Growing up in the fifties and sixties, like most kids of my era, I was swept up into playing rock ‘n’ roll as protest and exploration of life’s possibilities. While many followed the Beatles, Stones and others that pushed the limits of rock, my idol was Stevie Winwood.
Last night’s BBC4 documentary brought me up to date with his life but also reminded me why he had influenced me so. It was the soul in his voice, a blues of hard living and authenticity to which a seventeen-year-old from Brum had no right—but, nonetheless, possessed in spades. That ability to reach deep into others is what kindled my interest in politics.
But it took most of a lifetime of gleaning experience and exploring options to bring me to a point when I felt qualified to blend the listening with rephrasing and make good politics—much as Stevie had done three decades earlier. My own journey is mirrored in two versions of Clouds by Joni Mitchell. The earlier is graceful, idiosyncratic and ought to be definitive.
The later is slower, more thoughtful and pitched almost an octave lower. Above all, Joni now sings her beautiful lyrics as if, finally, she understands how deep, how meaningful the words she sang so lightly then actually are. I make no apology for still loving rock and politics, but—like Stevie then and Joni now— I have come to understand what the words really mean.