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“Amazing Grace” – Aretha in concert, a must see

I sobbed all the way through and thought of my daughter, gazing at the glorious rose window of Notre Dame cathedral and saying, “If I ever believe in god, it will be because of this place.”

If I ever believe in god, it will be because of the power of Aretha Franklin’s voice and the purity and power of her own belief.

Just came from seeing the documentary “Amazing Grace,” which was shot over two nights in 1972 in a Baptist church in L.A., as she recorded her first gospel album. The record became her best seller, but the film had technical complications and was not released until modern technology made fixing the problems possible. And so here it is. I began to weep at the beginning and continued dabbing my eyes and tapping my feet in rhythm until the end. There were moments of such intensity I could hardly breathe; hours later my eyes are still puffy and swollen. It’s transcendent, overwhelming, that voice ranging from a soft clear bell to a soaring clarion, a wave of sound, the sky opening, a universe from that throat. Behind her, a full gospel choir. In front of her, an audience of believers who ‘witness,’ shouting back to the stage, clapping and dancing. Also in the audience, on the second night, Mick Jagger and Charley Watts and the Reverend C. L. Franklin, Aretha’s father, who jumps up at one point, while she’s singing, to mop her brow.

What a gift. She is subdued throughout, as if gathering her forces, preserving her strength for when her mouth opens and the music flows out, going straight to heaven.

How grateful I felt to be there, to have the chance to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon in a black gospel church in 1972. I rode my bike to the Sherbourne subway station, jumped on the subway, was there in no time, watched the previews of all the documentaries I want to see. After the concert, mopping my sodden eyes, I rode back to get my bike and stopped at the library, where I returned two books – Middlemarch, because I’ve found my copy, and The Dakota Winters, which I’d skimmed (charming, lightweight, with a tragic premise, that the protagonist was going to help bring the Beatles back together just before John was murdered) – and picked up the one waiting for me: Dreyer’s English, an utterly correct guide to clarity and style, which is on the NYT bestseller list. The hideous premier has cut the inter-library service for rural communities but not yet in Toronto, which means I can still order any book I want and have it delivered to my local branch.

Then I stopped at St. Jamestown Steak and Chops to buy a chicken from Mark; Judy is flying in from Vancouver and is coming to dinner on Monday. I’ve been going to Mark’s shop for 32 years, knew his father Terry, his mother Doris, his brother Santo, wrote their obituaries for the Globe.

In a bit, Cyril will appear at my door with a jar of his $8 soup for my dinner. Last night the Spring Fling, a fundraiser for the Cabbagetown Youth Centre, dancing to a live band with my friend Jean-Marc, who loves to dance as much as I do. I’ve been going to this event for decades, on and off. Danced there with Terry the butcher, as Doris sat nearby and beamed.

Despite the battering, the brutal smashing Toronto is enduring right now from the provincial thugs, despite the things I hate about living in the city – the construction, the noise and dirt, the constant confrontation with devastating mental illness and appalling poverty – still, I am glad to live in this ever-stimulating metropolis where there is so much going on, so much to do, so much challenge, and where I am surrounded by friends and decades-long acquaintances.

Behind Aretha, as she sang, was a painting of Jesus being baptized; he’s a white dude with long brown hair. It’s ironic to see that image in a church filled with devout faces of colour singing praise to the lord. Now I have absolutely no doubt that Jesus was black.

Watch the preview in this review, and then I hope you can see the whole thing for yourself.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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