blaxploitation movies, Shaft obviously among them, and it was such a special feeling for me to be listening to this iconic voice of that era, to be sitting on a blanket in a park in New York City, seeing and listening to the man, now much more aged, who gave such an amazing performance at Wattstax, one which I marveled at when I watched the recording of that concert.

At some point, a couple of my friends showed up there, but it was Isaac Hayes who made my birthday, who filled me with joy, gave me something really special, lovely music, the greatest gift there is.

I don't know what happens to people when they die. I am not even necessarily sure what is happening to people when they are living, what constitutes life. I do know that Hayes died sometime early this afternoon and I know that after he died next to a treadmill still running (the symbolism in that a little overwhelming) I heard his music on the radio, heard those funk grooves and his deep voice and still felt something, could still dance to things made by this man no longer with us, or maybe still so, sounding more there on the radio, dead, than most people living, my body and yours still conversing with him, heads bobbing, hips shaking.

I had conversations with lots of people yesterday, wordless conversations with singers and bands, some of whom I didn't know. I roller skated in Central Park with the dance skaters yesterday afternoon, the light so perfect coming though the green leaves over head, the weather perfect, and a dj spinning funk and disco jams, while this motley crowd of dancing fools did their things, moved their bodies, became free, and there were all these people crowded around the edge of the rink, watching the worshipers, envious and happy of that freedom. That it exists, that for brief three or four minute intervals we are capable of experiencing it, that delirious joy, our bodies moving wildly, and if we are un-self-conscious enough (that and/or drunk), that we can experience such an amazing feeling while dancing, music being played and our bodies' conversing with that music, is proof of something great.

Songs are bound in time. They exist for the duration of the songs, those few minutes, and for those few minutes, a dead person can come back to life, Lazarus resurrected as well as our own dormant spirits. But there is that repeat button, that back button, that play button, and they can be conjured so easily, minutes of pleasure, of joy, of life, there for the having, thanks to modern technology, whenever we so desire. I chase songs back to their beginnings all the time, in love with the moments experienced, with life, wanting them, wanting it, to last, for that feeling to sustain itself beyond the song's natural duration, hitting the back button a couple seconds before the song ends, turning it into a circle, a religious act, stretching the ends of that straight line toward each other until they form a circle, wanting it all to last, to not die.

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