I did another shift at Samaritans this morning. I can understand why people might want to do all sorts of things that are wrong and I can understand that people make mistakes in their life decisions. What I can’t understand is why somebody would phone an organisation which exists to help people who are feeling vulnerable and need a listening ear and then use up valuable time making rude and disgusting things up about his sex life. I found it a little bit amusing at the time but it’s annoying to think that I could have spent that time listening to someone else who was probably waiting for ages for someone to answer and might have given up. Given up with the phone call or maybe giving up with life. Who knows?
I suppose I did offer a service, so to speak, for that guy this morning. He must be deeply unhappy and I guess I helped him for that short period of time. So who am I to judge? Everyone needs support and that support can be found in friends, family, creativity or culture (books, films, music, art etc). That’s probably not an exhaustive list of how support can be found.
This is how Kevin Rowland found support. “After being so lost and seeing only ugliness in the world, these songs started to penetrate my frightened world. They reawakened something I’d only fleetingly sensed before and even then it was only a feeling of something I’d lost long ago. But it was enough to make me grab it. Welcome back Kevin. These songs showed me my definition of beauty. My beauty. I realised I needed to record them before I could do anything else”.
That’s brilliant. Kevin Rowland, having disbanded Dexy’s Midnight Runners fourteen years previously in 1985, and having recorded one (poor) solo album in 1989, was finding life difficult to deal with. By listening to a selection of well known “pop” songs and then recording them, he begun to find salvation and redemption. I can think of no better reason for making a record. I like “Divide” by Ed Sheeran but when Ed tells the record company that he should record “Galway Girl” because 400 million people in the world are going to claim they are Irish, it sounds a bit cynical and cold. Don’t get me wrong – “Galway Girl” is a good song but the creative impulse behind it’s recording sounds like it was financially driven. Conversely, “My Beauty” which was heavily criticised at the time, appears to have been recorded because it allowed Kevin Rowland to express his feelings and it was a cathartic experience for him to record it.
There’s a great interview in The Guardian with Kevin Rowland about the re release of this album. It’s interesting in lots of ways and one issue is the furore over the cover which shows him wearing a dress and exposing his nipples and underwear. As if this invalidates the music. Kevin Rowland is quoted as saying “It was a lifestyle choice, not a fucking career move.”
“The Greatest Love Of All” is the first song on the album; it was originally recorded by George Benson and was used in “The Greatest”, a film about Muhammad Ali. It became a Number One hit for Whitney Houston in 1986. The Kevin Rowland version is excellent. It is certainly a million miles away from “Geno”, in that the sound is very MOR with swooping strings and a very sincere vocal. There is no doubting that Kevin Rowland’s voice is always brilliant – interesting, emotional and intense. The key line in the song, as he sings it, is “Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”. I should have used that line on my call this morning.
“Rag Doll”, the Four Seasons song, follows and is introduced by a “heavenly” choir. There’s a very emotional spoken section in which he says “It’s okay. It’s going to be better from now on. No matter what anyone says, we’re going to shine every day”. Here is an artist expressing hope and optimism about the future whilst learning how to heal himself. What could be better or more uplifting? The heavenly choir really enhances the force behind the song but I do understand that it may not be to everyone’s taste. A new video features his grandson, who happens to be called Roo.
The fifth song is “This Guy’s In Love With You” which was a hit for Herb Alpert in 1968. It’s sung very straight and very emotionally, especially the lines “My hands are shaking. Don’t let my heart keep a breaking because I need your love.” It ends with the lines “Say you’re in love with this guy. If not, I’ll just die”. Whilst that may sound morbid, to me it shows the process Kevin Rowland was going through to re-form connections with society and understanding the healing power of communication.
The tenth song is “Reflections Of My Life” which was a hit for Marmalade in 1969. It’s a really good song whether sung by Dean Ford of Marmalade (who co-wrote the song) or Kevin Rowland. To me, this song summarises the whole album. It starts with the strings playing the introduction to “The Greatest Love Of All” and Kevin Rowland starts singing “I’m changing and it feels so hard”. There’s an understanding that he needs to understand his past before he can move forward: “All my sorrow/Where’s tomorrow/Take me back/To my own home”. Neil Hubbard plays a very Sixties-era lead guitar. He played with Joe Cocker, Roxy Music and B.B. King amongst others. The next verse is “The world is a sad place, a mad place, an awfully hard place to live but I’m afraid to die”. Who knew that such extraordinary lyrics were in this song which got to Number 3 in the UK and Number 7 in the USA. As he sings “All my crying” he interjects with a spoken “I know how that feels”. It’s an extraordinary song on a magnificent album.
Communicating, connecting and creating. Three processes in place to make a beautiful artistic work.