Marvin Gaye, Monkey Whitney, Charlie Parker discussed on New York Times - Popcast
Me off the record or because you know them kind of second or third hand. Exactly. But I think your decision to go back. And basically revisit the story to me, says the essential quality of those stories to understanding Retha as a figure outweighed any sort of lingering sense of loyalty to the process of fifteen years prior. Well, there's a couple of things. Number one, she's too important in order to Jesus titan. She's the time just like you know, to Queen of soul and clean the slow going to sell. And also she's a genius and and I've never I've worked with, I think a couple of other geniuses, but it's hard to negotiate genius. When you have this electric charging three when you have these ideas coming out of your head be because of the grander of her art and her place in history. I kinda felt like, man, if I don't do this book who's going to do is and it isn't that people won't come after me and do their books and hope they will. And I'm happy to help them do their books because I, you know, like I said, my version is a version, but because I. I was so close to her and I entered or intimate world, I felt I had a historical obligation. The other thing is this, the other books I've I did before that, you know be became or Ray Charles or Marvin Gaye. I always felt this only got the story now it it. Those stories weren't perfect, and every artist does leave out different things. But I kinda thought Mike gift is a ghost writer to gre-, is getting the goods and getting the essence of the funk. So I had no regrets about my book with Ray troll freaking out. Even though he didn't tell me everything. And I certainly felt that same way about Etta James and all the people that I work with inherent in her case. I felt like I left the story on the table, and so that's really the only time. Time in my career where I felt as though it was an incredibly important story here. Right? It's being left on the table. I just have to tell it and and it it was painful for me 'cause I knew she'd be angry and I really loved her and and and understood her. I thought and I'm really uncomfortable when people are angry at me. I don't want anybody angry at me, but I thought what the hell history history history in she is who she is so anyway about her self-realisation is kind of a form of coping, right? Yeah. Can we talk about that. A little more detail in both a personal context, but also in maybe the context of the politics, social politics of the era. Cho's being Rita in the sixties didn't just mean being a Titanic figure in soul music and popular culture. It meant being political. It meant, you know, inserting inserting herself into the controversy of the day, and I've got a magin some of that when when it came to her later years reluctance is or or reticence may be is there are larger connection to be drawn from how she had to be in that era versus how she chose to present later. You know, one of the things that I think is that to have a black Queen in the in the United States of America nineteen sixty seven, big deal. Just a big deal, you know and you know in nineteen sixty seven at the Riga. Oh theater in Chicago. When the DJ Purvis Boozman span crowned her the cleanup though, you know, she put the crown on and she held it until she died. I mean, and so her Queen DM is a big deal and it's a big deal not only because it changes our character if they're kind of Hoti nece and dig the tea and confidence in public posture that she never had before, but it important because she becomes avatar. I mean, she becomes if this is the along with probably Nina Simone, she becomes an extremely independent, powerful black women at a critical time in our. History we take for granted in this moment, the sort of grand scale of rita's career and her talent and her level success. But I would say in in its day, maybe the story was was more complicated than not. It was more complicated because you know she was signed by John Hammond who discovered Billie holiday and signing about Dylan Springsteen, legendary. You know, like if you wanna be signed by anybody, wanna be signed by John Hammon and he really did know what to do with her. And though there are beautiful, beautiful cuts during her six years on co, Lumbia version of guy war. Absolutely breathtaking. It isn't a cheat in. She was great. So she's, she was always going to turn out great versions, but there were no major hits and the irony of all this is clo Lumbia gave her mainstream material to try to give her a mainstream audience when she went to it who Antic records in nineteen sixty seven to produce a Jerry Wexler had her do non-mainstream material, which is to say, gospel e. r. and b. Schmidt Curiel, and that God her the mainstream audience. He crossed her over with non crossover material because of the tenor of the times. And that was the golden age of so. About a re putting on the crown and basically not taking it off for the next four decades basically. How much of that was external pressure and having to live up to the sort of legend of Aretha Franklin, how much of that was that kind of self protective impulse that you were talking about? I think he should have dug it. I mean, I think he is not that I think. I mean, I know that she's like the Queen now again, it clean only have to talk when the Queen wanted to talk the Queen sort of maintains a distance from her subject. And and I think being the Queen in abled her to do that, and and and privacy was incredibly important to her. She used and she used to skillfully, she kind of used her Queen him to ensure the kind of privacy that was important to her. Now, given the crazy kind of media thing in this crazy country, she couldn't always put off. In other words, her goal. Oh, was to control the sort of story. And she could do that to a large degree by telling jet magazine or whoever said everything was great. But for example, which she had a first child when she was twelve and she had her just a couple of months before she was thirteen. She had her second child just a couple of months before she was a full. If teen now you can't change that story and it seems to me that story is incredibly important and and and requires empathy and understanding. And and but when she told this story, it was like, yeah, I mean, my father was cool with it, and my grandmother helped raise my children and it was, you know, so or her first marriage to Ted white, you know, it was, you know, physical abuse. It was witnessed by people and got in the press. And and then when she was I put on the cover of time when her hits for broke, I think the time cover with either sixty seven or eight. She was in Yuri, aided with this story because he told them of those things that are right that she had the blues that she had a hard childhood and and and so from that time on her propensity or her, her need to control, this sort of narrative became more and more important to her and and became harder to do. Sometimes I think at talent can be so so singular. And so specific than in a perverse way, their influence as broad as maybe otherwise been because it's it's almost impossible. I felt this about Whitney a lot where you couldn't possibly do Whitney after Whitney. It just wasn't a thing. So so there's not as much kind of like fo- Whitney or when the imitation or monkey Whitney. Can you talk about a Rita in that context, as I'm curious what you think our legacy is in which ways maybe what she brought with so specific. To her that it was hard to kind of late or or version upon interestingly enough, it's a little bit like Charlie Parker or Marvin Gaye when Charlie Parker was alive, every player in the world wanted to play like Charlie Parker, and today the influences powerful ever because he was hit two, gigantic kind of figure, you know, seems to have Coltrane, Marvin Gaye has that kind of thing where today I can name you dozen current arm be fingers, who are the children of our gay. I think in a recess cases saying through now you may not be happy with people trying to found like race, which is to say, sing is a thing with all these great soul thing emotionally extravagantly and so on and so forth. But look at these shows like the voice. She did open the full lead gates, two singers. Who would take it all the way out now some of you know, like Jennifer Hudson, you know, had the chops to do it. Yes, you know does and you go back to Charlie Parker, you know, sunny stint had the choppers to play like bird in Marvin Gaye space. Let's say the Angelo or Maxwell, you know, have the job to be a legitimate heir to the Marvin gay tradition. But it takes lots of chop that take lots of taste and ultimately won. A Rita did was set an incredibly high bar and yet. You know, as much as I love Jennifer Hudson and I could name doesn't current to mail focus now who I love, but they're still something about a and again, I go back to this combo nation of joy and pain praise and at the same time, abject angst. And you put those two things together man, and it is powerful. Before we go. I can't imagine that there. There are people on the planet who have probably listened to Aretha more closely and more widely than you. And I wonder if there is whether a specific song or a vocal performance live performance that's not kind of in the canon. The obvious ones. Yeah, I've I've, I've got a whole bunch, but I'll just kind of name you too. Right. One is I think I'm gonna mention is first guy lark, which is a beautiful virgin wrong. We're at the end of it. She jumped off to just think you're, you know, have a heart attack guy. Oh, great. Him.