Richie Havens, 1941-2013

Back in 1996, friends of mine helped Adam Yauch organize the first Tibetan Freedom concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I went out for the show and got a backstage pass and spent the weekend loitering in closer proximity to a bunch of rock stars than I usually did. The Beastie Boys were there, of course, and the Smashing Pumpkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine and the Foo Fighters and the Fugees and No Doubt and Yoko Ono and Bjork and Beck. So many famous people—it was weird, getting used to it, getting less less and less starstruck with every famous ace you’d see, watching them mill around and chat with each other like nothing was at all a big deal. But there was one person who sort of glowed, who, whenever he was around, no one, not even all these stars, could stop looking at. (Well, actually, there were two people like that. Bjork is like that, too. She is a magical pixie-elf who radiates sparkly charm dust, and no one could not stare at her and smile whenever she floated past, either.) But throughout the whole weekend—which had something of a modern hippie tinge to it, what with all the monks walking around in robes and it being in San Francisco and all—whenever a certain old man in a dashiki was in the room, talking nearby in a lovely, groovy, gravelly-soft voice you recognized from your childhood, you’d hear whispers and see people repeatedly glance in his direction. In that atmosphere, in that environment, he was the realler deal than anyone else there. He carried a peace-love-and-understanding vibe more honestly, it seemed, than other people. Even the stars were starstruck. Thurston Moore leans down towards Ad-Rock’s ear. “Fuckin’ Richie Havens, man!”

He was awesome. Born in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn in 1941, Richie Havens died of a heart-attack yesterday at his home in Jersey City.