What a strange day– Muhammed Ali’s death while not unexpected is unsettling–it is as if the heavens are demanding the giants return and so one by one they return. that even Soul Cycle had a sign saying RIP says how large Ali loomed over the collective consciousness.
I saw him once in 1970 when as a college student I went to a Black Expressions conference in Indiana. He was just about to get back his position-he had been stripped of his championship–and he was speaking at the conference. He was magnetic, unbelievably handsome (yes that pretty) and I’ve never seen men so lit up by any other man. They had grown up with brash, bold “poet” who had innovated boxing. Truly he was the alpha male. And he loved being one.
Ali was no saint. His cruelty towards Joe Frazier was awful and there were always rumors about his womanizing. But he was deeply principled and his stance against the War in Viet nam led to his conviction of draft dodging and the loss of his title–this when he was 25 years old. He will be forever a symbol of what it means to be brash, bold, gorgeous, but also spiritual and moral and deeply principled who could come back and triumph again.
So, considering Ali’s joining the ancestors, I returned from a venture into Manhattan which more and more seems like Fantasyland for White people (mostly) and global tourists, it was odd to encounter another moment of audacious sadness.
Here in Bed-Stuy, Spike Lee has organized a Prince born day party at Bed-Stuy Plaza. Many people in purple t-shirts were celebrating Prince’s born day, even as we all digest the news that he died from an opiod–how Midwestern. The irony of my book title Painkiller is that every time I’ve been prescribed them, I throw away 90% of the pills and believe me I hate pain. Clearly Prince pushed his body beyond what his 57 year old self should do and his body gave it up. And Ali’s Parkinson came from the great feats he did as a boxer. Both men were bold and it is a combination of boldness and spirituality that marks them.
There are plenty of bold guys right now, but they seem so extraordinarily empty–their boldness, their in your faceness, their twitter feeds do not add up to anything that literally changes the way a sport is played or music created/produced–they don’t invent, they just shift things from one side of the room to the other. Prince was intensely creative in ways that many are still trying to come to terms with. Moreover, he explored in real time a range of ways to be masculine that few even dared to try–only Bowie strikes me as being that openly fluid, but then again he was white and British. Prince’s passing was not expected, he was still a “young” i.e. middle-aged man. Maybe that is why Ali’s passing is unsettling. He lived a life filled with innovation in his sport; a powerful spiritual journey; a deep love of Black people; and the ability to learn from his many mistakes and finally the ability to sustain family. His essence was strong and it was that essence that could take him around the globe, always Muhammed Ali. #boldandbrash