love to you, Richie Havens


We lost a beautiful man today, very suddenly.

I first came across him when I saw the movie Woodstock, at which festival he was the (then little-known) opening act. Since there turned out to be a delay of a couple of hours before the next band was able to arrive, he kept being sent out to sing a few more songs, and at a certain point, so the story goes, he had played everything he knew. So then he launched into an improvised version of the old spiritual “Motherless Child,” which became “Freedom” – one of the iconic moments of the festival and perhaps of the ’60s as well.

But it was only some time after seeing the film that I heard a song of his that really touched me. It’s called “You’ll Never Know” and there’s something so perfect and profound about it. I was hoping to link to it but YouTube is turning up nothing, alas, and I’m not able to upload my copy, for now anyway.

In any event, not long after coming across that song I noticed that he was playing my town – this was just a few years ago – and earlier in the day I hung out in the local Borders listening to him sing and chat with people. So many people have spoken about his kindness and gentleness, and I can add my little encounter to this also. I decided to buy a copy of his recent CD, which turns out to have been the last he released, and talked with him for a few minutes. The photo above really captures my memory of him that afternoon and later at the concert. A huge heart, full of love for the world.

I like this photo of him also, seemingly startling Sean Penn at the 61st Cannes Film Festival:
Richie Havens - Sean Penn

And this one, with Michael Wadleigh, the director of Woodstock (who turns out also to be a Harvard professor, with degrees in physics and medicine – who woulda thought?):

So he signed my CD and I took it away, only remembering to look at it after I’d returned home. And think about this: what do people write on occasions like that? It’s usually simply their name, or “to So-and-so,” or something like “all the best,” right? But he chose … really, when I think about it, the most beautiful message possible … to give to people, to these “strangers” coming up to him, and in our cynical age probably most will not believe me when I say: if you’d been there and seen and heard him interact with everyone, he truly meant it, however many hundreds or thousands of times it was written. It was the bodhisattva in him, making a connection. Underneath the lyrics to “The Key” (see below), he’d written: To Paul, a friend forever.

The best of journeys, friend.

George Saunders walks us through his desktop

Just back from a Q-and-A with Junot Díaz, about which hopefully more later. Looking something up about him, I was led just now via the ultimately unfathomable logic of hypertextuality here, to a Guardian series on writers’ desktops, wherein, it seems, they basically sit in front of their computers and comment on the icons, folders, photos etc they see… This one, published today, features George Saunders, and I liked this bit:

I’m not easily distracted, as a rule. Especially where writing is concerned. But I have noticed, over the last few years, the very real (what feels like) neurological effect of the computer and the iPhone and texting and so on – it feels like I’ve re-programmed myself to become discontent with whatever I’m doing faster. So I’m trying to work against this by checking emails less often, etc etc. It’s a little scary, actually, to observe oneself getting more and more skittish, attention-wise….

I do know that I started noticing a change in my own reading habits – I’d get online and look up and 40 minutes would have gone by, and my reading time for the night would have been pissed away, and all I would have learned was that, you know, a certain celebrity had lived in her car awhile, or that a cat had dialled 911. So I had to start watching that more carefully. But it’s interesting because (1) this tendency does seem to alter brain function and (2) through some demonic cause-and-effect, our technology is exactly situated to exploit the crappier angles of our nature: gossip, self-promotion, snarky curiosity. It’s almost as if totalitarianism thought better of the jackboots and decided to go another way: smoother, more flattering – and impossible to resist.

And this:

“InfanView” is an app that produces a list of all babies born in your area, ranks them for cuteness, and auto-sends each one a Facebook Friend request on your behalf. It’s good for building up one’s “fan base.” Ha. No – I think it’s “IrfanView“, and I honestly have no idea what the hell it is. I just went in and opened it and still have no idea. It’s a relic of something, but I don’t know what.

New Zealand sings a love song

And despite myself I am moved, actually…

As spotted on The Dish, after the vote for marriage equality was announced in the New Zealand parliament today, the chamber erupted in applause, and then all the members of the packed gallery suddenly turned themselves into a chorus, belting out the old Maori love song Pokarekare Ana, as the presumed sponsor of the bill joyfully hugged all her supporters.

Why do I say “despite myself?” Well, while some form of civil union should of course, as an urgent matter of humanity, be available to all couples whatever their gendered configuration, the battles specifically surrounding marriage haven’t been ones I can muster a lot of passion about.

This is so for several reasons about which I may write another time. But all that aside: a beautiful moment down there in Middle-Earth…

“Oh my beloved, come back to me, my heart is breaking for love of you…”