Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ray Charles

I cannot say that I was ever a great fan of Ray Charles though I could appreciate that he was very talented.

I do remember however that one of the early singles that I purchased was his biggest hit "I Can't Stop Loving You". Those early single purchases were momentous occasions back then providing welcome relief from school routine.

I recall the HMV label on which it was released in Ireland with its pale blue colour.

In those days one would inevitably flip over the other side to see if it contained some hidden treasure. (It generally didn't)! However I can still hear the closing refrain "Born to lose, and now I'm losing you".

As is well known the peak of Ray Charles' popularity came in the early 60's when - unusual for a black performer - he recorded two albums devoted to Country and Western material.

"I Cant' Stop Loving You" was a single taken off the first album.

However my own particular favourite was "Take These Chains from My Heart" which appeared on the second album.

Then for some reason though this song was released some 50 years ago, last week, quite unprompted,  it resurfaced  vividly in my memory and has been constantly replaying there ever since.

And it is only now that I can properly appreciate the true brilliance of that recording in conveying its aching emotional message in unparalleled fashion

And that I suppose more than anything sums up the unique genius of Ray Charles.

Now these things never occur as if by accident (though it often appears that way). Since retiring from work recently, I have had more time to reflect on the nature of life with the realisation that in many ways we do becoming enslaved by our employment and other responsibilities. Don't get me wrong! I feel extremely fortunate to have had a steady secure job (especially when many young people find it so difficult to find work.

However it is perhaps that our very mind set then becomes conditioned by the experiences (largely of a routine nature) surrounding such activity.

In the deepest sense life can hold a lot of disillusionment in that our early great hopes and expectations somehow get continually trodden on by the realities of day to day living.

I am not saying that true meaning cannot be thereby found, but not in a phenomenal manner!

So in the end the deepest meaning comes from attempting to continually peel off the earlier illusions that eventually are revealed as without true substance. And then in the very process of continually returning from disillusionment to the present moment that the spiritual reality of life can shine through.

There is a misleading distinction preserved as between country music and R & B which reflects a racial dividing line.

Ray Charles realised clearly that country music was the white man's blues essentially expressing the same universal longings and feelings. And being earlier rooted in the blues tradition, he sought to marry this with country music.

Indeed it was very similar earlier when Elvis Presley coming from a white country background attempted the same from the opposite direction (as exemplified in his first great hit "Heartbreak Hotel").

However though both were for a time extremely successful in this regard the old colour bar has largely remained.

So there are remarkably few black singers that have been accepted as country singers (Charley Pride is perhaps the exception here that proves the rule).

Also there are remarkably few white singers that have been accepted by the black community as possessing any real credibility as blues singers.

White country music is generally associated with the wide open plains and rural type experience; however black R & B is more a city experience associated with the congested ghettos.

So perhaps it is the traditional economic divide as between whites and blacks that underpins a corresponding divide in their music.

For a short while Ray Charles seemed to overcome that divide. But his popularity quickly faded in this regard with the colour bar remaining.

Perhaps he was too good at doing what he was not supposed to do!

For if conveying the raw emotion behind lyrics is the measure of good country music, then Ray Charles was surely a supreme country singer.

Also it is reassuring to know that even after an event may have long since passed that its meaning may can still remain alive at a much later date.
So in my own case, it has taken 50 years for this song to powerfully resonate with an unexpected new relevance.

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