Friday, 25 June 2010

Soul Food

I finally caught up on last week's Jonathan Ross last night; amazing Glee cast interview, especially Amber Riley's acapella singing, but Alan Carr kicked Wossy's ass with his Chatty Man one by breaking into I've Had The Time of My Life with Matthew Morrison. Among other guests, JR also had Al Green - the Reverend Al Green, I should say. The soul sensation who brought us Let's Stay Together came across as totally bonkers, truly talented and above all, really, really happy. Like, prozac happy. Living a rock'n'roll lifestyle in his 70s heyday, Green 'found God' after his girlfriend committed suicide in 1974, subsequently becoming a pastor in 1976. After being injured while performing in 1979, he took it as a sign from God and stopped making his patented seduction music for many years, sticking instead to gospel. In the late 80s he saw sense (in his own words, he realised that without the 'good times' none of us would be here) and returned to performing his soul catalogue, even releasing an album in 2008 featuring duets with Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend.

As you know, I am an atheist and feel a little uncomfortable with the oversharing, preachy aspect of evangelist Christianity. Green's crediting of everything to God and the navigation of his life and career according to whatever he suspects this elusive being wants for him still grated a little, but it got me thinking. The music industry is a surreal place - so many legends are taken down by the sudden wealth, travel, access to drink and drugs, and a general elevation from the real world to the cloud nine of fame. Green's wide smile, still-soulful voice and his connection of his faith to spreading love, joy and great music was actually quite inspiring. He suggested that he would not be here without his faith, with a nod to late greats like Barry White and Marvin Gaye, but refused to say outright that he thought they should have chosen religion. On the year anniversary of Michael Jackson's death - perhaps the ultimate case of wealth and worship transporting an artist to their own disconnected realm of behaviour and habit - Al's fervour made me think, 'Good for him.' He found something that he felt to be real and worthwhile, and eventually found a way to reconcile his talent with doing good. As a pastor he baptises children, sings, preaches and entertains, in a way, but is happier in his church than on the path he had started down in the early 70s.

I've never particularly felt before that celebs 'finding God' or 'being saved' was anything other than annoying (not to mention cliched) but Reverend Al changed my mind a bit yesterday. If lost souls like Michael Jackson, Elvis and Janis Joplin had found something they felt to be a purpose, other than living up to their own iconic reputations, they might have stuck around a little longer. I browsed the web a bit to look into music legends that died young, and a couple of commenters & message boards have hinted that people are glad that we aren't watching Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix get a beer gut, go bald and swap heroin for Earl Grey. I think that's the problem; fans feel like they own a person if they're high profile enough, and if their image belongs to the public, what do they have left? Michael Jackson obviously wanted a family even though he couldn't seem to form or sustain a normal relationship to do so, but his money meant he could strike a deal and essentially have someone breed for him. That's the kind of too much money, not enough reality I'm talking about here. Jacko was definitely into spreading the love and promoting kindness, but he was also caught up in his own image, the headiness of his millions and the extravagance of his lifestyle.

I suppose religion gives someone like this a sort of monastic perspective which means their hype and their bank balance don't matter, or if they do, not as much as God and the church and spreading the word. Looking at Al Green, smiley, relaxed, loving his music, enjoying his age, I felt a new positivity towards the abstract concept of God; it causes so much conflict all over the world but it also gives a lot of hope on a very small, personal scale. Maybe this omnipresent prozac is merely a placebo effect, but I think Al Green (about to embark on a UK tour with a healthy mind and still-sultry voice) is living proof that for some souls, it's worth being saved.

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