Al Green Im So Tired Of Being Alone – Al Green is one of five players to be named a Kennedy Center Honoree. In the Post, Chris Richards details the soul’s lifelong quest to end his loneliness and how it helped shape his musical style. (Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)
Because children do not rest. Because they have been stuck in the seats for almost three hours. Because old people don’t want to go home. For the man in the pulpit sings in a heavenly falsetto, who seems to know the limits of heaven. Because Al Green.
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Behind the church: tourists from France, Brazil, Israel, Denmark, South Africa. They came to hear this man sing.
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Ahead: ladies in fairy hats, men in suits, marshmallow mothers and their angry children. They came to hear the Master preach.
If the story of American R&B emerges from the pressure between Saturday night and Sunday morning, Green may be its true hero. In the early 1970s, he sang about trust and desire with the beauty of the gospel stage that made him a star, sage and sex symbol. And then, at the height of his fame, he began to answer in a voice higher than his own.
Green says God first drove his car to this church in 1976. To get there today, go south to the edge of Memphis, down Elvis Presley Blvd, past Graceland, past food joints, past nail salons, hang right on the road with the perfect November leaves and look for the little white church together. a large white Mercedes-Benz, parked outside.
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Paint chips and cracks inside the full gospel tabernacle. But the music is great. An ordained Baptist minister, Green has led this humble, non-denominational congregation for nearly 40 years, and this Sunday’s service is a free-flowing mix of scripture, sermon and song, with Green’s voice rising above his choir.
He smiles—happy to be surrounded by sound, surrounded by Spirit, and perhaps most importantly, surrounded by people.
Because while Greene’s greatest hits are raising the bar for public festivals, he’s living alone in the countryside. This happiness has flowed in and out of him since childhood. More than four decades after writing I’m Tired of Being Alone, Al Green remains the same.
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Al Green performed at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rock Night in 1972. (Fred A. Sabine/Fred A. Sabine/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
That’s what he does when he’s excited, and on Monday morning the office behind his church is filled with jee-haws. It was also filled with members of the media who traveled to Memphis to ask the 68-year-old how he felt about receiving one of the Kennedy Center Honors.
In our 45-minute window, Green is energetic, quick to laugh, and quick to sing. But his left leg will not stop hitting 16 interesting points on the carpet.
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One-on-one conversation is difficult for him. He answers many questions briefly and directly, and then jumps to broad conclusions.
Ask about his relationship with his church, he laments the rise of the drug trade in Memphis. When asked if stardom has made him a better preacher, he reveals the fact that his first love was a prostitute, who introduced him to a dangerous social circle. Ask your mentor, producer Willie Mitchell. Green recalls a mismatched bar fight in which he had to fend off an opponent who was wielding a switchblade. “Always keep a knife in your hand!” he shouts, giving life advice with a belly laugh.
Perhaps these broken lines of communication are Green’s way of explaining that he has seen life from another side, and instead of exploring his current difficulties, it is possible to purge memories of pain that has long been overcome.
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He must have had a lot to overcome. Albert Greene was born in Forrest City, Ark., in 1946 to a religious sharecropper who dreamed that his sons, the Greene brothers, would make it big in gospel music. (As an adult, Greene dropped the “e” in his name.)
As a child, he was ostracized, he liked to be ostracized. He was in trouble when he was a teenager, he used his fists. He had an insatiable ear and fell in love with Sam Cooke’s angelic voice at a young age. But “the devil’s music” was not allowed under his father’s roof, and as a young Green he was kicked out of the house for secretly listening to a Jackie Wilson record.
That didn’t stop him from wanting to sing in his booming falsetto, and in 1968 the success of his first single, “Back Up Train,” helped Al Green and the Soulmates to Harlem’s Apollo Theater. – but not more.
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While touring the country aimlessly as a solo act in 1969, Green filled a Texas nightclub bill with Mitchell and eventually followed the band’s manager and producer back to Memphis. That’s when all the fortunes changed.
Together, the two went on to create some of the most beautiful songs ever to grace the American psyche – “I’m Tired of Being Alone,” “Let’s Stay Together,” “I Still Love You” – a list of hits recorded. on purpose. Green was once described as a long, timeless album, covered in influences from the makeup era of its early fame.
But stardom did nothing to ease Green’s loneliness or end the chaos he always seemed to attract. In 1974, he made extraordinary headlines when his girlfriend, Mary Woodson White, attacked him with a pot of boiling grits and then killed herself in her home. Two decades later, Green was in the news again, facing allegations of domestic violence against ex-wife Shirley Green. (He says their relationship today is no longer “distant and hostile.” In fact, he visited Memphis the day before, attended Greene’s church, and at one point even came forward to lead the congregation in song.)
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But the defining moment of Al Green’s life came before all that, in 1973 in a hotel room in Anaheim, California, after a night concert at Disneyland. Green went to bed exhausted. When he rose, he was born again.
“He said, ‘Come, come to me,'” Green said, snapping his fingers. “And when I got into those arms, I could let go of all my breath. I could relax. I felt so much better. … I gave up. And you have to give up. Then you have to rebuild.
If the story of American R&B emerges from the tension between Saturday night and Sunday morning, Green is its true hero. In the early 1970s, he sang with the devotion and passion for beauty that made him a star, a sage and a sex symbol. And then, at the height of his fame, he began to answer in a voice higher than his own. Jesse Dittmar/The Washington Post
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It was Mitchell, a Mississippi-born musician who dabbled in jazz, rock and soul, who cultivated Green’s sound into something subtle and indelible. Mitchell believed that the tempo of a song should always be high, climbing like a mountain into the unknown. To get there, he needed Green to clean up his voice and stop imitating the recording guys at Stax Records, just a few blocks away.
In his autobiography, Green recalls how Mitchell coached him: “Let them be shy.” Be polite. Remember, Al. It has silk on top. Inequality in the south. “
If height and tenderness were the secret ingredients around Mitchell’s Royal Recording Studio, the third was intimacy.
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Charles Hodges, the keyboardist who played on much of Green’s career with his brothers, bassist Leroy Hodges and guitarist Mabon “Tiny Hodges, and drummers Howard Grimes and Al Jackson Jr.,” says a “spiritual chemistry” filled the airwaves. . Royal. In the early 1970s, it was unusual.
“We all became so close that we felt each other’s heartbeats,” Hodges said today. “Everything we touched turned to gold.”
The effortless feel of their golden music was all about efficiency. The song “Let’s Stay Together,” the passionate commitment that would define Green’s career, was written 15 minutes after Mitchell introduced the music to his student. This is Green’s gift as a songwriter: the ability to dig fast.
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“It’s spontaneous,” Green said of the creative moment. “You have to let yourself fall to get to where you feel. Then you work to bring it out, grow it, grow it. You start with something and it builds. It is constructive. And to build. And building.”
Then Green begins to sing beautiful inaudible songs, as if what he is trying to say is in the words, or in his patience to find them.
Green in his office in Memphis. The acclaimed singer is a 2014 Kennedy Center Honoree. (Jesse Dittmar/The Washington Post)
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Greene is up for Best R&B Performance and Best Traditional R&B Vocal at the 51st Annual Awards.
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