I am one of the lucky ones. While still forming eyes and ears at the age of nine, Elvis wriggled his hips across the world stage. At that moment I knew that my future laid in my jiggle. And so it goes. Then on the other side of the street, Ray Charles dove deep into life's soul manifesting his cry in a thousand different moans and groans. And so it goes. But it didn't stop there. Whirling and swirling, my young body received Mr. Chuck Berry as Little Richard and James Brown kept the pedal to the metals always pounding the downbeat. Yes, I and others in my generation were fully informed and fueled by the typhoons of change that sailed within our unformed minds. Question authority. That was our prerequisite to an education.
Nowhere to Run as we were all Dancing in the Street, led by Martha and the Vandals (neé Vandellas). What a time. Every one's water broke. Our streets were flooded with red cries of freedom. Water hosed children and parents alike on Alabama's trails. A young man dedicated to becoming a conveyer of God's word ascended to the challenge that faced us all and we pushed him to the front of the line. A Birmingham jail served as his respite as he jettisoned onto the world stage along with Mr. Presley from Tupelo, Mississippi. As children we were graced with mahatmas bestowing light in the chaos of change. Then it was obvious. Perhaps Ray Charles would not fit the reader's definition of a great soul as opposed to Martin Luther King. Who made the most profound journey? Malcolm X, Ray Charles or Martin Luther King? Why quibble. They all strode hand-in-hand up and down cobblestones littered with heartbreak and diamonds. Mr. Charles, Bird (Charlie P), Miles, Dizzy, Mr. Berry, Ella, provided the soundtrack while Elvis gathered the drifts of time and made out like a bandit. And there we were going to our hops, as Danny and the Juniors memorialized the day before the day the music died.
I remember hearing the news. Buddy, Ritchie and the funny Bopper crushed in the ice and snow and we were supposed to dance that night. But we just gathered searching through empty eyes. I had been out of the womb just 11 years. 1959. Still we found a new beat joyously emanating from Detroit that would carry us to adolescence when suddenly in full light of a new dawn our hope was snuffed. Again, I heard the news. I was 15 in November 1963 when we were sent home from school dizzy from rumors swirling in our collective nightmare. Our died, killed, torched by hatred. A young generation continued to know death from the highest levels. And that was just the beginning. Now the music changed. England had its way with us and four guys with strange, cute accents tried to hold our hands through our grief.
Still, immortal giants braved the dangerous terrain that was becoming more and more transparent. Girls died while praying; their preacher was preparing a sermon entitled The Love That Forgives. Our King continued to march. I begged my mother to let me go to Birmingham, Mississippi and parts completely hidden from the light of humanity so I may ride the bus, sit at a lunch counter, be with those I knew were my cousins, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers. She said no. I begged her to let me go to D.C. and march with the Mahatmas who organized a great outpouring of love for jobs and freedom directed towards our foreboding white halls of congress. She shivered, terrified and said no. As I had not a dime in my pocket, I did not run away to join the eternal fight for justice.
I still had not listened to Billie sing Strange Fruit but I just knew. I had spent my first seven years being regaled with tales of Nazis burning my relatives. I understood instinctively the same impulses radiating from the southern breeze. I had witnessed similar currents flooding the streets of New York City, but never fully expressed.
A new man from the South gained power in the capitol. We hated him. He continued to enlarge the bellies of warmongers in Vietnam. Little did we know of his demons. In quick succession he made equality the law of the land on so many levels; he declared a war on poverty, he secured our old age and he continued to shed innocent blood for a war nobody wanted. Still the music played. It seems we clung to the flimsiest fabric thinking if we immersed ourselves in the great harmonies of the day, war would evaporate. We were foolish. We continued to dance as killing fields deepened.
Then the others disappeared. Malcolm, Martin and finally Bobby. The final nail in the coffin of reason, hope and freedom. Some of us grew up. I've even grown to be old. Others of my ilk have sprouted in a myriad of colors that could have never been predicted. I sense we are balanced on a new precipice. There are no singular souls to guide our way. We remain in shadow, behind a black translucent fabric.
When I was 19, I saw this curtain in front of me. I was wide-awake and scared. I wanted to know what was on the other side. I heard a loving voice caress me saying, "Stay still, one day you will be the other side."
We are the other side.