This is a radically different kind of short story. We are innovating.
When Sam Cooke wrote “Bring It on Home to Me,” what he really was doing was rewriting a song by Charles Brown called “I Want to Go Home.” Most people don’t know Charles Brown other than as the guy who sang “Merry Christmas Baby,” but lots of people sang “Merry Christmas Baby,” though Charles Brown did it best. His notes were the most plaintive. I also guess you could say that Charles Brown was good at going slow. His songs become faster when other people do them, but he didn’t have to go fast himself.
“I Want to Go Home” starts with the same chords as “Bring It on Home to Me.” A saxophone doubles the voice, and there are pianistic boogie woogie figurations in the bridge, which you would not expect in a song about dying.
The boogie woogie chords flatten, becoming the melodic phrase that Cooke later overlays, in his rewrite, update, whatever you wish to call it, with the words, “But you stay out, you stay out, all night.”
His song is not about dying. It’s about forgiveness. He makes it sound joyous. I don’t brush my teeth in front of mirrors. I brush them in the shower. I look at the drain, I sing Sam Cooke, I sing Charles Brown.
I’ll imagine each of them there, but just their hands, which sounds weird, but when your eyes are closed, what you imagine touching your body isn’t strange, it’s conceivable. Each with a hand on one of my breasts. Like they are helping me to sing. “I Want to Go Home” is a matter of post-life affairs. Where you will be next. People think it’s a gospel song for that reason, but it’s not.
“How many black men did you have to fuck?” my husband said in court. I don’t know why he qualified it. My husband is not a racist. If he were talking about me, he would have shifted to the past tense. “My wife was a—“. Fill in the blank. The “was’ would also mean I was not his wife any longer, or I was dead.
I get uncomfortable when Sam Cooke sings, “I’ll always be your slave.” I think he wants us to? I think that is what he is going for. Lou Rawls is singing back-up vocals. He’s counterpointing Cooke’s lines, but Cooke does a lot of that himself, which is highly unusual. He is a singer who will sing a line, and as if he can’t help but comment on it—because it’s so apposite—he will sing it again, in a slightly different key.
The hovering vibrations in the air—which I imagine running in two parallel lines—go a little askew. He may be joyous in his forgiveness—maybe he learned about the latter from Charles Brown—but as my husband said to me, you could put a dick in the wound, that’s how big the wound was, which was his way of making a reference about Christ telling people to probe the cuts in his body with their fingers. By which my husband meant it was a big hole. It was also kind of a big cock reference, too.
“But I forgive you,” Sam Cooke sings, “Bring it to me.” I imagine asking him what the “it” is. A lot in this life comes down to determining what the “it” is. I think he might joke with me (as I hear the bottoms of his feet puttering in the shower—for some reason I imagine he has flat feet) and say, “your sweet ass.”
Then he would get serious and ask about my kids. Where do they fit into all of this? Sam Cooke would probably have a little of my husband in him, which is why I sing him, along with Charles Brown, as the water beats against me, before I have brushed my teeth.
The answer to my husband’s question is three, though “have to” is always a misleading phrase. Two were when I was in college. One dealt a lot of pot. The other smoked a lot of pot. I also did. Not the dealing. They didn’t know each other. One was technically grad school.
Sam Cooke is a much better singer than Charles Brown. That’s not a knock on Charles Brown. Sam Cooke is a much better singer than even most great singers, and the others that remain—the best of the best—he is usually at least a little better than. The third was a teacher. One of our girls’ teacher. Actually, he had both girls at different points. No one could reach Maya. Not me, not my husband, not her sister. Other kids.