Enough (respect) about Ted Williams (not the baseball great, the homeless “golden voice” bum guy), this post is for a true American “original”, a man who never fought any “bums”, because if he did, he knocked them all out quickly or toyed them into frustration, Muhammad Ali. The day of his sixty-ninth (69) birthday this year coincides with the national U.S.A. celebration of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior – two of the “greatest” born under the astrological sign of Capricorn, of “all times”! That, in and of itself, is inspiration for me to write about it here in addition to the fact that I gleaned that my beloved overseas is not fully aware of the magnitude of Ali’s presence and influence.
I use the first cut on this album…only the first few seconds of it, where he says is his trademark braggadocio of the 1960s, “I AM the Greatest!”, over the musical instrumental introduction of records that I play when I am lucky to have been on the radio during this holiday weekend through the years gone by. In the “business” we called it a “drop”. I am not that lucky this year because of aforementioned issues with “the way it IS” in “radio” nowadays (sux), however, rest assured that this post is to wish the best boxer of my era, a very Happy Birthday.
Muhammad, please forgive me for using the image to the left, it is the only vinyl that I own that represents you, and I respect your change of name, liking “Muhammad Ali” much better than your “slave name”.. We haven’t heard much about you, Muhammad Ali, lately – and given your age and the punishment that you took on your way to fame, that is a “great” thing!
Muhammad , the former “Cassius Clay” embodied all of the principled rebelliousness that shaped this reporter in my early teens. With the Vietnam war and the U.S. civil rights movement sculpting the lowdown discourse of those days, “Ali” was a lightning-rod of criticism and praise, depending upon which side of the debate (left or right we would say these days) you found yourself. I remember white guys really hating him; I remember black American guys really hating him (Joe Frazier “uncle Toms” we used to call them); I remember both of those groups rooting for him after came back from his exile and knocking out George Foreman or having empathy for him when Larry Holmes basically ended his boxing career in 1980. I think that at one point my own Dad didn’t like him, and that was mostly because Ali was one of the pioneers of the outspoken/well-spoken black American man and it was not fashionable for those of Dad’s generation to speak-out like Ali did. Dad soon came around to MY way of thinking, and we used to be anxious to listen to the live matches on WCBS 88AM radio and read the New York Post’s account of his matches, blow-by-blow, in the next morning’s paper.
But this is to celebrate the personality of Muhammad Ali. The rest of the cuts on this vinyl are his poetry, which may people forget about because of his politics. Ali was an impromtu, spontaneous poet! My father, the WWI Major, called him a “rhymin’ Simon” lol because Ali could break-off some verse l-o-n-g before anybody ever imaged “rap” or “hip-hop”. Imagine what Muhammad Ali might have been if part of THAT era? Many imintated his ring style (“Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roy Jones, Junior come to mind), yet none could ever duplicate his demeanor or playful and poetically prophetic mind. Please, when you remember Dr. King this weekend, think about another “great” who came concurrently to help us as a leader on the world stage (Ali went to places like the U.S.S.R. and China, et al when our U.S. government would not reach-out to them with detante or embrace and encourage perestroika). He became a true ambassador of our best qualities as a nation, much in the way that former President Jimmy Carter is these days. He may have other vinyl albums, but this is the only one in my library. Most of all for this discussion, Ali introduced the concept that a man could be “pretty”! What is your fondest memory of Muhammad (notice not “MOhammad by-the-way) Ali? Happy Cappy Birthday and “Ali bumbaye!”