I heard “Stairway To Heaven” on the car radio tonight, for the first time in a long time.
I have heard “Stairway To Heaven”perhaps three hundred times in my life,
having been born at the right time to have been inundated with it constantly
on the radio stations of my childhood. I do not own a copy of it for that reason,
I’ve never needed one if I wanted to hear it, all I have to do is think about it
and every note is immediately present in my head as it was written and played,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be, world without end…
in a bag on my couch is a gift from a friend, a CD by Fela Kuti I have not yet heard.
I have heard much of Fela in my life, but never on the radio that I recall
except for the occasional show I’ve caught from the left of the dial
on community stations or public radio or lately on specialty Internet streams
devoted to the propagation of things not heard by many of us who have drowned
for years in the same old songs or new carbons of the same old songs. I have not heard
Fela Kuti three hundred times in my life, and I do not blame “Stairway To Heaven” for that,
it is what it is, and what it is is ubiquitous and perhaps as good as anything Fela wrote
but until now I’ve never had the chance to decide for myself.
Fela Kuti first began recording in the late 1960s, much as did Led Zeppelin.
What would be different if I’d heard Fela in my youth as much as I’ve heard “Stairway To Heaven?”
I’ll never know. I do know I’ll have to work hard and incessantly now to embed anything by Fela Kuti
in quite the same way as “Stairway To Heaven” has been embedded. I assume it will be worth the effort
from what I’ve heard of Fela so far, but I cannot help thinking that I may have been robbed
of something. Years have gone by with me hearing snatches of “Stairway” at odd moments and thinking
that I really didn’t like the song, but much like “Yankee Doodle” it’s one of those things that sits in me
as soundtrack or background, informing me, insinuating itself into the meaning of dates and places
that might have felt different with Afrobeat in its place. And in that alternate world of multiple possibilities,
who knows where I’d be? What arpeggios might I have learned to play upon my guitar
if “Stairway” hadn’t been the first thing to rise in my fingers when a resemblance to it was detected
in some random sequence I’d noodled forth?
I say now that if there had been a universe where a Fela Kuti song could have been heard
as often as “Stairway To Heaven” by suburban American teenagers,
I would have been willing to see what glittered there,
what I’d have learned, what music I might have made,
where I would have ended up.
Would I have said it then? Who knows? But I never got the chance to say it
and listening again to “Stairway” in my head I can say I am angry unto death with this unchosen path
and I don’t know if
there’s still time to change the road we’re on.