(Apologies for the terrible phone pics--I don't even have an iPhone, but I had to capture it somehow!)
After last night, I really believe that Charles Bradley is the most important thing to happen to music in years. His album is great, but his live performance is the stuff of legend. I had a revelation, while watching him, that the reason so much of music today falls flat and feels like so much yawning sameness is because it doesn't really have soul. Not really. And yes, Charles is a "soul singer," but the definition does not make the man. So many bands today are formed by YouTube-happy teenagers who haven't the slightest idea what life is really about, and even if those bands grow and change they do so in a sort of musician's unreality. They stick with simple, angsty themes--songs about first love or heartbreak or the pressures of youth--songs that seemingly apply to everyone and yet, in their generality, to no one (like horoscopes, or dream analysis), as as they grow up they predictably go on to lament still more lost loves and the pressures of minor fame (the usual afflictions of the upper class). So often it seems like they don't really feel those things--they're living their lives merely for material, to write still more songs about the same things.
The great thing about Charles Bradley is that he has really lived. He suffered, and struggled, and was been forced to settle for less and grind away in the dull aching agony of dreams unfulfilled. And then, miraculously, he started making it. His isn't the story of a man who grew up in a suburban home in New Jersey and played the small clubs of New York for decades for a pittance and a pathetic crowd. He was born in Florida, grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, and spent the better part of his adult life working as a chef in Maine, Alaska, and California before finally returning to New York to pursue his passion for music. Even without knowing his background, the genuine feeling that comes across when he is onstage is remarkably, unmistakably real. He carries a great sadness with him, but is also filled with tremendous joy and gratitude--how many men can say their dreams came true at 65?
When it comes to Charles Bradley, I almost have no words. You have to experience his genius to believe it. He is a modern James Brown (sequins and all), with a splash of Marvin Gaye, and a whole lot of raw, honest soul (and wild dance moves). His story is one that inspires--it's never too late to be great.