My Pop Life #223 : Overjoyed – Stevie Wonder


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Overjoyed – Stevie Wonder

And though you don’t believe that they do
They do come true
For did my dreams
Come true when I looked at you
And maybe too, if you would believe
You too might be
Overjoyed, over loved, over me

*

In the summer of 2008 the Olympic Games were held in China.  We had booked a holiday to start soon after that to visit to my brother Paul who was working in Nanjing.  He’d been in China for five years at that point, working in education, and it was time to see him there.  HE had made the intrepid move east after living in the Dominican Republic for five years, and a few months back in the UK had confirmed that he couldn’t live in England.  He’s now been in China some 16 years.  We flew to Shanghai and caught the bullet train in to our hotel in the French Concession area of the city.  We felt some initial trepidation that China might be a little racist, but the sensational performance of Usain Bolt in those Olympics, winning three gold medals and breaking the World Record each time meant that Jenny was greeted with joy everywhere we went.  In fact people asked if they could take photos with her.  You could of course argue that this is still racist, but I know which I prefer. We spent a couple of days with Paul who had come to Shanghai to greet us, doing the Art Museum, the old town, the finest restaurants and so on.

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We would be seeing this scenery for real shortly

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Then we travelled south, by plane, to Guilin.  There were Moon Cakes that night, and the following morning we embarked onto a riverboat for the four-hour journey downstream on the River Li to Yangshuo.  It remains one of the most astounding journeys of my life, through the karst limestone willow-pattern hills which were eye-poppingly wonderful in every direction.

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We disembarked past the cormorant fishermen, now a tourist staple of an older way of life and caught a taxi to The Giggling Tree, a converted farm which Paul’s ex-boyfriend Colin had recommended.  Surrounded by paddy fields and those spectacular hills, we relaxed and explored.  Took little wooden craft out on the river reminiscent of the gondola or the punt.  One night we went to a theatrical performance literally on the river with hundreds of performers, part dance, part music, choreographed and directed brilliantly by Zhang Yimou, the same Zhang Yimou who had just directed the Olympic Opening Ceremony in the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing (and was also responsible for many of the finest Chinese films of the last 20 years such as Ju Dou and Raise The Red Lantern).

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The rumours doing the rounds then regarded the performers at that Opening Ceremony having to wear nappies because Zhang didn’t approve of tea breaks, or sitting inside an upside down cup for eight hours on the day waiting for their moment.

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The Giggling Tree, Yangshuo

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with a British Olympian by the paddy fields

  One visitor to the hotel was a British woman wearing an Olympic shirt and we found our that she had represented the UK in the rowing competition. Some of the team had stayed on to explore.  One day Jenny and I hired bikes and cycled to the Assembling Dragon Cave there along the river, over bridges and along the paths.  It was the first time Jenny had cycled for a very long time, and the very first time we’d cycled together.  On the way back we stopped by a rustic bridge.  It was a warm day and I decided to remove my shirt and sneakers and jump into the river.  It was exquisite.

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We decided not to take a balloon ride, but enjoyed Yangshuo and the countryside for a few days before flying back north, this time to Nanjing, the old capital of China.  Nanjing lies on the great Yangtze River which flows 3,900 miles across China to the sea, the third longest river in the world.

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Paul was living on the 15th floor of a medium high rise dwelling and from his balcony we could see about three blocks before the smog obliterated the view.  The wind blew from the West, the same direction as the river flowed and it was full of industrial muck and eroded soil and sand.

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We visited his place of work, a college where Paul was headmaster and met some of his colleagues.

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On our last day in Nanjing I suddenly got very ill.  Sweating, fever, aching kidneys, diarrhea, vomiting. I stayed in bed that night as Jenny and Paul went out to the neon lights of the city, and the following morning Paul put us on the train to Shanghai, worried about my health.  I was weak and wobbly but we made it to the hotel and decided not to see a Chinese doctor but just get home and sort it out from there.  Which is what we did.

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Nanjing

The doctor in Brighton decided to X-ray my lungs which had a shadow on them, and conduct a series of blood tests.  Blood tests are a ‘yes or no‘ answer, you can’t just ask ‘what is wrong with this person?‘, you have to ask : ‘is it pneumonia?‘ and when the test says ‘no‘ then you have to ask the next question.  We went through nine of these tests with a negative answer each time.  So I was laid up in bed, weak as a kitten, wheezing a little, losing weight, and reading the entire Harry Potter series from beginning to end.

Meanwhile we had two tickets to see Stevie Wonder at the O2, a week after we’d landed.   Jenny worried that she would have to go with someone else, but I was determined not to miss my hero – only the second time I would see him live in concert.  We had a car, but Jenny didn’t think I should drive for some reason.  So I asked my friend Rory Cameron, one of the Brighton Beach Boys, if he would chauffeur us to the gig in my car for a small fee.  He agreed, bless him and off we went.

