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Try a Little Tenderness - Otis Redding

In 1986, I and my partner saw Jim Cartwright's first play "The Road" upstairs in the smaller space at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The play was a bleak but very funny portrayal of life in a deprived community in the North of England in the time of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The most memorable scene, was of two young men taking two young women they have met in a pub back to their shared flat. At one point it's suggested they play some records and one of the guys says they have some amazing music. One of the girls asks where the music is, and he freezes and dramatically points to the back of the stage where, pinned to the wall, is a solitary single. We are given to understand that this is all the music they've got, not only because they are so poor, but also that this is all the music they need to sustain them. He then, with the air of a priest performing a sacred ritual, puts it on the gramophone. Then followed an incredible moment, the power of which I have never experienced in a theatre before or since. The four characters, visibly transfixed by the passion of the song, remain silent and motionless throughout, as they, and we the audience, listen to the record from start to finish. At the end, after the music had faded away, you could have heard a feather hitting the floor. The audience sat there devastated, exhilarated, exhausted and deeply moved. Time had stood still, and we had been transformed from the Royal Court and completely consumed by the moment, into the soul of a divided country, into the heart of the whole of England. The song was Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness".

In his first speech since being elected President, Joe Biden proclaims "we must restore the soul of America" enjoining the victorious Democrats to show empathy and compassion for the supporters of Trump, and urging everyone to work together to bring unity to a divided country. In others words, to try a little tenderness.

Released in 1966, Otis transforms the original 1932 Ray Noble Orchestra slow foxtrot into an impassioned plea for men to treat their women with more empathy. In 1966, in the context of the civil rights movement, this was also aimed at the conscience of the white population of America. Booker T and the M.G.s (see last post) and the Stax brass section, stay with him - just - all the way, as Otis slowly comes to the boil, finally achieving a magnificent, inarticulate exhortation to make the effort at least, at least, if nothing else.

More than any other medium, whether in the arts, sport or politics, music has been the soul of the United States of American from the invention of the vinyl disc onwards, causing pleasure throughout the globe from jazz, dance band music, blues to pop music, rock and rap onwards. American music, born through the collision of African American culture with the English language of the descendants of their ex slave masters, has become the lingua franca of the world. Great good can come out of great evil if there is a modicum of mutual understanding.

One thing, in the his whole four years of presidential tenure, that Trump didn't try, was a little tenderness.


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