Bobby Womack has a life’s worth of soul. What do you think soul is? I think I have a sense of what it is to have a soul, or have soul. But I only have a sense, nothing close to a definition. Listen to a few of Bobby’s tracks, though, and I get a step closer to a definition. The man is 69 years old, has been performing for over 50 years, and has demonstrated gruff, deep, powerful soul every minute of the way. Many of his songs are tinged with regret, including my favorite Womack track, only released in 2012, called “Please Forgive My Heart.” In the refrain, Bobby sings, “Please forgive my heart. It’s not that the problem lies anywhere in there. I’m a liar, I’m in a dream, going my own way, nothing to rely on.”
And boy, does Bobby croon it. He croons it, and then the instrumentals relax, they let his words dig into your heart. The man makes me wince with the pain he evokes through his voice. Listen to the song. Read the lyrics. I think great music touches a chord inextricably tied up with the human experience, and evokes emotions that every human knows. There is no country, no religion, no person in this world that does not, to some extent, understand what it means to ask someone to “Please forgive my heart”, to know that “It’s not that the problem lies anywhere in there.” Not a person on earth has lived a life and NEVER felt that he or she might be a liar, a dreamer, a wandering soul, trapped alone in a body. Pain is a universal human experience.
If pain is human, then Bobby Womack is very human. He was in Sam Cooke’s band, and married Sam’s widow three months after Sam died, which was seen as so scandalous that it derailed Bobby’s career for many years. He had a son who committed suicide at the age of 21. He had another son who died as an infant. Bobby has written about a cocaine addiction starting in the 1960s and only ending with his entry into rehab in the 1980s. He has diabetes, and is a colon cancer survivor. And now doctors suspect he has Alzheimer’s. But it’s funny how those facts are the ones we might choose to remember, in his life. 69 years of living means Bobby made a hundred decisions every day, every year, that made him the man he is and has been. And nothing’s more human than that: to live a life every day for 69 years, to remember only bits and pieces about that life, and to be remembered only for even less.
Unfortunately, Bobby’s tracks aren’t available for download, but give a listen to “Please Forgive My Heart”.
And just for kicks, here’s Sam Cooke, live from 1963. Bobby Womack came from this time, and is still here with us, sharing the soul.