Little Richard in a Red Suit Getting into a Red Cadillac Convertible It’s sometime in the 1980s in New York City. David Bowie brings a photograph of Little Richard into the studio. Shows it to his collaborator, Nile Rodgers. Says, Nile, darling, that’s what I want my album to sound like. Rodgers parks his Fender Stratocaster so he can Scotch-tape it— the photo of Richard Wayne Penniman in a red suit getting into a red Cadillac convertible—to the hexagonal piece of Plexiglas above the recording console: a black man with Jeri curled hair and loads of Attitude, enough to get him lynched in the South in the 1950s. And though there are no words for what it says, the photo with the deckled edge, we glimpse Little Richard and the sum total of his fame thus far. The lack of a smile I might translate as: the world adores you until it doesn’t. David Bowie adores him. And knows tutti frutti means “all fruits” in Italian, that A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a- wop-bam-boom is untranslatable: a drum-beat rhythm the Architect of Rock 'n' Roll claims to have dreamed then risen from deep sleep to repeat like a shibboleth or clandestine chord to be performed to gain entry into whatever ungated heaven is left him, left us. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road Lucinda Williams’ song unfolds in a mythic South, her telling kids, whether real or imagined, to pick up after she goes. Hence, the car wheels on a gravel road. I hate to say it, but the wheel is what we put a Michelin or Goodyear or Firestone or Pirelli onto: it’s the mount. That aside, the singer is telling kids to do something. Her intention to love them and be someone they trust, but Creation is restless. Part of her wishes to be gone, on the road. She fantasizes summertime in the South, though she knows the godawful history like it’s hers. In the song, either side of this metaphorical roadway, there are July-ripe cotton fields for mile upon mile. Louisiana is a big Crayola box of coloration. And what better metaphor for the human condition than the Crayola box with the built-in sharpener: wanting all the colors. If there is a gladiator, you need blood red as daybreak over open country. Gladiatorial gore that cottons the floor of the Colosseum. The world being what it is, the imaginary champion is awaiting wound-stitching and a bed of straw. Maybe a woman when strong again—if she’s called in from the fields, she carries the rage of leaf-fall: the scents of the world and lovers falling back after lovemaking, looking up to watch the so-called wheel of night-sky stars turn.
Roy Bentley, a finalist for the Miller Williams prize for Walking with Eve in the Loved City, has published eight books, including American Loneliness from Lost Horse Press, who is bringing out a new & selected. He is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in New Ohio Review, Rattle, The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, and Shenandoah among others. Hillbilly Guilt, his latest, won the Hidden River Arts / Willow Run Poetry Book Award and awaits publication.