Soul music saved my life.
I've been 32 years old for only a few days. I didn't commemorate the birthday with ebullient enthusiasm. Apart from buying a couple LPs off eBay (one of them, Frank Strazzeri's uber-rare After the Rain, I can't believe I got for a fraction of what it usually fetches online), I didn't do much.
I've tried my best to keep it quiet. Unfortunately my day-job co-workers found out, and used the opportunity to bring in pies and have a midday dessert break. Damn those optimistic people and their love of free pastry.
My lack of celebration isn't because I feel I'm getting old and think my best years are behind me. But as a persistently bitter, continually enraged card-carrying cynic/pessimist/practicing nihilist who's most likely suffering from the psychological condition that was the working title of Woody Allen's Annie Hall (look it up), I'm increasingly finding it impossible to celebrate anything these days.
I really don't see how most of you happy, content sum-bitches do it. Have you people been outside lately? If I see one more magazine cover with a cast member of The Hills on it, I'ma bust somebody in their damn head. (Honestly, can somebody tell me why the fuck they're famous? Caralyn Green? Anybody?)
My misanthropy has caused even those around me to be concerned. A few months ago the music editor of this paper suggested I read a self-help book praised by Oprah. Since the editor's a well-established wiseass, to this day I don't know if he was messing with me. [Ed. note: Not messing with you, Craig. Eckhart Tolle is the jawn!]
However, there's always one salvation that keeps me from assaulting random people upside the head with hammers: soul music.
Soul has kept me calm ever since I was a kid. While kids were most likely jamming to selections from Disney's Children Favorites, I was listening to Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers team up for "Just the Two of Us." Or Quincy Jones and James Ingram on "One Hundred Ways." Or Larry Graham on "One in a Million You."
Over the years I've found soul music--especially made by talented, artistic performers who consistently churn out standout work--rarely left me disappointed and despondent. After Al Green reminded us what real soul should sound like on his latest release Lay It Down, I can honestly say I have more faith in him than in Barack Obama.
Don't get me wrong--I pray the brotha succeeds in dodging Republican smear tactics and issuing the change he's been preaching about as he and his old lady fist-bump through those White House doors. (And if he doesn't, black people, you are free to riot.) But politicians have a long, long history of letting the American people down, no matter how genuine or sincere they seem.
Al Green, on the other hand, has had enough of a sparkling, impressive track record to make you believe being disappointed by him is practically absurd. I mean, have you ever heard a suckass Al Green song? Even Al Green phoning it in (remember that "Love Is a Beautiful Thing" song you kept hearing at the end of every romantic comedy 10 years ago?) is still better than no Al at all.
But it isn't just veterans like Green who keep me going. It's dozens of R&B artists who continue to turn in music that always instills a sense of optimism in me after I hear it. Whether it's indie R&B players like Eric Roberson or overseas bon-vivants like Omar (my imaginary if-I-were-gay lover, as most of you know) or promising fresh faces like Coultrain or experimental wise guys like Peter Hadar or soulful sirens like Goapele, truly great R&B music can put a smile on the face and love in the heart of any hopeless, helpless bastard. And I should know.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to listen to Raphael Saadiq's upcoming The Way I See It again (it's outstanding, by the way), before I go out and face the world--without a hammer.