Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gimme Shelter: Merry Clayton’s Scream of the Decade

What happened that night? The Valkyrie circled above black clouds, ready to break cover. 1969. The earth itself was unstable. Mick Jagger sounds defiant but scared -“See the fire is sweepin'/ Our very street today/ Burns like a red coal carpet/ Mad bull lost its way.” Mad bull?

Merry Clayton gives up the ghost
O Lord Gimme Shelter. The Stones sang of Apocalypse Right Now. The center could no longer hold. Every musician for himself – or herself. Even the harmonica has a death rattle. And singing backup was Merry Clayton. On her own among the most satanic of lyrics – “Rape, murder! / It's just a shot away/ It's just a shot away.”

She holds on tight for the first two shrieking invocations. But as she approaches for a final time, at three minutes into the song, something happens. Something no one, not even Merry, was prepared for or has been able to repeat in the same way — and never will. That’s the solitude of true magic.

Alone and abandoned, she takes war and rape and murder and poverty and riots and racism and blasts it all into a howling jet stream scream, mainlining out into darkness.

And her voice — that has held on for dear life until now — gives up the ghost. It's too much for one of us, let alone a nation, and the voice cracks on ‘murder’, and in doing so, releases an eternal, auditory bookend to that most confusing of times, an almost inhuman plea of frustration, that we must go beyond our flesh — but cannot. We just can't.We have limits.

Listen carefully at that moment and you can hear Jagger call out in shock – because he knows it can never get better – or worse – than this. And it never did.

We’re told “[Merry] suffered a miscarriage upon returning home, attributed by some sources to the strain involved in reaching the highest notes.1

Let’s hope instead that the scream was heard by a slumbering god, hidden in a celestial cave who awoke uncertain of himself, confused by a dream about beautiful dolls he'd made long ago that were now singing in their chains like the sea.

1‘Gimme Shelter’ Wikipedia