In my last year of school, some thirty years ago, I lived on the third floor of a falling down house. I didn’t have much more than a bed, a desk, a typewriter and my records. I was sad and lonesome and poor. If somehow I ran a cross a ten dollar bill, I’d often find myself weighing the relative merits of food, beer, or tobacco. The smokes usually won.
At some point I started selling my records. It started with the ones I didn’t care about. Cheap Trick, Eric Clapton… and then I started selling some of the ones I liked. That began to hurt. Some reggae records, some country records. But at some point, even in my desperation, I drew the line. No Dylan records, Tom Waits records, Kris Kristofferson records were going to go. They were off limits. No Motown. No Jimmy Cliff. No Willie Nelson. No Aretha Franklin.
I was impoverished but I wasn’t poor. I had the best music in the world within a few feet of my bed. Hank Williams taught me how to write a song. Kris Kristofferson taught me how to turn a hangover into something beautiful. Pete Seeger showed me courage. Billy Bragg showed me righteousness. Johnny Cash made humanity cool. Bob Dylan made me realize that ethics are important.
Aretha Franklin made me feel. My God. There’s nothing about that voice that didn’t make me feel. I didn’t listen to her enough. Or appreciate her enough. Because she was always there. She was my mother’s age. But now she’s gone. She will never be replaced. How many can we say that about? I miss her already. She’s one of the few that can make me cry. And she did today. Again.
She was among the best of America. The best of us all. A beautiful woman and a beautiful soul.