Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand…
I spent most of my childhood under the impression that all of Stevie Wonder’s songs were about me.
My mother told me that The Original Musiquarium was released the same year that I was born, which only solidified my theory. “That girl thinks that she’s so smart, that soon she’ll have my heart…” I enjoyed the simple piano melodies that were warm and easy for me to understand with a child’s heart. And of course, jam sessions on Sesame Street and The Cosby Show didn’t hurt.
As I got older and realized I was never really Stevie’s muse (”Isn’t She Lovely” was written about his daughter after all), however I started to really understand the deeper messages in the music. The haunting acoustic gem “Visions” is about a world without racism that Stevie pictures in his mind. The song is a product of someone who can’t even see the colors that shade discrimination in our world, yet is affected by it every day. Stevie’s lyrics encourage me as a writer to speak from an honest place and not to shy away from idealism.
Stevie Wonder’s craftsmanship with melody and his artistry with words are pure genius. But behind many timeless classics, there is one universal theme: love. The love shared between two lovers, family, nature, the world, and oneself. He lifts you on the cloud of a fairytale love, but you can return to his songbook when the love comes crashing down: “You took me riding on your rocket and gave me a star, but then a half mile heaven, you dropped me back down to this cold cold world.” Stevie’s magic is that he simply tell the story of life, without pretense.
An icon doesn’t just stand the test of time, but recreates history. In the 60’s, Stevie Wonder, along with Marvin Gaye, moved away from the polished innocuous Motown doo-wop love songs and lent their voices to the social change of the tumultuous times. And, as modern day oracles, they both created a legacy of stories in our nation’s history that should never be forgotten. Stevie Wonder has used his music to give a voice to the inner city silenced with poverty:
“His hair is long, his feet are hard and gritty/ He spends his life walking the streets of New York City/ He’s almost dead from breathing in air pollution/ He tried to vote but to him there’s no solution/ Living just enough, just enough for the city.”
He spread awareness about apartheid in South Africa, and helped to make a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His musical style continues to influence virtually every contemporary artist. You can hear it in Mark Ronson’s soul-school productions (”Sugar”), the easily identified Neptunes’ sound (Talking Book), ?uestlove’s way with the drums (”Higher Ground”) and the forever changed voice of R&B (Boyz II Men). His songbook has inspired young lyricists (Ne-Yo), and another singer/songwriters who stroke the keys of a grand piano in Stevie’s way (Alicia Keys, John Legend).
Treasured writers can go the distance, and with a pen etch their souls on a blank page. Thanks to the gift of his artistry, Stevie Wonder has recorded the story of the human experience, and made changes along the way.