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.