'It's All Over Now' - thankfully

Usually people will talk about the sad news when someone dies - how it's a shame that person isn't around anymore. We do this with celebrities, with musicians, people we never knew. The connection is the music - we felt we knew them because of the time we have invested in the music.

I loved a lot of the music Bobby Womack offered this world. But I can't lie - I was pleased to hear the news that Bobby Womack has left this world.

He lived hard. He made life tough for himself and on himself.

Watching his concert in Sydney last year was cruel - I felt like we were already rubber-necking at a car crash. It made me very uncomfortable. It made me re-evaluate that sad old line - I've used it many times myself in fact - about being pleased that I got to see someone, a living legend clearly past it in terms of performing, in terms of offering anything new or good.

I'm not at all trying to be mean-spirited. I still listen to The Poet and The Poet II - those records were windows into a new world for me when I discovered them. I listen to them now for the nostalgia of that moment of discovery as much as I do for the fact that I enjoy the music on those albums - particularly the first one.

But even as he played selections from The Poet in the show that I saw, a show that started with Across 110th Street (he knew to lead with his biggest and best) I still couldn't feel pleased with seeing the real thing - the real person.

Because Womack was less than a shadow of his former self. He'd phoned in crook the night before, cancelled the gig five minutes before it was due to start. And it looked like he could pop off at any time during the show I was watching. As audience members clapped and cheered I felt a bit like I did when we saw the bears being forced to dance on ice in the Russian circus I attended when I was about eight years old. 

Womack was not the Womack of Womack & Womack - that seemed to need clarifying among the fair-weather fans this weekend. That was Cecil Womack, Bobby's younger brother. He died last year.

Cecil and Bobby were in a band with their other brothers, The Valentinos - their careers were launched here. Bobby was a hired guitar slinger and songwriter. And, of course, he could sing.

His prodigious talents extended over to hard living, to drug consuming, and he had all but checked out of music, washed up, nothing to offer, some 20 odd years ago. And then a "comeback" album - The Bravest Man In The Universe. I couldn't get on board with this. I thought it was awful, his voice was gone, the songs uninspired. But it was on the same label as Gil Scott Heron's great "comeback" album. It featured Damon Albarn, so it drew positive notices.

Funnily enough, the title track from that album was perhaps the best thing at the Womack show I saw. It was the most honest. There was this pimped-out and totally past-it former icon looking sad and silly, a punch-drunk old man shadow-boxing around his biggest hits while wearing what must have been Eddie Murphy's "Delirious" stage suit, picked up in a garage sale. And then he crooned out a haunting take of the title track of his latest album, finally the pained bleat met the right material, the sound in his head and what was left in his heart combining to meet the intention of the lyric.

It was almost profoundly uncomfortable - prophetic even. I half-expected to read the news the following day that he was dead. Instead I read a bunch of fawning reviews around seeing a soul legend. No such thing had happened. We'd seen what was chewed up and spat out of a soul legend. We had seen not at all the Bravest Man In The Universe but in fact a bum who got a bit lucky. A bum who played along when someone cynically suggested that it might work for him to sing a song with that title.

It's not like I've checked the news every day since - expecting to read that Womack had died. But it never could have surprised me. It was as if he was already dead on that stage that night and simply no one had thought to tell him.

So I was pleased, yes, pleased to read the news that former soul legend Bobby Womack, just 70, has finally succumbed. May he rest in peace and thank you for all of that wonderful music.

R.I.P. Bobby Womack


Blog on the Tracks is on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts