Pete's Blog

The Grammy Awards

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I didn't watch the Grammies - I don't have a television - but nowadays you don't have to see a program to know all about it. A friend of mine has been loud in his joy over the five awards won by Amy Winehouse. "I dare ya to say she ain't the real thing," He says, "I double-dare ya." Well, I' m not sure I know what "the real thing" is anymore. Still, I expect my friend is talking about what writers all over the place are talking about with reference to Miss Winehouse: "the long-awaited return of soul music in that most unexpected of places - England." I actually heard someone say that on NPR a few months ago, evidently a person who has forgotten or never knew the retro-soul titans coming out of England bi-annually ever since the days of Joe Cocker. Let's see...Paul Jones, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, Elkie Brooks, Paul Young, Mick Hucknall (Simply Red), Sade, right up to Corrine Bailey Rae and Lily Allen. Every couple of years somebody comes out of England who's the next Ray Charles or Marvin Gaye or Tina Turner or Diana Ross. But Winehouse has a VOICE, man, say the raves. So I checked her out. It's an interesting voice, a smoky, theatrical contralto that reminds me less of classic American soul singers than of Lotte Lenya. And it's quite effective in a stunned, affectless sort of way. But "soul music"? I don't think so. The great soul singers had more than one facial expression. They weren't afraid of putting the truest, deepest feelings they had into their music. They had something you don't get in England much. They had church. The deep, unrehearsable expressiveness of Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Levi Stubbs et al. came from one place, the Protestant worship of God as practiced by African-Americans. They may not all have been believers, they might not all have been black, but at the very least all American soul singers of the classic period knew what black church services sounded like and they knew how to connect with an audience on that level. Your feelings are tearing you apart, breaking you in pieces in their effort to get out and back to God. In doing this you inspire the audience to give up their feelings, too, and they shout with joy when it happens. Some of the British singers listed above had it: Winwood (whom I've read is a church-going Anglican), Hucknall, Young, a few others whose names I can't remember right now. But for many of today's "new-soul" singers (Americans, too, I'm sorry to say) testifying is just something you do in court.

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