Monday, February 13, 2023

the last book I ever read (A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, excerpt twelve)

from A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib:

“Gimme Shelter” is one of those songs that churns and churns, invites you in and then shakes you up. It’s the perfect entry point for an album, because it is an ominous point of entry. A song that lets you know something bad is maybe coming, and it is maybe coming for you, or someone you love. It’s in the scenes where young kids get dropped into some war they don’t want to be fighting, just in time to see their best friend killed. The biggest mistake some people make about songs that open albums is that they imagine those songs should be welcoming or warm. Set a tone of comfort before jarring the foundation. An album’s opening song should be a loud and all-consuming stretch of madness. The thing that drags a listener to the edge of a cliff, holds them over, and asks them to choose what they think is safer: the unknown of floating to the bottom of some endless height, or the known chaos of solid ground. I like my albums to start by asking me what I think I can stand.

The record store dudes who put on Let It Bleed would play “Gimme Shelter” countless times before skipping to the next track. There was something about the way the drums sounded when they were beat out on a table or a steering wheel. Let It Bleed is a damn good record—particularly its side two—but there was nothing else on it that matched the sheer immersion and exhaustion of “Gimme Shelter,” for me. When these record store dudes homed in on the vocal performance of “Gimme Shelter,” they would never talk about Merry Clayton by name, only by the mercy she could offer to the music.

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