It was 1969, I think. It was the summer after my sophomore year of high school, and I was staying with my sister in her mobile home (before the term “manufactured housing” was coined) in hot, humid Fort Valley, Georgia. Her then husband was in Viet Nam, and she was on summer break from her job as an English professor.
I don’t remember how many days I spent there, but I have a number of memories from that visit. One of her neighbors was a star for the Fort Valley State College (now it’s a university) football team. He was gigantic. He took me to the college swimming pool, where he was a lifeguard. I had the opportunity to walk into the large room where the pool was next to a local hero, and see 100 or so black kids stare at me, the only white kid. I instantly recalled times at the college pool in Oshkosh when a black kid had experienced the same thing, in reverse.
It was a summer of beginning to understand the south, getting to know my sister better – she’s nine years older than me – and being out from under the wings of my parents.
One thing I remember was the music. My sister had a fairly large record collection. Records are like CD’s, except bigger and scratchier. I liked the Beatles, and she had several of their records. I liked jazz, and she had a great Herbie Mann record called “Memphis Underground.” But one record I especially remember was by Isaac Hayes. I remember the cover, showing him black, bald, and loaded down with gold chains, and with an intense look in his eyes.
The song I most remember from that record, which I have subsequently purchased on-line, is “Walk On By.” It was a hit by Dionne Warwick, and I think it was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Dionne’s version was very good, and very “pop.” Isaac Hayes’ version was dark, soulful, and almost painful with emotion. It was great.
Well, a few years later, Issac Hayes became much better known for doing the theme song for the movie “Shaft” (“He’s a complicated man, and no one understands him but his woman… John Shaft!”). That was a great song too, but had no where near the emotional depth of “Walk On By,” in my opinion.
Last week, we learned that Issac Hayes had died, and as with so many performer’s deaths, his made me think of that song, that record, that Georgia visit, and that summer. People talk about each life having its own sound track, and while “In The Mood” by Glen Miller was in my parent’s sound track, “Walk On By” is in mine.
Issac was most recently involved in a controversy regarding the adult oriented animated TV show, “South Park,” when he resigned in protest over something he thought was excessively inappropriate on the show. It’s too bad that his last publicity would be over something as insignificant as a cartoon. I hope people remember his music, and for people who don’t, maybe his death will cause a rediscovery by a new generation.