I had a conversation with an old friend about romantic balladeers. My friend remembered that many years ago, I ruffled some feathers with a performance poetry piece of mine which appeared to lampoon a much revered “bedroom soul” singer. He asked if I could accept the criticism that I received from those who were disgruntled about it, looking back on those days. I responded that each of us should be able to speak his or her truths in creative work. My feelings about the persona of the singer in question haven’t changed, because I sensed that he was expressing feelings from a seemingly narcissistic place. This did not feel romantic to me at all.
We discussed the tradition of popular romantic ballad singing amongst black men and agreed that Nat King Cole was probably the pioneer of the genre. We also agreed that Nat King Cole was unsurpassed in the effectiveness of his recordings of this nature. Perhaps there was something open and guileless about Cole’s spirit as a performer. He also happened to be an exceptionally talented musician.
The chat reminded me of a relationship in a Mike Leigh film between two characters played by Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville. There was nothing glamorous about the characters, but in a very powerful scene, Mr Spall’s character went into a meltdown, where he claimed his wife didn’t love him or want him anymore. The emotions expressed by the two characters, which led to their reconciliation, touched on a very important point which is not always remembered by people in the arts and show business – love should be for everybody, not just the Rudolph Valentinos or Greta Garbos of this world.
Reverend Michael Curry (of the recent Royal Wedding fame) made a very powerful intervention in our lives, which required as many of us as possible to be present in our hearts and minds to reflect on the usefulness and potency of love. The reactions of those who couldn’t spare thirteen minutes to concentrate and absorb his message were revelatory.
If love, connection, romance and all these lofty ideas have any real purpose for us, why do so many people find it cloying or embarrassing to examine the essence of what they entail?