Monday, April 22, 2013

Richie Havens, the Voice of God

People have used the phrase "the voice of God" in a lot of ways. To me, I hear Richie Havens' voice and I hope that's what God sounds like. That unique combination of authority and compassion is so hard to find. His voice just cuts right through to the soul.

I loved Richie Havens. I love Richie Havens. My dad had the soundtrack to the Woodstock movie, which is where I heard him for the first time. And I heard this.

Later, seeing this in the movie, made even more of an impression on me. He had his eyes closed nearly the entire time. He wasn't singing the song - he was channeling it.

That's what Havens did. He was a channeler. The voice that sang those songs was deep and heavy with emotion: sadness, empathy, heartache, elation, joy. He could add new meaning to unexpected songs. His versions of "Just Like a Woman" and "Here Comes the Sun" are legendary.

But have you heard this? The original is a classic, but he finds new depths of despair in this song.

I was very surprised a few years ago to hear Richie Havens' voice again in a movie. Remember Collateral? With Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise (back when people still thought of him as an actor first)? This was on the soundtrack.

The lyrics are simple, but Havens does so much with what he's given. The song is impossible to imagine with anyone else's voice. Even the moans - could anyone moan with as much conviction as him?

God bless Richie Havens. I'm heartbroken to hear of his passing. He was one of the first connections musically that crossed my dad's generation and mine. And many years later, I had the opportunity to see him live at Seattle's Folklife Festival. I've seen big name legends. I've seen Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Solomon Burke. But seeing Richie Havens was like touching eternity. I could have sat in the grass and watched him all night, and I think he would have been content to strum his guitar and sing all night.

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