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Book Review by Cynique


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I just finished reading, RESPECT, the newly released unauthorized biography of Aretha Franklin, - all 482 pages of it.  It's by David Ritz who has written the bios of several other music legends such as Marvin Gaye, and Ray Charles. Ritz is a skilled writer and treats his subject not only with the objective eye of a journalist but with the subjective love of a devoted fan. His narrative is seamless, reader-friendly and, best of all, juicy with gossip.


The reason why over the years my preferences for biographies and documententaries has usurped my interest in fiction, is because these works are about real people and, in the hands of the right author, are also about the times in which they lived. The zeitgeist of an era captured in print engrosses me because in many cases I am not learning about it, I am re-living it.  Such is the case with the period when 72-year-old Aretha first burst upon the musical scene back in 1962, a historical time I remember well.


Ms, Franklin's extraordinary life story reads like a Greek tragedy fraught with parental dysfunction, sibling rivilary, and spousal abuse. And at the center of it all is a headstrong,  extremely complicated women, both the beneficiary and victim of her genius.  A diva in the truest sense of the world she is vain, paranoid, jealous, and in an ongoing state of denial about her neurotic flaws.  She is also generous and loving and forgiving and, of course, talented. Above all she is a survivor, still here when so many of her loved ones and contemporaries have passed on. Well past her prime, she is, nonetheless, Aretha, the Queen of Soul, a voice for the ages.


This is a long book full of interviews and anecdotes, often redundant, but for fans of Aretha Franklin, it is well-worth the read because when it comes to chronicling the career of this music icon, the author has really done his homework.

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Hey Cynique, I'm glad you enjoyed Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin.  Since I have no recollection of the year 1962, the year I was born, your relationship to Aretha is very different than my own.  Her album Young, Gifted and Black was one of the few albums my family owned.  I listed to it countless times.  Still, even in my book, she is the "Queen of Soul."  


Talented, Black, adult, female singers don't seem to have the same level of support today as they did back then.  I'm not sure when any other woman will approach the same level of multi-generational admiration as an Aretha Franklin.


Aretha's first collaboration with Ritz, Aretha: From These Roots, was an AALBC.com bestseller back in 1999.


This book however is very controversial; Aretha Franklin calls the book "trashy" and "full of lies."  


"As many of you are aware, there is a very trashy book out there full of lies and more lies about me. ... (The writer's) actions are obviously vindictive because I edited out some crazy statements he had the gall to try and put in my book written 15 years ago. Evidently, he has been carrying this hatred ever since." (source)


I could not find a direct source of her full statement.  


This reaction does not surprise me however, David Ritz, despite his very impressive resume chronicling Black people, does not have the best reputation. But Aretha is a "diva" so who knows what is true.  


A some point, unless some criminal activity is involved, I believe people have right to maintain their privacy.  But we live in a country where someone can make a lot of money by writing a biography, against the subject's wishes, which contains information (true or not), that they don't want shared.  In my mind, something is fundamentally wrong with that.






Aretha just released an Album: Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics





Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics (Full Album)

01. At Last
02. Rolling In the Deep
03. Midnight Train To Georgia
04. I Will Survive
05. People
06. No One
07. I’m Every Woman _ Respect
08. Teach Me Tonight
09. You Keep Me Hangin’ On
10. Nothing Compares 2 U

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I have to say I'm not a fan of this album.  I don't have time to critique it in in more depth, but when I listen to track number 10, for example, and think of Sinéad O'Connor's version, I can't think about how much worse Aretha's treatment is.  Dare I say, O'Connor delivers the song with more soul  :o


Listening to, "At Last", just makes me wanna get out Etta Jameses album.


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In his book about Aretha, David Ritz speaks about how Aretha has always made a practice of covering the hits of other artists in a thinly-disguised attempt to show them she can do it better.  In some cases she was right but now that she's reached the point in her careeer where she can't negotiate those high notes anymore and has resorted to singing louder instead of better, going all off on the melody, she is just getting by on her reputation.   Ritz and a lot of other Aretha-watchers have suggested that at this stage in her career she should just tone it down and start singing old jazz standards, accompanying herself on the piano, backed up with an intimate little trio consisting of a bassist and a drummer. 


Reading this observation is the latest book about herself is probably one of the things that set Aretha off and drove her to lash out.      

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