Aretha and me


I was living in my dream home: a studio apartment at 24 Cornelia Street, the heart of Greenwich Village. Moving here from small-town Michigan, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Smack dab in the middle of the universe, according to me. Visions of Ruth McKenney’s “My Sister Eileen” romped through my brain. A somewhat unfamiliar reference to most, I suspect, since the book and movie are from 1942. But I had a connection. I’m actually related to Ruth McKenney. It’s distant, through some cousin chain, but it was something I bragged about nonetheless and used to nurture my writer identity, which was in a torrid boxing match with itself.


At some point, I decided I could sing, and that apartment became my laboratory. On my turntable, lodged in the hearth of the non-working fireplace, I had one go-to album, one musical companion: Aretha’s Gold. My favorite track was “Baby, I Love You.” I sang along at high volume, high pitches, hitting all those notes with her. I thought I sounded great. Wisely, I never asked any of my neighbors in the small building, where I was conspicuously situated in the ground-floor front apartment, if they agreed.

I feel such affection looking back on my 24-year-old self. If only she knew what lay ahead, she’d be pretty happy. Aretha would never know how much she helped me specifically, what a big part of my life and evolution she was. Nor would anyone else. She’s hardly an obvious influence. All the better. It was just her and me.

And now she’s gone, but oh so very present. I hope you can hear me Aretha. I hope our view of the soul—that consciousness after death not only exists but has unbounded powers of perception—is true, and that you, Queen of Soul, can hear me singing my songs and your praises.

Thank you my queen, Aretha Louise Franklin.