Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Al Green: Livin' For You (1973)

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In 1988, I was living with my girlfriend Initia Durley on 24th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Next door lived a mild-mannered Black gay guy named Fred. During the week he was usually very quiet, but on Sunday mornings he would blast Al Green albums and sing loudly. He had a wonderful voice, so it wasn't much of a problem. Of course there were week-ends when I'd be hung-over, head hurting, face swelled and half blind, wishing Fred was mute as he roared through another verse of "Let's Stay Together" or "Take Me to the River." But, after a while, I got used to it.

One day, I saw Fred in the street and commented on his Al Green addiction. He smiled and said, "Who needs church on Sunday morning when you have Al Green records." Being a lapsed Catholic and former altar-boy, who was I to argue. It was during this same period when a lot of gay men were getting sick in New York and HIV became a very real disease. One Sunday, perhaps a year after I moved in, the silence coming from next door was deafening. Not hearing Fred's stirring versions of "Simply Beautiful" or "Love and Happiness" had thrown off my entire day.

Later that afternoon I saw my neighbor who lived across the hall. A pretty middle aged Latina, I stopped her on the stairs and inquired about Fred. "You don't know?" she replied, whispering as though telling a secret. "Fred is very sick; he moved back down south so his sister can look after him." Stunned by the news, I walked into my apartment and slumped on the bed.

Minutes later, I walked over to my big box of cassette tapes and found a copy of Al Green's Livin' for You (1973) and put it inside the Sony boombox. Lying back on the bed, I closed my eyes and prayed to the powerful spirit that that could be heard in the powerful Memphis soul of Al Green's voice that Fred would be all right. Indeed, church was in session.

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