I bought a compilation album of Otis Redding songs called Dock of the Bay(not to be confused with the album of the same name) back in the summer of 1988 during my love affair with Motown, Stax and Atlantic soul. I bought it with one of my first pay packets from a godawful slaveboy holiday job carrying out illegal tests in a condemned soils lab.
Funny, I appreciated those first measly pay packets more than any other pay packets I ever got. In my case, the capitalist dream lost its sheen with a fierce rapidity. Also, when you’re used to living on nothing in a world full of stuff; when window shopping has become a way of life that actually somehow gives you pleasure; suddenly having access to actual things feels like a major game changer.
(Like a little lamb to the slaughter…)
Those six summer Saturdays were the best god damn shopping days of my life. A lusty consumer orgy of t-shirts, tennis rackets(well only one, but it sounded weird just saying “tennis racket” – go on try it yourself), tennis balls, sweat pants, a coffee break like a grown up in the mall’s poncy terrace café, records, jumpers, after shave, boxer shorts, blank cassettes, shoes, a new coat for goodness sakes. I feel nauseous just thinking of my wanton extravagance.
Like the big eighties dumbo I was, living inside bad movies instead of real life, it would take me roughly another sixteen years for the concept of savings to inculcate in me. SPEND SPEND SPEND, live now pay later! Get a giant fifties car, put on some Ray Bans, go on a crazy road trip and stick it to the man! We shall purge ourselves of the choking naff old ways with new things, styled in somehow cooler old ways. Or by God we’ll bankrupt ourselves trying.
I instantly fell in love with Otis’s voice when I first heard it. Prior to buying Dock of the Bay, I’d recorded a radio broadcast of his set at the 1967 Monterey Festival where he did a great rendition of Loving You and Try a Little Tenderness. Wow. I listened to that tape more than ought to be legal. I’d never heard anyone sing that way before or since. His voice resonates with hurt so damn well. It bleeds soul. A hard-to-pin-down aggregation of croaking toads, squawking roosters, and fists full of rusty nails gargled in a thick caramel soup. Greater than the sum of its parts.
Alas, Otis’s life was cut short in a plane crash in 1967, aged just twenty-six years old. Like Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, we can only imagine what beautiful music he might have made if he’d lived longer.
So many good songs on this album. I also loved Loving You, Hard to Handle, Love Man and Mr. Pitiful.
Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay is such an overplayed cliché at this point but it will always remain a disarming classic for me. It cuts me in two any time I listen to it. It teases all my blues out at once and unites them somehow into a feelgood anthem of cathartic remorse. A rare form of cognitive dissonance only evoked by art.
I distinctly recall listening to this after going running aged sixteen or seventeen. It was not a happy time in my life. I’d lie on the car bonnet, catching my breath, letting the breeze evaporate some of the sweat from my t-shirt and sweat pants, as I looked up into the sky and meditated on escaping my home town and the hellish situation I was in. I wince when I remember that now, cos ultimately, I never made it. I was done with the old town, but it seems the old town was not done with me. So this song has an added poignancy for me now.
The album’s left town now, but the song will stay with me forever.
Here’s Sittin on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding: