Etta James (YGtCTO Music #62)

I’d Rather Go Blind

Song written by Bill Foster and Ellington Jordan; performed by Etta James

Don’t tell my wife, but I fell in love with two different women when I moved to Boston so, so many years ago. I was fortunate enough to marry one of them. The other one- well, I was fortunate enough to hear her records somewhere. I picked up one of those “Great Hits of the 50’s” albums- probably Volume 27, on sale for $2.99. I wore out two songs- Lightning Strikes and Dance With Me Henry.

This coincided with the resurgence of the incredible Ruth Brown and her subsequent hosting of a radio show. I was swimming in great blues belters- a sound that I found irresistible.

I started noticing Etta James on television. You heard her on the radio and the owners would be playing her when you walked into used record stores. In fact, I discovered one of those wonderful, unexpected finds in a Somerville record store. Up on the wall- hanging right above the counter- just right up there- well- check it out. Be still my heart.

Etta James

We even got tickets to see Etta James perform. Unfortunately, the gigs ended up being canceled. So, we started paying a little more attention to the back story, which was not quite as easy then as heading over to Wikipedia.

Needless to say,
the story that emerged was horrifying. Coming in the wake of so many other stories of abuse of young performers, I admit that it became difficult to differentiate from all the other horrors. Those of us who populate the nameless throngs of the audience ask no less of our artists- they also need to suppress their past to the power of the present moment.

That sublimation of the self becomes the defining aspect of performance for many artists, whether on stage, canvas or paper. In the end, it feels as though the mass of people demand a ritual sacrifice- I’m not saying that they actually want one, but the artist can feel that way. No matter how comfortable the performer looks baring their soul, it is never easy.

This is also where the notion of art and ritual intersect. In our prehistory, it appears that the two concepts may be inseparable. Leap forward hundreds of millennia and watch Etta James and Doctor John while looking for the rituals within their performance. Something about their entrances and movements feels designed as an incantation to communal ecstasy, doesn’t it?

For that matter, the real threat of secular art to organized religion is this notion of embedded ritual. For most people, the sense of community and background of order provided by ritual and a unifying creed fulfill primary needs. Once art can provide those, we next need to see who leads, who follows, and who defines the creed.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 116 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

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