Love Bites: On Finding Your Way With Aretha Franklin
This month's columnist explores finding his way through life with the music of Aretha Franklin
I fell in love with Aretha Franklin when I was 13. The first album I bought was her Greatest Hits collection, which I listened to so much that the case eventually came apart in my hands.
Her music helped me find ways of comprehending what I felt, even before I could speak English and understand the words. The melodies would move me from place to place. When I closed my eyes, the ups and downs of her vocal range felt like flying through an intricate landscape. It moved me through exhilaration and anxiety. Through growing-up. Through falling in love and out of it. Through anger and inspiration.
Aretha’s performances helped pave a path for an anxious kid to feel his way through the world. From the isolation of immigrating to a new country when I was 17, to the isolation of COVID lockdowns when I was 30. It even helped me learn English when I needed it (you’d be surprised at how many of her songs spell a word like R-E-S-P-E-C-T).
She became a mother at 12 and then again at 14. She knew grief and she knew oppression, but she also knew how to fight. She offered to post bail for Angela Davis. She sang at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral and Barack Obama’s inauguration. Ms. Franklin knew the world, you could hear it in her voice.
But she also weaved the introspective emotional tapestry of living in that world and its soulful melancholia. In my favourite video of Aretha, shot just before she passed, she’s messing about on the piano at home. Her improvisation goes from sacred to silly, in a bid to amuse her granddaughter – who you can hear laugh in the background.
A maker of worlds, so late in life, still reaching kids who need those worlds created for them.