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My father spent 26 years as Vice President of a family owned manufacturing company in Saratoga Springs, NY. He hired many people during the 1960’s, worked with and befriended many of them. It was through them he came to possess a number of albums that would form the basis of my musical education.
The very, very first albums I remember listening to over and over again were Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” and Richie Haven’s “Mixed Bag”.
Looking back 50 years, I can hardly think of two more important works I might have stumbled into.
I don’t know how many dozens and dozens of times I set the needle down on the outside edge of those vinyl discs. But I still hear them in my head as I heard them then, coming warmly through these big, expensive speakers powered by the orange analog lights of a vacuum tube impregnated motherboard I had not the slightest curiosity about.
An admission that saddens me somehow, but the music. The music! It bore down deep into my soul and stayed there forever.
Richie Havens freed me in a way that I would not truly know or have any conscious appreciation for until I was in my 50’s. He was in the cell with me all along and helped blow the bars open wide from the inside out.
As I listen with new ears to him sing “Freedom” at Woodstock, a completely improvised piece from the soul of a musician out of material, thrust by an accident of history into the role of opening act before a crowd of 400,000 on a hot afternoon in a soaking wet orange dishiki. He just started strumming his instrument in that propulsive, rhythmic way only he could and just chanted the word “freedom” over and over until it started to sink into the crowd’s unified consciousness. Then he welded it to the verses of an old spiritual that could not have, in the history of the world, ever been more appropriate. I listen to it now and it moves me to tears.
We have spoken about the narrow, truncated view of the discriminating ego mind versus the heart and only the heart’s ability to build with patience and understanding the compassion necessary to perceive and embrace the whole in its inextricably interrelated, interdependent unified beauty – the oneness.
That’s the place, the heart, that proper art comes from. In whatever form it takes, it is always a door that invites one through to experience something truly transcendent.
Richie Havens was one of those artists who had that gift, that ability to see both the path of the discriminating mind and the world it has wrought and the way of the heart. And with his heart he said come this way, give me your hand, follow me.
Thank you brother. Thank you. You’ve traveled a long, long way. Welcome home. Rest now. Rest easy.
Anthony Tarrant is a writer and toils for healthcare in the retail fashion industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.