Thursday, June 04, 2009

On The Passing Of Heroes

I started writing this blog to mark the passing of two of my personal heroes, both of them very different but both of them artists in their own right. It occurred to me that when a person achieves a certain heroic status that they can never really die. They've achieved immortality because of the lives they've touched, the young people they've influenced, the indelible mark they've left on the world.

I was still a teenager with dreams of becoming a singer when I first heard Koko Taylor, who passed away yesterday at the age of 80. At that time in the seventies, there weren’t a lot of contemporary pop role models for girls like me who were ready to challenge gender stereotypes and play just as hard as the boys. That’s where the blues came in. Blues had a long tradition of powerful women who weren’t afraid to speak their minds and who sang with a raw, sexual energy that I found lacking in female pop singers of the day. Listen to Koko Taylor singing the classic “Wang Dang Doodle” and you’ll instantly know what I mean: the swaggering, in your face, no-holds barred attitude is all there in that three and half minutes of sexual bravado. Or sample her recording of “I’m A Woman” – no man ever rocked harder than Koko.

I had the privilege of seeing Koko Taylor perform live at a blues festival just a couple of years ago. Thanks to my friend Candye Kane, I was able to go backstage and see Koko before her performance. Having listened to her powerful voice for years, I was excited to meet this Amazonian woman so I was surprised to see that she looked a little frail and was being supported on the arm of her daughter as she shuffled towards the stage. I hurried around to the front so I wouldn’t miss her performance and I witnessed the magical, transformative power of music. Gone was the shuffling, fragile, elderly female I’d just said hello to backstage and in her place was the legendary powerhouse Koko Taylor – a still vital force of nature, dominating the stage, the crowd at her command. A consummate professional, she gave us her all and never let her age or her infirmities stand in the way of a great performance.

Thank you, Koko. Thank you for the inspiration and the music. Thank you for breaking down barriers so that other women could follow in your footsteps. We are forever in your debt.

Also a brief mention of the sad passing of David Carradine. It's hard to explain but for those of us who came of age in the seventies, Kung Fu was an incredibly inspirational television show. Who didn't want to snatch the pebble from the master's hand and head out on a spiritual journey, kicking bad guys' butts along the way? For me, David Carradine will always be Kwai Chang Caine, the half Chinese, half white seeker of wisdom who never looked for a fight but always seemed to find one. David Carradine created much more than a television character, he created a hero for my generation.

5 comments:

d.w. said...

so nicely put about both people that we lost yesterday...

Thanks Alice!

comms79 said...

it is a shame to lose someone. But we always rememeber the good things about what made them great, you always remember that. God speed!

Matt "Max" Van said...

Hmmmm. I wouldn't have pegged you as a fan of either Koko Taylor or David Carradine. Interesting.
I would've thought you'd be more Ella Fitzgerald, but shows what I know.
While you might have been a fan of the quasi billy jack hippie mysticism of Kung Fu (you're right, who wasn't?) I'm glad you specified that, because having read "Endless Highway" (Carradine's autobio) I found the man himself to be a repugnant psycho. Lovely actor, bad person, you know?

Alice Bag said...

Excellent comment. You know, I often find it hard to seperate the artist from his/her work. I tried to resist Amy Winehouse and Courtney Love because I disapproved of their behaviour, but in the end I think it's impossible to discard someone's work because they make bad choices. I have never read Endless Highway, and I don't know if Carradine was a repugnant psycho but I do know that he breathed life into the unforgettable character of Kwai Chang Caine and that is something that can't be taken away from him.

As for Koko vs Ella, I love them both!

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