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We had pretty good seats – about the 12th row. Stevie was walked out onstage by his daughter Aisha (Isn’t She Lovely!), and rather remarkably opened with a harmonica take on All Blues the first track on Miles Davis‘ classic album A Kind Of Blue.

There were other surprises too among the classics. We’d come on a great night, entirely by chance, because on October 1st 2008 Stevie Wonder played the song  People Make The World Go Round !!! originally by The Stylistics which is one of my favourite songs of all time (see My Pop Life #193).   He also played Chick Corea’s Spain later in the set.  The band were just outstanding.  A quick word here for Nathan Watts the legendary bass player who has been with Stevie since 1974 and is now his musical director.

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Nathan Watts, Detroit’s finest

They played a decent chunk of songs from Hotter Than July (the stunning Lately,  plus As If You Read My Mind, Did I Hear You Say You Love Me and Masterblaster) and Innervisions (Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing, Higher Ground, Visions, Living For The City, Golden Lady) and a nice selection from Songs In The Key Of Life (see My Pop Life #39) including As, Knocks Me Off My Feet, Sir Duke and Isn’t She Lovely.

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Couldn’t have been happier.  Too ill to stand up, but luckily most folk decided to sit and enjoy the music.  Beautiful beautiful music.  Then he played a song that I didn’t know called Overjoyed.  A tune. It is on one of the 1980s LPs which musical snobbery long ago decided weren’t up to scratch after the power and soul of Hotter Than July, which came out in 1980.  It immediately struck me as a completely astounding song and in the ensuing weeks I bought all of Stevie Wonder’s catalogue which I didn’t already own, then decided to chase down all the songs he’d written for other people.  How could I have missed that ?!? Overjoyed is a song he wrote for the double LP Secret Life Of Plants (1979) but was not included on it.  That album was also critically derided but bears repeated listening.  So many ideas there, so much beauty.  The drops of water which form part of the rhythm of this song, the gentle pulse, the melody are all astoundingly good.   Jenny knew it.

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In Square Circle LP released in 1985 also includes Part Time Lover

What else did he play that night?  Wait…OK.  Look.  If you’re a born-again muso nerd like me it is possible nowadays to check on a gig you went to which despite being extremely memorable and seared into your brain for evermore still has huge holes in it for the brain cannot in general retrieve all of the information which is stored inside it.  That is now what the internet is for. And there is a site called setlist.fm which contains much information of this kind.  There are holes in that too, but slowly they are being filled by punters, by muso nerds and pop fans.  Have you forgotten that memory?  Well here it is.  (Of course the gig I went to remains a hole on that website !!  I’ll have to search my memory even deeper…) But yes, Superstition.

Rory was waiting for us outside and I’m sure we burbled at him all the way home to Brighton, but I must confess it was a relief not to be driving for now I was both elated and shrivelling gently.  Further blood tests produced no results, and a 2nd X-ray showed that the shadow had gone on my lungs. Within a few weeks I was up and about and I’d finished the entire Harry Potter series.

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In a tributary of the River Li catching Chinese pneumonia, probably

Jenny and I talked about what that illness was, and how I’d caught it.  We decided that it was a river-borne virus because that was pretty much the only thing which we hadn’t done together – a process of elimination I’d used in Mexico back in 1980 when I caught Hepatitus B and Paul hadn’t (see My Pop Life #72) and we established that I’d had sex with Xochitl in Pie De La Cuesta and he had not. When we caught up with her later in Mexico City she was also jaundiced like me.   But this time we just didn’t know what it was.  Maybe the Chines doctors would have identified it immediately but then maybe I wouldn’t have been allowed to fly with Asian flu – a similar scenario again to the Mexico trip.

The other post-script worth mentioning is that a few weeks after we’d returned from China, news came in on October 10th that one of the hot-air balloons in Yangshuo had crashed – plummetted to the earth, killing 4 Dutch tourists and injuring the other three people on board.

So the moral of the story is this – if you get a chance to go to Yangshuo – take it. Truly breathtaking place. Don’t be tempted by the hot air balloon ride.  And – if you get the chance to see Stevie Wonder – go. We all need to feel joy.  Seek him out.  He is a mighty force for good in a dangerous scary world.  He is a legend and a half.  My favourite songwriter, my favourite singer.

Overjoyed live at the O2 Sept 12th 2008

 

The LP track with water droplets as beats :

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Robert Milner
    Jun 30, 2019 @ 15:53:53

    I’ve been ill myself once like that before; and never did figure out where it came from. At least you have your river. Haha! Well, that’s disingenuous, I have my suspicions. I remember with ‘hilarity’ the response from health and safety; ‘did you keep any samples?’. Sure, bottling stuff up was top of my list of priorities as I felt like I was about to acquire the secret of life on the B&Q lino.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. Adaeze
    Jul 14, 2019 @ 21:04:49

    I just wrote a post that has Overjoyed featured in it and found your post at the bottom of my page.
    I enjoyed the recount of your adventures and I hope you’re better now.
    I hope I’ll get to see Stevie Wonder live in concert pretty soon too.

    Like

    Reply

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