Last week I celebrated my 46th birthday, and just like 41 years ago, it did not start off as wonderfully as one could hope for; not at all actually.
You see, on that bright August morning in 1977, my doorbell rang. Freshly 5 years old, I eagerly opened the door assuming someone had shown up bright and early to bring me a gift, preferably crayons. Instead I was met with a crazily manic woman, screaming and crying that Elvis was dead.
The sobbing wail of “Elvis is dead! Elvis is dead!” echoed in my ears as radio stations bombarded me with every single tune the man crooned every single August 16th. Some would have called it “shell shock” or what is now considered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I do not say that flippantly.
It truly was strange to want to celebrate my life when the whole world was unified in considering that day a day to reminisce on the death of The King. It kind of made me feel a bit guilty to want to enjoy the day.
So, on Thursday immediately after having a delightful morning coffee with my girlfriend, I received a text from my husband with the dreaded message that Aretha Franklin had passed away after suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Aretha Franklin; the Queen of Soul lived no more and I was heartbroken.
It was through Tina’s sisters that I also learned about Diana Ross and the Supremes and Elton John to name a few. When I hopped on the university train in the early 90’s, the movie “The Commitments” had come out about a group of working class musicians from Dublin cranking out tunes about a chain of fools and how to be a doright man a la Aretha. I was hooked.
Later in life, I may or may not have kicked butt in a small bar in Victoria with Carolyn Spicer as we awed the crowd with our version of RESPECT
We should have stopped there. Seriously. We should have stopped there.
Years, later, after my karaoke days were put to rest, (unless you happen to be walking past my kitchen window when I am washing dishes and to you, I apologize) my incredible husband surprised me with the gift of a lifetime. He managed to get tickets to see Aretha Franklin in a small town outside of Boston in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
I was still teaching then, and luckily, it was happening the Friday of my March break. What luck! We rented a small car from Boston and drove in a freak snow storm, actually a slush storm, and made it to the lady of soul.
She played in a minimum capacity little arena in this small town that had more windows boarded up than open. We sat in school style chairs on a cement floor and I couldn’t have been happier with the discomfort. Who cares when ARETHA FREAKIN’ FRANKLIN is there, right in front of you, with her large bellowing deep howls that makes hairs you didn’t even know you had stand up everywhere.
That night we walked back to the hotel with a group of other ladies that were as euphoric as we could all expect to be, and we slung back martinis and replayed every moment, every song, and word she shared with us. I’ll never forget it.
Truly, now every year on August 16th, not only will I be thinking of the King of Rock and Roll but now also the Queen of Soul. I will turn on my Aretha playlist, and grab whoever is in front of me, and I’ll dance and sing, and celebrate the power of that natural woman and all the strength she has given me through her music.
Rest in peace, Aretha.