I was in a quiet public place when I read of Charles Bradley’s death. Out loud, I said, “Oh no. Oh, no.” I looked up, around the room, and sighed. I couldn’t believe I was near to crying in public about a man I knew so little, but felt such a connection to. I didn’t even know he had cancer.
The first time I heard and saw Charles Bradley sing I was struck by the impassioned expression on his face. I might not have taken the expressions matching the voice so literally had he not been an older man. In the music video, he walked around city sidewalks, rode public buses and trains, danced through parks, projects, and back alley junk yards while wearing a mechanic’s suit I later found out he had proudly customized himself.
As Charles Bradley sang it looked like a few of his front teeth were missing. He had wrinkles. None of the people in the video were models or dancers. A backing band was blowing into and strumming physical instruments. He seemed to embody nearly everyone who does not exist in pop culture. I think I watched The World (Is Going Up In Flames) four times before realizing I was going to be late for work.
I saw Charles Bradley perform at Turner Hall in Milwaukee, and until then he almost seemed like he wasn’t real. It was as if he was an imaginary soul singer from the past who I had somehow just stumbled upon. But he wasn’t. At Turner Hall the backing band introduced him as the “Screaming Eagle of Soul,” which he indeed proved himself to be. He sang and grooved with a joy and intensity that few people possess at any age.
Being a fan of Charles Bradley is easy. He’s got a great story. And when I say great I don’t mean necessarily nice or easy, as his upbringing and adult life were neither. Learning of his past, he’s the kind of guy you want to root for.
I interviewed Charles for Milwaukee Public Radio in advance of one of his tours. He was living in a large Brooklyn apartment building with his mother. Charles had spent many of his years working as a cook, or other itinerant jobs. As a young man, he played music in a band but the other members went off to Vietnam and, if they did come back, they had no more music left.
Eventually, after living and working all over the country, he moved back to Brooklyn to take care of his ailing, and previously estranged, mother. On the side, he regularly performed a James Brown tribute show, and one night some of the Daptone record label guys (who recorded the also recently departed Sharon Jones) saw him perform. They invited him to write and record songs with them. And from there, at around the age of 60, Charles Bradley first became a recording artist.
Charles eventually recorded R & B covers of songs by Black Sabbath and Neil Young. Who ever expected that? Who ever expected a man caring for his elderly mother to begin a recording and touring career in his 60’s. Not me.
I admire Charles not only because of the music he made, but because of the life he lived through that led to when he started. Charles embodied that if you’re still alive, you can still do and be, that you can become who you imagine from yourself. It might take awhile, and it might be terrible in between, but it is possible. Maybe that’s why Charles Bradley’s passing hit me so hard – that this is the conclusion of his rebirth.
Even before you sang it, I had a sense of your heart of gold. Rest in peace, Brother Charles, you were indeed The Screaming Eagle of Soul. Thank you.
Here is a little teaser footage I shot this morning for a project I’m working on. Beavers have gradually returned to the Milwaukee River and this rehabilitated animal was released in the river this morning. By all accounts, Chip seems to be doing very well in her new natural river island habitat.
Our Fall Conservation issue has arrived. This one took a lot of work, it was a bit of our elephant to deal with. How do you tell a story that is actively changing, and one which your whole organization is based upon? Read to learn about the Schlitz Audubon Conservation Plan, raptors and how humans threaten their survival, and how you can begin to teach young children aspects of conservation.
I picked up this Yamaha DT175 two stroke dual sport from craigslist in Madison for cheap earlier this year. Gave me an easy excuse to have lunch with a good friend I don’t see enough. So far I’ve changed the battery, swapped the carb with a Mikuni a friend had on hand, changed the oil, and replaced the rear wheel (broken spokes), new spark plug and wire, and probably a few other little things I’m forgetting. Oh! The tank is blue now, it had a red one before. I’m in my blue period, so I got suddenly motivated to make it run. I may have to find an extra wheel spacer, still have to replace the shifter shaft seal, and tune the carb. But as of right now it’s at least a runner. Hurrah! That makes everything seem so much easier. Will be a fun bang around on/off road/backup motorcycle soon enough.
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been chosen as the recipient of a generous journalism scholarship. The details and bio for my scholarship are below, go here to see the entire list of UW-Milwaukee journalism scholarships.
Greater Milwaukee Foundation Journal Foundation
Walter Jay and Clara Charlotte Damm Scholarship
Ed Makowski is a poet and writer attending the journalism program at UW-Milwaukee. Ed took the long way in arriving at both college and journalism, and is excited to work toward his degree. Following an internship with the 89.7 WUWM Lake Effect program, Ed worked as the story gathering Pfister Hotel Narrator. He then participated in the Public Allies program and decided to pursue a degree. Ed has published two poetry books, Manifest Density and Carrying a Knife in to the Gunfight, with a few others on the horizon. On the days when he is not in school, Ed works as the Communications Specialist at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center. He is ever excited to discover and distill the next story, whether through journalism, poetry, photography, or any other medium.
It’s not too often that one is able to celebrate in the discovery of an endangered species. A couple of weeks ago, at Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, we realized that there were multiple Rusty Patched Bumble Bees at the Center. The RPBB is the only Endangered Species in Milwaukee County, and discovering them onsite was very exciting for everyone in the organization. This bee faces issues with habitat loss, and for years Center staff and volunteers have been planting native habitat to support native and migratory wildlife. Finding this once common, now endangered bee onsite is quite an exciting event. It’s the very reason that we engage in the work that we do. Helping write the press release regarding this discovery was pretty exciting. Read complete details here.