By Alex Distefano
By Daniel Kohn
By Aimee Murillo
By Nick Schou
By Nate Jackson
By Nate Jackson
By Dave Lieberman
By Daniel Kohn
In his autobiography, RAY CHARLES wrote that the worst thing about being blind was that he couldn't tell if anyone was watching him when he jacked off. Since reading that, I have been haunted by visions and nightmares, as if his irrational phobia had somehow been transferred to my brain—as if he had laid an unholy whack-off-image curse on me. In my mind's eye, whenever I hear his name, I now see "The Genius" squeezing and abusing his giant purple phallus, sweating and panting and moaning mellifluously, making noises similar to the call-and-response sections of "What'd I Say" while he conjures up lewd images of God knows what kind of filth (what does a blind man suppose a naked woman looks like, anyway?). Ray Charles is no longer simply the creator of soul music to me—he's also the supreme chronic masturbator, an unholy icon of hairy palms and spinal curvature. I relate this to you, dear reader, in hopes that the information will somehow purge my soul of this dark whammy. Perhaps if enough of you envision Ray Charles slamming the ham, the burden will be transferred from my shoulders and I can resume a normal life, free of Ray Charles dick visions.
What else can I tell you about Ray Charles? Oh, yeah—he pretty much did live up to all that hype about being "The Genius," an immodest sobriquet if ever there was one, even if he did earn it. Perhaps he should have been known as "The Masturbator" instead; then we would have had great album titles like The Masturbator Hits the Road, The Masturbator After Hours and The Masturbator Sings the Blues. But I digress. Yes, Charles did in fact pretty much create soul music, as billed. The proof is in the boxed set The Birth of Soul, three discs worth of seminal godhead featuring so many classic tunes it would take up most of this column just to print the highlight titles. This was the first time that anyone so brazenly and effectively mixed sanctified gospel with elements of blues and pop, and these songs served as a template for just about everything African-American music would become in the next two decades. That Charles subsequently went on to revolutionize country music, proving that even bluesmen get the whites (or vice versa, or something), and more than hold his own in jazz settings as well was icing on the cake. And guess what? His voice has barely diminished after almost 50 years—it remains an instantly identifiable personification of beauty, class and heartfelt emotion.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Charles really hasn't recorded a wholly satisfactory album in nearly 30 years. After the divine creation of soul music, he's served as a cheese barometer for every stupid musical trend of the last half of the 20th century, from bossa nova to disco to hip-hop (hearing Ray Charles being drowned out by scratchers is a truly disturbing phenomenon). He was a mighty young man when he decided to rest on his laurels.
That aside, I still recommend that you attend the Ray Charles concert Sunday night at the Sun Theatre. It's inevitable that Charles will perform a host of his classics live, and as I said, that voice remains a true font of joy, inspiration and awe. But I dare you not to envision the man with his trousers around his ankles, gleefully working it and pumping away and foaming at the mouth in fevered onanistic ecstasy. The curse has officially been passed. It's yours! Ha!
Speaking of musical dicks, reggae toastmaster supreme YELLOWMAN all but destroyed his career by singing too much about the size of his—a most impressive tool, if he's to be believed—not to mention his frequent and disgraceful sexist/homophobic dub rants. After briefly becoming huge in the early '80s, when dancehall reggae was a fresh sound and Yellowman was the undisputed sovereign of the style, he wore out his welcome in rather swift order—da 'arder dey coom, da 'arder dey fall, mon. But if he's not quite the worldwide sensation he once was, Yellowman never gave up. He toned down his style in content and aggression (and actually seemed to develop some semblance of a social conscience in the process), negotiated a musical truce between hard dancehall and melodic roots-reggae, and has released a series of mostly excellent albums in the past 10 years (the new Negril Chill Challenge is an electrifying concert recorded in 1987). Catch a dose of Yellow Fever on Saturday night at the Coach House.
I've always disliked MEDESKI, MARTIN & WOOD, even though I wanted desperately to approve. I recognize amazing musicianship when it slaps me across the face (John Medeski is something like the keyboard equivalent of a Jimi Hendrix/John Coltrane morph), but goddamn it, they were so loud and overbearing and trendy and gimmicky and they featured scratchers on their albums (yes, the anti-scratcher stance is something of a crusade with me), so much so that I always found them off-putting. But unlike most practitioners of acid jazz, trip-hop or whatever name-of-the-week jazz form you like, these guys were serious players with often stunningly unique ideas (so rare among young jazz lions), and I couldn't dismiss them with a clear conscience.