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Thursday, November 13, 2008

GMVW # 45: "Another World"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 45:  Another World
Song:  Freddie’s Dead by Curtis Mayfield
(Songwriter: Curtis Mayfield)
November 13, 2008

For one summer during my college years in the early 80’s, I had a job making the smaller deliveries for a trucking company out of South Boston.  Dad and I stripped the seats out of the Chevy van (the one with the orange Hampton Beach ‘Blob Squad’ sticker on the back door), and I used the ample space to load a wide range of cargo for delivery to a wide range of locales.  My delivery area was primarily downtown Boston and points south.  I became familiar with the entire city in those days, including the lesser known sections of Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Dorchester and Roxbury.  At times I had to deliver in some pretty tough neighborhoods, yet as the summer progressed, I never ran into problems.  On the contrary, folks were always helpful when I needed assistance finding a street or an address. 

A number of the deliveries were to record stores.  Back in the early 80’s, most record stores were small and privately owned (the Strawberries chain being an exception).  It was great delivering to these places.  They all had their own style and musical emphasis.  I would often spend a little extra time looking through the albums and occasionally making a purchase.  In hindsight, I was laying witness to a soon-to-be extinct breed of independent and eccentric music stores which were at the time the primary outlets for old and new records. 

One of these routine stops was to an all black R&B music store on
Washington Street
in Roxbury.  The store was located under the old elevated orange line.  It was one of those tough neighborhoods and also tough to find a parking spot.  I often had to park on a side street and dolly the delivery a block or so.  One particular week near the end of the summer, I was in the store waiting for the owner to sign off on the delivery when another delivery guy ran in and told me my van was being broken into.  I sprinted outside and down the side street where I spied the rear van door forced open and several boxes missing.  I looked around for a moment and then ran further down the street in search of the perpetrator.  It did not take long:  Several homes down, I found a guy sitting on a stack of boxed albums on a porch at the top of a set of stairs.  I walked up to him and demanded my cargo back.  He stayed seated on the boxes and we stared at each other for a few moments. Finally he stood up but loomed over me as I picked up the stack and walked away.  I’m sure he was contemplating his options.  Lucky for me, he chose the right one (later, when I told Dad about the day’s events, he stopped me at the part about the confrontation, poured a double scotch, drank a sample, and then allowed me to finish the story).

The memory of the event stuck with me for some time.  What I remembered mostly was the look on the guys face when I demanded the property back:  It was a look of desperation and guilt.  I have also since reflected on the likelihood that my encounter was with someone who to that point had an entirely different life experience than I.  Other than my job that summer, my only insight into his world was my reading Eliott Liebow’s “Tally’s Corner”, watching a few movies about gang violence, and frequenting the Western Front in Cambridge.  For the most part his life was foreign to me.  For a moment though, and in a very unusual way, I had made a connection. It opened my eyes somewhat to the unique struggles of inner city black America. 

I’ve been sitting on this week’s gem selection for a while, so when Dave broached the subject of urban plight last week, I figured it was as good a time as any to toss it out.  The song, ‘Freddie’s Dead’ by Curtis Mayfield, is from the Gordon Parks Jr. movie, Superfly.  Curtis Mayfield performed all the songs for the soundtrack.  The movie itself does not stand up to the meaning and depth of Mayfield’s songs on the soundtrack, which are songs of despair regarding the drug culture of urban black America in the mid-70’s (the movie somewhat glorified it).  Mayfield was an uncommon singing voice in America at the time (along with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder), crying out against the crime and violence happening in the inner city.  The song itself is about an easily-manipulated but good-willed guy who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

In 1990, Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down when stage lighting crashed down on him during an outdoor concert in Brooklyn.  It was a tragic end to the career of a man Bob Dylan has referred to as ‘One of the Greats’.

“Everybody’s misused him; ripped him up and abused him”

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Freddie’s Dead

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About the Video:  Live in studio, starts with a close up of Mayfield plucking at his guitar

Video Rating: 1

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Best Feedback: Becca

Excellent choice...one of my old favorites...until now I'd only ever heard the studio recording.

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And: Steve

Great story Pete.
Ever thought of writing a book?

I turn 47 on Monday. Isn't life amazing!

Cheers
Steve

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And: Fred

I have never heard that song but certainly am close to the title....that was used against me (in jest) for many years.

 I also remember when you had that delivery route.  Pretty crazy stuff...but I also remember you were the first to see the new Who Album (was it Eminence Front?)

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