Sometimes news slips right on by. A few days ago, on October 12, I published my column on the reemergence of the restaurant Suburban House after it burned down over a year ago. Later that day—or perhaps first thing the following morning—I learned that Solomon Burke had passed away at the age of 70 on October 10.
All of sudden my melodramatic headline for my Suburban House piece, “The King is Dead,” looked terribly tone-deaf. It’s not even that good of a hed for the piece itself, but I’m leaving it up there on the off chance some weird cosmic vibe of loss and recognition influenced my fingers while I was in Splice’s content management system. Solomon Burke proudly and rightly owned the title of King of Rock & Soul, and if I were to switch the Suburban House headline to this piece, it wouldn’t do the man justice, since that which made Burke king—his baritone-based infusion of soul, gospel and country—is far from dead.
I was lucky to have caught a Solomon Burke performance with my close friend Lloyd Cargo when we were at the University of Michigan. Burke headlined the Detroit Blues & Jazz Festival, and the man effortlessly blew away the entire crowd. Standard after standard, with accompanying musicians bursting with appreciation, Burke owned the stage. At one point, he stopped one of his orations to gently—very gently—single out a gentleman in the audience with a video camera. He said something along the lines of, “Sir, would you please put away the camera? We need you to stop videotaping now.” The man looked astonished, then embarrassed, then a little surly. Perhaps Burke’s gentle remonstration was at odds with the deed—copyright infringement and all that business. But security wasn’t hailed; no harsh words were uttered—just, “please, sir”—and the show went on.
By now you can find homages to the great vocalist at every major news and culture outlet, so you don’t need me to spill out his timeline and his records.
A friend of mine in Michigan hasn’t listened to any Burke since his passing. But she’s planning on heading to New York this weekend in her squeaky car—she very much needs a break from the state. She plans to listen to Burke along the way, and I can’t think of a better medium to bring some closure to the passing of a legend: the open road, rain, cigarettes, a journey and a destination.