Saturday, April 5, 2008

My Tigers.

This was one of my favorite songs to listen to when I was the tiniest of little girls, twirling around on my dusty back porch in the blue sequined tutu that my grandma sewed for me. We had a jukebox that sat propped up against the yellow wood-paneled wall, underneath our bathroom window in the middle of nowhere in Mississippi. One of my first ways to show that I could read and write was to punch in my favorite songs on that jukebox. I quickly learned that A5 was "Hound Dog"; A7 was "Great Balls Of Fire". And somewhere in the Cs and Ds, baby Robin found the Stax.

I was raised on Carla, Al, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny, and, above all, Otis. I'm pretty sure I spent every warm day before I turned four watching my mama and my daddy sass each other back and forth with "Tramp", indulge their sad side by hollering "Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)" while carefully turning over racks of ribs on the barbecue, and, my God, wailing the saddest of sad songs while the fireflies blinked out the rhythm and the cicadas chirped the bass. God bless 'em, I love my mama and my daddy, but neither of them are vocally brilliant. Nevertheless, they howled those songs like patriotic Memphians. Sober or partying, night or day, weekend or weekday, they sang their hearts out all summer long. When I was a choir kid I never had to be coaxed out of the cruel trap of getting stuck singing in the back of my throat or the inside of my sinuses. I never understood what that meant, because I just hollered. I hollered and I hollered and I hollered. I hollered until I passed out from feeling like my lungs were going to turn inside out and roll out of my mouth.

Reaching up on that jukebox and punching in an Otis song was a bit of an internal dare. Otis challenged me. I didn't understand love or loss yet, but I knew that just hearing the sound of his voice made me feel like somebody was punching me in the gut hard enough to knock the wind out of me and send me flying. I literally fell to my knees every time his voice emanated from that thing. I was naive, but I was studious. My tiny ears listened attentively, and I heard him hit about thirty different notes in one second. I tried to warble like Otis into my portable tape deck, but it never sounded right. I couldn't wrap my academic little brain around it. I smashed my face against the wasp nest-covered speaker of that jukebox, but I couldn't replicate what I was hearing no matter how hard I tried.

Twenty-plus years later, I totally get it. I completely understand how he made his throat do what it did. Otis was vulnerable enough to completely stop controlling his voice and to let it go where it needed to go. Otis was the co-pilot, and his heart and soul did the steering.

This performance is widely regarded as his most brilliant, and it was supposed to be what propelled him to fame and glory.

He died in a freak accident four months later.

This just seems to be how things go in Memphis.

Today it is time for that tide to turn. GO TIGERS.

1 comment:

pillar of salt said...

damn, girl writes for real.

About Me

Jamaica Plain, MA, United States