Jessica Williams, jazz pianist, composer


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Ali for President!

I loved to watch Muhammad Ali in the ring. Out of it, too. I know that boxing, even in its most controlled and professional form, is looked down on by many women, and even by many men, as being nothing less than pure barbarism.

I would've agreed with all my heart, had I not watched the beautiful phenomenon of the well-spoken, supremely confident, mesmerizing, smiling, witty, handsome, and downright funny Ali.

I was young and my country was a mess (as it is now) and he was so passionate and unique and full of power and life that I just couldn't NOT fall in love with him.

A lot of us did. He was right up there with the incredible James Brown.

He made us want to DANCE.

He was up there with BB King, too. You could swoon to the music that came out of that guitar, and you could get that same feeling, just watching Ali bounce around the ring, as graceful as a ballerina and as deadly as a rattlesnake.

Somehow, BB's guitar and Ali's style went hand-in-hand.

There was a time when the fight promoter, Don King, had set up a tour. I believe it was the fight between Ali and George Forman. They held that fight in Africa.

They called it The Rumble in the Jungle. Ali fell in love with the people of Zaire, and he would taunt Foreman in every possible way, before they ever got in the ring, making Foreman madder and madder.

The people of Zaire didn't really take to George, who was always grumbling and complaining about something or other. They LOVED Ali.

This was back around 1974 or 75 I think.

I remember Ali said something about his trip that got international news coverage and that I never forgot.

He said that he wouldn't go to war and kill people that hadn't done him any harm.

He said that they were yellow, and he was black, and that the war was made by powerful white men to keep the colored people down, no matter what color they were.

If they weren't white, these powerful white men wanted to kill them. And he wouldn't stoop to that.

He said that he was on a plane, coming into Zaire. It was piloted by a black pilot and a black copilot, and all of the crew were black too!

And he said it made him feel WONDERFUL, like he was on another planet, where color didn't matter!

He said he felt like he was HOME, and it felt so natural to see that black man flying that huge plane.

None of us (me or my friends) back then thought that Ali was a coward to take that stand and refuse to fight and kill people he didn't know. We didn't think ANYTHING could scare the invincible Muhammad Ali.

We all were with him one hundred percent. He was the King of the Ring.

He made up poems that made us laugh. He exuded a confidence that was so easy and free... not brutish at all. Not like our present-day strong men with bodies that are all pumped up on steroids and shiny and "ripped" and ready for the camera at every second.

Ali was soft and smooth by the present-day standard. He was gorgeous to look at, even when he was getting beaten. The few times he lost a fight, we'd all get depressed. Ali was our hero.

He was a real fighter, and yet he was also a man of integrity, a gentle man, and a man that didn't go around picking fights or judging other people.

He was the first to tell the kids (that meant us) to stay off of drugs, and to not eat candy because we'd all get cavities.

Candy! Candy!!!

I remember him saying "I ate candy and I got four bad teeth."

And he showed them to the camera.

He pried his mouth open and he pointed and counted.

"They hurt," he mumbled through his open mouth full of fingers, "and I ate candy. That's what candy did to ME."

What a time that was! What a man he was!

We were listening to The Beatles, singing "All You Need is Love", wearing out our copies of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. We were into Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan.

We were into playing drums and guitars and pianos, and we were into making paintings and writing poetry and talking to each other about the size of the Universe while getting high on pot and drinking Boone's Apple Farm Wine or Country Club Malt Liquor, while lying on our backs and picking out Aldeberan or Ursa Major or Polaris, holding onto the cool grass so we wouldn't fall into the sky.

Then all the boys went to Vietnam.

And some came home dead, and others came home part dead or so messed up that we didn't know who they were anymore.

THEY didn't know who they were anymore.

We KNEW it was wrong.

We KNEW that killing was wrong and we marched and we sang our peace songs.

I cried for Jeff who never came back. I cried for Richard, who came back but wasn't in his body anymore.

Just like in "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

It "was, but it wasn't" Richard.

I watched all this and now, writing about it, I can almost feel it all around me, and it's happening again, except that we don't have Ali's strength of conviction, or John Lennon to mobilize us, or friends to get high with and march with and play music with.

It's all so politically correct now.

We're like robots or mentats now.

How did we forget Ali? How did we rationalize our lives away like we did?

How can we just blindly accept what's going on in our world today?

How can we reconcile our "Christian" attitude with the destruction of a whole planet?

Have we gotten so fearful, so irrational, so brain-washed that we believe that we will live forever?

In a word, yes.

The more we devalue life, the easier it is to kill. Our leaders tell us that they have regular meetings with God, and that God tells them to go to war. They tell us it's going to be a "war without end" and that we have to get used to it.

They are claiming "dominion" over the Earth.

The neocons call it Dominionism, and they say it's OK to destroy the Earth because when it's all used up, they'll fly out of their clothes, naked, and go up to heaven.

They say that they don't believe in Darwin, yet they call their brand of government "The New Social Darwinism."

Survival of the fattest.

I just know that Ali wouldn't have been afraid to speak out against that idea.

He didn't want to see kids on drugs.

He didn't want to see kids get cavities in their teeth.

He sure didn't want to see kids get their legs blown off, or worse.

Last I heard, Ali had retired from public life and was living quietly in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife, Yolanda. He doesn't make too many appearances because he's suffering from Parkinson's Syndrome.

But if he were real healthy again (and I pray that he will be) I'll bet he'd say a few things about what our government is up to.

Muhammad Ali should be President.

Even with Parkinson's, he'd be a fine choice.

He understands people, particularly people that aren't fabulously wealthy by birth.

Our present president thinks that almost everyone in America is fabulously wealthy, and that those who aren't deserve what they get in life, which is nothing.

Ali understood the people of Zaire. And the people of Zaire understood Ali.

Ali for President!

Ali for President!



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