Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Boy, Ray Charles is everywhere these days, isn't he? Not bad for a man who's been dead nearly a year. Winner of eight Grammy Awards, a movie of his life up for seven Academy Awards, the best-selling album of his career hot on the charts...

So it's kind of weird, though, that I never really paid much attention to Ray Charles until recently. We all have cultural blind spots, and Charles was one for me. I thought of him as the guy from the cheesy '80s Pepsi commercials, an important part of early rock 'n' roll but not one that was really relevant to me. But then I checked out "Ray" starring Jamie Foxx, and was really blown away by it. Great music biography with, as everyone keeps saying, an utterly revelatory performance by Jamie Foxx (this is the man who starred in "Booty Call"?). But Foxx's performance wouldn't have a lot of relevance if it weren't for Charles' extraordinary life, where he faced down blindness, racism, bad businessmen and more. Anyway, one of the great things about "Ray" is the constant sounds of Charles' music, which seems much more modern and fresh than I would've imagined.

I picked up a nice Ray Charles greatest hits set recently using some credit we had, and we've been enjoying it a lot. There's a real joy and passion to the man's work, and you can feel his fingerprints on many of the artists that came after him. The bopping bounce of "Mess Around" or "Hit The Road Jack," the more soulful feel of "Unchain My Heart" or "I Got A Woman" -- the man could play. Yeah, in his later years he kind of coasted on his elder statesman status (the 2-CD hits set I got only features one track from after 1980), but when he was in his prime -- wow. One of the things I dig about pop culture, is that there's always something new to discover. Ray Charles wasn't on my radar for a long time, but that just means I have that much more material to enjoy catching up with. Sing it, brother!

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