Al Green: Stepping Back Into the Future

  Photo courtesy Hi Records/Fat Possum Photo courtesy Hi Records/Fat Possum During 1989’s New Orleans Jazzfest, Al Green took the stage at the Saenger Theatre in a resplendent outfit — white jacket, white shirt, white pants, white shoes and lots of white teeth — and with a restless energy that had him rocking on the balls of his feet. As the band vamped, he handed out red roses to women in the first row (including a wide-eyed Bonnie Raitt) as if he were both a paternal preacher and a flirty Casanova. “A lot of people think we shouldn’t do the old songs,” announced the Memphis singer who had abandoned a fabulously successful pop-music career to devote himself to gospel. “But what's wrong with singing about ‘L-O-V-E’ and ‘Let's Stay Together’. What is God if he isn’t L-O-V-E’.” It wasn’t clear who he was talking to. Was it to the hard-core Christians in the audience — those starchily dressed African-American men and women proud that the church had snatched one of the century’s greatest singers back from the secular realm but still skeptical about his conversion. Was he talking to the T-shirted music lovers who wished he’d do his old hits — not because those numbers were non-religious but because they were better songs. The more he talked, the more it seemed he was talking mostly to himself. He was trying to convince himself that it was okay to mix the sacred and the sensual, the love of God with the love of the flesh. It was as if he were trying to work out his deepest-seated problems in a public, improvised therapy session. He was tip-toeing along the most unstable fault line in American music: the place where the tectonic plates of blues and gospel meet and grind against each other. These... Sign In to Keep Reading

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