I’m still reeling over Maurice White. Yeah, I still have my Earth, Wind & Fire on my CDs, my iPod, my iPhone, on three laptops and a desktop. Phillip Bailey and White’s brothers-in-arts are still here. Their music will always be with me and with us. But it feels like a little piece of my relative (if not contrived) innocence from my pre-Humanities, pre-Hebrew-Israelite days died with White Wednesday night.
Here’s what I wrote about those days of deliberately-induced blissful naiveté, Earth, Wind & Fire included, in my memoir:
“For me, this boy, this tweener, an active imagination and an even more animated dream life was critical. Living in between the hustle and bustle of “The City,” — Manhattan and the other four boroughs of New York — and the relative quiet of the ritzy suburbs immediately north of it was everything and everyone I knew before the age of twelve. Just three blocks after the elevated 2 Subway line ended at East 241st Street in the Bronx was where “Mount Vernon, New York” began. From the hard concrete sidewalks and green street signs of New York to the crumbling light blue slate and dark blue signs were my only indications that I had truly left the city. This despite the claims of so many I knew that upstate New York began somewhere above 125th or 207th Street in Manhattan. I knew by the time I was twelve that, sleepy bedroom suburb or not, Mount Vernon had more features in common with the Bronx and upper Manhattan than most city folk were willing to recognize.
“My only links to the great metropolis to the south were WNBC-TV (Channel 4), Warner Wolf — with his famous “Let’s go to the video tape line — doing sports on WCBS-TV (Channel 2), and WABC-AM 77 and WBLS-FM 107.5 on the radio. I found the AM station more fun to listen to, but I also liked listening to the sign-off song WBLS played at the end of the evening, Moody’s Mood for Love, with that, ‘There I go, There I go, The-ere I go…’ start. Music had been an important part of my imagination in ’79, with acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Christopher Cross, Billy Joel and The Commodores. Not to mention Frank Sinatra, Queen, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album. The music also made me feel like I was as much a part of New York as I was a part of Mount Vernon. It left me thinking of the ozone and burnt rubber smell that I noticed as soon as I would walk down into the Subway system in Manhattan. But aside from my occasional slip of the tongue — ‘warda’ for ‘water’ and ‘bawwgt’ for ‘bought’ — I didn’t sound or act much like a New Yawker. Still, I discovered something about New York from afar. I could sneak up to the rooftop of my apartment building, 616 East Lincoln, a five-story complex of three connected brick buildings with Tudor-style facades and a concrete-stone foundation. I’d find the exit to the roof unlocked and see the tops of the Twin Towers floating over some low-lying clouds on an otherwise sunny day. The symbols of the greatest city on Earth seemed to float toward the heavens on those days, and me with them.
“Besides the occasional reminder of life outside of my world, of Mount Vernon, I was the center of my own universe. Mount Vernon was but a stage on which my life played out, a place I hoped would stay this way forever. I was an eleven-year-old who thought that my world was the world. I lived my life like Philip Bailey and Maurice White would’ve wanted me to. I came to see ‘victory in a life [sic] called fantasy’ as my own life, living as if my imagination and dreams could be made into reality. All I had to do was wish it so.”
Because of what I went through during the Boy @ The Window years, I had to learn to get over my idiot ex-stepfather’s abuse to continue listening to Earth, Wind & Fire between ’82 and ’89. The late Maurice Eugene Washington was a fan as well, and I didn’t want us to both like the same music. Who the heck knew what was going on in his head when he heard “Fantasy” or “After The Love Is Gone,” anyway?
All I know is, there won’t be another group like the one Maurice White founded in ’69, the year I was born. All I can do is hold on to my precious Earth, Wind & Fire music, and the imagination that it helped spark. All I can do now is hope that someone can even begin to approach the kind of ethereal and powerfully Black-and-proud mix of music that White, Bailey, et al. were able to construct for nearly a decade. One can fantasize, right?