The Search For "AS"

2015.03.23
I have been pretty obsessed with Stevie Wonder’s song, “As” since I first heard it in college. One of the most joyous songs I have ever known. Love the whole “Songs In The Key of Life” album so much. If that album was Wonder’s whole career it would have been epic. Knowing that album came out after a three year run of incredible annual albums is beyond comprehension.

I saw Stevie Wonder on July 13,1973 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. I somehow had talked myself into a photo pass, so I could roam inches from the stage, which was sitting out where the pitcher’s mound was. That concert - which included Aretha Franklin (circa “Young Gifted and Black”), Charles Mingus, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Ray Charles and BB King - was criminally unattended. “Innervisions” was about to be released that August and we were hearing those songs for the first time. It was music that shifted one’s inner rhythm radically, certainly mine. Years later in LA, I was shooting a cover for Vibe with Quincy Jones. Quincey brought a bunch of friends with him for the shoot, including Stevie Wonder. I asked him to sing, “As” for me - and he did. It did not escape me for a second that having that one single perc made my job possibly the most incredible job in the world.

These past weeks I had been following news of Stevie Wonder’s tour which was covering the entire “Songs in the Key of Life” album from start to finish with a 25 piece band. I was out of town for the Denver show last week - which included Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea sitting in at the end.

Last night I was flying to Dallas for a shooting. I took the later flight to have more time with my family, but had weighed the earlier flight to see the Stevie Wonder’s show which was playing last night in Dallas starting at 7:30. I landed at 8:30 - grabbed my rental car at 9:10 and drove straight downtown to the American Airlines Center. The $25 parking lot had no attendant, so I grabbed a spot for free. I ran to the arena, and by some miracle it was only intermission. I found the box office - totally shut down. Asked a bunch of ushers, offered bribes ( when my mind is set….) - no go. It was a beautiful Dallas night, everyone was chill - out smoking and drinking for the break. I was racing around the arena - round and round - yelling out like a crazy person for an extra ticket. Finally I found the guy in charge and begged him to let me in to hear a single song -” As” - which I knew would be played in the second half. He listened to my story, sized me up (yiches), and told me to stand in that spot in the lobby for 5 minutes until he returned. I considered sneaking in. Bad idea. Thought about all the sold out shows I had shown up to without a ticket and gotten in. Many. Mostly I was just singing that song in my head wishing myself into that room only feet away. I saw the lights go down through the gate. Heard the audience swell with applause. Then “Isn’t She Lovely” started playing with the power of 4 percussionists, a full horn section, the famous baby cry (his daughter Aisha who was now one of the singer’s on stage) and Wonder wailing the opening lines. Shaking me out of my dream, a security guard approached me and wanded me down. Next the man who had told me to be patient appeared and said to follow him. He parted the black curtains and took me to a seat right on the side of the stage. And there my friends, is where I sat and danced and was taken out of time and place with that music that has been such a huge part of my life. The music was totally alive on that stage. It is music that is best watched with your eyes closed and heart open. That music is a miracle I can’t for the life of me understand how it came into being. But there it was.

After about an hour, Wonder launched into the song, “As” - which was almost anti-climatic while also feeling like I had come full circle. Sometimes I just need to hear a song one more time. Not for nostalgia. Not to relive anything. More like a marker in time. Certain songs have carried me through. It is almost like getting to rub that song for good luck once again. Like a touchstone to move onto the next chapter. So check it out if you have never heard it:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYQfWJNWe3I(eyes closed) The lyrics are here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/steviewonder/as.html

Thank you mystery man at the American Airlines Center for the hookup.