Herbie Hancock’s 1976 album Secrets has always been a personal favorite of his albums for me. Originally picked up the CD during the infamous Ice Storm of 1998. I remember listening to songs like “Doin It”,”Spider” and “Swamp Rat” while hearing the sound of the wind howling through my earphones during the pauses between the songs. It served the same function for me at that time that jazz and blues of many types does for many people: to paraphrase Art Blakey it washes away the dust of ordinary life. There was the fear of knowing the power might go off yet again,and not come back for days. Seeing Herbie on the back cover standing in a contemplative manner in a summery environment and hearing songs like “Gentle Thoughts” helped me imagine my own ideal climactic atmosphere-both literally and figuratively. Because the album has so many unusual pauses and breaks along with a strong cinematic elements in its funk, it stands apart as unique even amid all Herbie’s Headhunters classics and its one I go back to so often even now. Recently though this album bought fourth a new musical revelation to me via someone else close to me.
As a roving social worker my father often plays music that he enjoys for the differently able’d individuals he works with. A few days ago while I was on the road doing errands he made a special call to me to let me know that he was playing Herbie’s Secrets album in the car and the people driving with him that day responded extremely well to it-remarking that they wanted to know who it was. One of my first reactions is if they were told it was the same musician who did “Rockit” in the 1980’s,they likely wouldn’t believe that. That pointed to the fact that my reaction to my fathers statement showcased a light cynicism of a type that I’ve personally fought against for my entire life. So many excuses ran through my mind: that they must’ve heard the song as part of a video game such as Grand Theft Auto or it reminded them of an action movie they once saw. It was my father who actually settled my thoughts. He went onto say he felt the reason for differently able’d people’s reaction to Herbie’s album had to do with their complete openness to music they’d never heard. That they were unaffected by musical critics and fashionista’s,and therefore took what they heard only for what it was.
This bought to mind that the very qualities that once drew me in an almost metaphysical manner to this album and others like it have not been as uppermost in my mind as they should be. In the new millennium and its advent of the online age,there are not only critics out there but hundreds upon hundreds of them. There is such a wealth of opinions on music now-ranging from revelatory to totally ignorant, that its very easy for even someone such as myself to begin to take music for granted as a culturally influential force. Even the admirable hip-hop musicologist Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson even refers to himself as a “music nerd”. Not only are musicians having to overcome long standing self hate of their art, but music listeners are in the same position. Upon hearing my fathers story, it bought me back to the wonder and awe of the sublime funkiness of Secrets as its songs reached my ears for the very first time during that frightening ice storm. And I must say its a credit to a massive re-evaluation in society at large in how it perceives art in general that that openness to music is again becoming an important aspect of my day to day life.