Grieving the Death of All Singers
by John Omaha
© 2018. All Rights Reserved.
I’ve been listening to the outpouring of songs sung by Aretha Franklin that have appeared in the days following her death, and I’ve been thinking how hers is not the only voice that has died and is dying at this time. “Chain of Fools” just came up on my screen. Before that it was the incredible performance of Carole King’s “(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman” that Aretha sang at the Kennedy Center with Barack and Michelle Obama and Carole King in attendance, Obama wiping away a tear as he and his wife sang along with the master and King leaping from her seat to the transpersonal rendition of a song she wrote. A voice has been silenced by Death “the final severer of all ties’ and Aretha is gone.
And so are so many, many other voices, some the voices of human beings and many more the voices of our co-species, the plants and animals we share this dwindling and rapidly degrading environment with. I am sitting now with tears in my eyes after listening to the diva and my tears flow not just for the diva’s silenced voice, but for all the divas. I think of the Orca mother whose baby died 30 minutes after being born and whose dead body she carried on her nose for 17 days after it was born, and I think how the whales sing and how that baby will never grow up to sing, and I feel such grief. Last week I camped among Old Growth Redwoods in a forest where many trees had been saved from the saw and where the decaying stumps of others rose black and jagged from the ferny forest floor. I listened to the songs of the surviving trees, soughing gently in the late afternoon breeze, and thinking on it now I can really see no difference between the songs of the redwood divas and the diva from Detroit.
I recollect the sounds of water, cascading rapids, crashing waterfalls, the gentle gurgling of calm mountain rivulets singing out of the mountains above our northern California wilderness campsite. Water sings. It sings a song every bit as compelling as Franklin’s ballads. The song of the redwood, of the water, of the orca, of the wind, of the breeze and of Aretha Franklin are equivalent to the shaman. Aretha’s “Chain of Fools” and the dancing I did to it in a hundred SoMa bars was as essential to my young adult life and the oxygen provided by the trees. I grieve for Aretha’s passing and my grief is multiplied a hundred-fold or more because the silencing of her majestic voice reminds me of the silencing of the redwoods, the whales, the streams, the song of the gentle wind all dying. Aretha died of pancreatic cancer.
Our civilization is dying of a cancer, a cancer of greed, selfishness, a belief in unlimited expansion, entitlement, a profound narcissism that separates us human beings from our co-species. So today I listen to the Diva’s playlist and remember what innocence and joy and wonder felt like when I first heard her sing. I weep for her passing and I weep for the passing of a world of promise, a world that sang in a chorus of voices, elephant, whale, redwood, water, wind. All humans die, but humanity does not have to die. Trees eventually succumb to lightning, but not all trees have to die. The chorus goes silent one voice at a time. Until and unless we humans change our ways the songs and the vocalists that have lifted our hearts and given us the awe we feel listening to Aretha will disappear forever.