Soul singer is a full-time job. With its little rituals, its necessary discipline: warming up your voice, grasping a new terry towel and lowering your head before entering the stage, lifting your arms when you get to the edge, then screaming and sweating, acting like you’d been dumped in a hotel at daybreak, as if you’d written the song you’re about to sing in the dressing room before the show, as if the tears were fresh.
You do this for 10 years, 15 years… 40 years. And the job becomes a part of you. Ritual becomes routine, and discipline is just there for comfort. You almost wouldn’t need to play anymore, to get dressed, to seek refuge behind the mannerisms required by the profession. You write lyrics on a bit of paper to make sure they’re really there. You do three or four vocal exercises while staring out at the Seine. You keep on your sweatshirt. After all, soul plays on pageantry, but isn’t it, above all, sincere music?
So there you have it: Lee Fields, in track suit and sneakers, standing on the Pont des Arts (still weighed down by its millions of locks), singing as if he’d been dumped there on a bench like an untouchable. Like he’d come for one last chance to touch that lock he’d hung with her. He sings loudly enough to disrupt an interview with a local politician, loudly enough that tourists come little by little to clump around him. He hams it up; it’s no surprise. It’s no longer the job that became part of him, but the essence of soul itself. It’s the last affectation of a genre that always thought one should scream his sorrows.