I was sitting on my bed, working on a blog post that never came to fruition and listening to Minnie Riperton’s Greatest Hits album, when a live interlude started playing. The interlude, “Another Moment With Minnie,” is one of the two or three live clips that pepper the album. It follows “You Take My Breath Away”, a duet with George Benson. (I can’t describe how hard it is to describe why I love this song, but I’ve never heard anything like it. More on Minnie’s amazing-ness later).
Still, when the live interlude started playing, I ignored it and continued working on the blog post that never came to fruition. I am a staunch opposer of live recordings of things; in fact, if I’d noticed there were any live bits in the album at all I would have given pause to buying it. I don’t believe in live recordings unless they are absolutely necessary (“Benny and the Jets”, “Baby, I Love Your Way”, and the live Woodstock version of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” come to mind. And, of course, the Simon and Garfunkel live in Central Park album…okay, so maybe I make a lot of exceptions.). Time and time again, live recordings that sporadically play on my Pandora stations cause me to Google a way to prevent them from coming up again, because it disturbs the flow. People singing or shouting or whistling in audiences drives me bananas if I’m not actually in said audience. The magic of live music is that it’s happening in a particular moment in time. Who wants to listen to canned improvisation?
Sorry–end rant. I’ve never actually sat down and thought about why live recordings of things irk me. But I suppose that is why–the canned spontaneity of it all.
Anyway, I’m listening to Minnie Riperton and subconsciously eye-rolling at the thought of being made to think I’m at a concert that happened 30+ years ago when in reality I’m sitting on a tiny bed in a tiny room, working on a blog post that never came to fruition, and suddenly I hear Minnie say something about reincarnation. All the blood rushes to my brain. I stop what I’m doing, reach over, pick up the needle, and do my best to rewind it the old-fashioned way: by studying the grooves in the vinyl and gingerly placing the needle back down.
This is what she says:
Thank you very much. I’m glad you enjoyed that. People do talk about reincarnation…that sounds pretty good. But, I don’t recollect anything prior to this, and I don’t know about you, I haven’t gotten a message yet saying I’m coming back…so i intend to have a great time while I’m here, and I think you should too.
I’m not exactly sure what year she said this. The way that she says it makes me believe it must have been after January 1976, which is when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, and was given six months to live because the cancer had spread. She surpassed this, of course, going on to live for another three years, perform, and make music. She died in the summer of 1979, only 31 years old.
According to my mom, who was starting her first job at the time, and what a bit of research says, she didn’t publicize that she was terminally ill. So this moment must have been one of the very few moments in which she felt like she could express what she was feeling.
I rediscovered Minnie Riperton last month, when mom and I were driving home from the casino. We’d just had a hot date at both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casino (because that’s what you do when one has the outlets but the other has Summer Shack). I only really knew the songs “Lovin’ You,” which pretty much everyone knows because of that crazy high note she hits, and “Inside My Love,” which is pretty much a musical interpretation of sex. (According to Wikipedia, some radio stations wouldn’t play it because she says the words, “will you come inside me?” Man, if they could only see us now…for example this song, which was playing, unedited, at the Starbucks I went to yesyerday. Warning: not safe for work. Don’t open this if you are faint of heart).
When I heard “Inside My Love,” which is totally safe for work because it is a beautiful song that doesn’t talk about booties bouncing, I remember being blown away. I can even recall where I was when I first heard it. I was in the New School University Center. Do you know how hard it is to be emotionally moved in the New School University Center? Especially when you’re typing away furiously at a submission that’s due in an hour or so, and you’re surrounded by a bunch of other students who are having trouble printing, and you know that’s going to be you soon? It’s pretty hard to feel inspired.
Even still, I took a moment to mentally bookmark “Inside My Love” and save it for later. It was different from anything I’d ever heard before, even from her contemporaries. But then I forgot about her. Because that’s what our generation does. We have short attention spans.
Until I put in Mom’s Minnie Riperton’s Greatest Hits CD on this past Valentine’s Day, which looked about as old as me, and realized that all of her songs are like that. Artful. You could tell that the writers and producers, who were often Minnie herself and her husband, put a lot of work into creating audio masterpieces. For every. Single. song. Thoughtful. Unique.
This would have been impressive for anybody to do, but add that to her ability to sing in whistle-register and things get REALLY amazing. Diana Ross had maybe 30% of the talent Minnie had, and she had a career that was much, much longer.
Which is why for some reason, listening to Minnie fills me with a sense of sadness, not unlike the one I felt when I discovered, as a child, that Marvin Gaye was shot by his very own father on April Fool’s Day on the day before his 45th birthday. I was years late to the grievance train; still, listening to artists like Minnie and Marvin, I feel what you feel when a really dear friend has passed and you imagine all of the things he or she could have done if she’d lived longer.
The thing about Minnie Riperton is, in all of her interviews and interludes, she is so happy. She’s accomplished her dream, found her purpose. In all of Minnie’s songs you can hear a genuine love of love, and a love of life, that seems almost nonexistent in a lot of mainstream music nowadays. It sounds weird, and this post is definitely going in a place I wasn’t quite expecting, but I feel like I know her. And she certainly has left a legacy–through her music, and of course through her daughter, Maya Rudolph.
As I handed this greatest hits album over to Norman from Norman’s Sound and Vision to ring up (Norman’s is kind of the best; it’s where I got my last three records) he asked me, “Do you know who her daughter is?”
“Of course!” I smiled proudly, the way only a 23 year-old girl who looks like she should still be in high school but nevertheless frequents record shops anyway can smile. “She’s Maya Rudolph’s mom!” I explained that my parents had listened to her. Mom had told me this in the car on our way home from seeing Bridesmaids in theaters.
Norman looked incredulous, not at the fact that I knew but more so at the fact that he hadn’t known until somewhat recently that Minnie Riperton was Maya Rudolph’s daughter. Norman looks like he’s at least in his sixties, so that’s a long time for him to go without knowing.
Coincidentally, I also bought a Joni Mitchell album alongside Minnie’s, unaware that they were connected in some fashion, and unaware that in this purchase I would be acquiring not one, not two, but three albums that were kind of sad (the third one is a collection of Otis Redding songs called Lonely and Blue…so, yeah). I was looking for Blue but, after not finding it, picked up a copy of Clouds instead. It ends with “Both Sides Now,” the only song off of that album that I really knew.
I’ve started to look at all of my albums as something like my children, except way better because I get to decide what they are and who they become to me. They all have specific purposes. I’ve discovered that Clouds is going to be a great thesis writing album, mostly because of the way the songs fabulously blend into one another to create one long dreamy feeling. Diana Ross’s Greatest Hits and Minnie Riperton’s Greatest Hits are sing-along albums for sure. The Mamas and the Papas and The Fifth Dimension are great for reading, and the Etta James record I ordered from Amazon recently, as well as my George Benson record, are going to be perfect for Sunday morning work sessions.
So, my point of this post? I’m not really sure. I guess it’s to say that there is something magical about live recordings every now and then. And to spread the Minnie Riperton gospel.