Is it ironic that a man whose latest full length studio album is entitled ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’, led such a lurid and controversial lifestyle when compared to almost all of his contemporaries? Whether it was drug binges with Sly Stone, family tragedies, near financial ruin, or a love life that made an episode of Eastenders (non UK citizens transpose for your regions worst soap opera) look like a concluding scene from Highway to Heaven, Robert Dwayne Womack lived a life that will surprise many who knew of the talent but never looked into the man behind it. I am one of the many.
One could easily be swayed by that opening statement into questioning whether that man and the one who concocted the sublime The Poet are one and the same. And even more so when confronted by a man who proclaims “I don’t wanna be a star because stars fall from the sky, and when they hit the ground they turn into a rock and a rock ain’t no good unless you bust someone in the head with it.” But that’s the thing about geniuses of Bobby’s type, they don’t get to where they are without having experienced ‘Life’….But not as many of us know it.
By the time he released what some consider to be the best song he ever penned (the title track for Across 110th Street), not only had Bobby’s musical mentor, Sam Cooke, been shot dead, but he had married the man’s widow, who subsequently divorced him for doing the ‘horizontal shuffle’ with his stepdaughter. On top of that not only did he suffer the murder of his younger brother by a jealous (and mistaken) girlfriend and the death of his 4 month old son in the same year (1978), his eldest son at the time, Vincent, took his own life 8 years later.
Many of the worlds population have been broken by a lot less, and they didn’t have to contend with the gaze of an adoring fan or eager journalist. But there is a calm belligerence and a hustlers ‘imma do me’ attitude that comes across on all of Bobby’s interviews and even when questioned about the prospect of dying he said, “If I chose to leave, and die, it’s my life. You can’t stop it. Mentally, spiritually, if I don’t feel like I wanna live no more, I don’t wanna live no more. Ain’t nothing you can do about that.”
Not so much burning the candle at both ends as taking a blowtorch them, 20 plus studio albums released over a near 60 year career is the most obvious indicator of a man not afraid of hard work as you can get. Armed with a gravel throated croon and a testifying yelp heavenly enough to earn the nickname ‘Preacher’, Bobby overcame all obstacles to become one of the most well known, and well loved of his generation. And I say that while stressing the reverence that generation should be afforded because ultimately, in such ridiculously talented company, someone of such stature was only ever going to pass the test of time through his music.
Its funny how life works. What stifles some can be a blessing for others. Everyday you see Ironies piled upon ironies laid on a foundation of yet more ironies and simply existing in such a cycle is hard enough. Yet through all of his tribulations, whether or not they were of his own making, Bobby Womack thrived. He was not a man who did things by the half measure and that is clear for all to see on all of the mans best work.
“I keep living life as it’s dealt to me. Sometimes, it’s not dealt 100 percent. Sometimes it’s dealt on the low ’30s”.
originally written for On The Come Up TV