Steveland Morris

by Yule Heibel on August 6, 2003

Nostalgia attack tonight, and what’s crushing is that it shouldn’t be nostalgia: I can go for years without listening to the amazing Stevie Wonder, but then, suddenly, he’s back on the turntable — Lord, he’s good! I believe, I believe! Here’re some of the lyrics for Love’s in Need of Love Today, the opener on Songs in the Key of Life (1976):

Good morn or evening friends
Here’s your friendly announcer
I have serious news to pass on to every*body
What I’m about to say
Could mean the world’s disaster
Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain

It’s that
Love’s in need of love today
Don’t delay
Send yours in right away
Hate’s goin’ round
Breaking many hearts
Stop it please
Before it’s gone too far

The force of evil plans
To make you its possession
And it will if we let it
Destroy ev*er*y*body
We all must take
Precautionary measures
If love and peace you treasure
Then you’ll hear me when I say

Oh that
Love’s in need of love today

And even though Stevie Wonder has been blind almost since birth, he sees what matters. Ebony Eyes:

She’s a girl that can’t be beat
Born and raised on ghetto streets
She’s a devastating beauty
A pretty girl with ebony eyes

Regardless of his own physical blindness, he knows that eyes aren’t just for looking, but for being seen and felt in some beyond-visual way. Stevie Wonder describes a window into the soul which is open in darkness and light, and out of which streams a force only an idiot would deny.

Jorge Luis Borges went blind in later middle age. At the time that Borges was going completely blind, he was named director of the National Library in Buenos Aires. I think in those times — just last century — people must have had time to have things read to them. We don’t have that kind of time anymore, and people instead play a CD. Or else it’s a question of economics, not time. Borges probably never had to do yardwork or housework, or the laundry, shopping, and cooking, whereas today it’s becoming more difficult even to find men who aren’t burdened by these chores. All that stuff, in previous epochs taken care of by the hired help (i.e., probably you and I in past incarnations, ha-ha) significantly cuts into your “creative” time. Now we can have our shiny new CDs, but we have to keep them clean ourselves.

Sorry, couldn’t write the big opus, was too busy polishing the gadgets. Anyways….

In his essay “Blindness,” Borges cites Oscar Wilde, who suggested that the Greeks made up the notion that Homer was blind “in order to emphasize that poetry must be aural, not visual. (…) We may believe that Homer never existed, but that the Greeks imagined him as blind in order to insist on the fact that poetry is, above all, music; that poetry is, above all, the lyre; that the visual can or cannot exist in a poet. And about Milton, Borges notes: “Milton has a sonnet in which he speaks of his blindness. There is a line one can tell was written by a blind man. When he has to describe the world, he says, ‘In this dark world and wide.'”

Stevie Wonder ranges all over a world that is dark and wide. I need to find him more often. And I wonder whether today a blind person would be made the director of a library.


Wendy August 7, 2003 at 10:10 am

I’m too young to have grown up with the fantastic early Stevie, but I love it anyway. In my Gen-X way. 🙂 Seen “High Fidelity”? The closing credits music makes me cry – “I believe when I fall in love with you it will be forever.”

Yule Heibel August 7, 2003 at 8:51 pm

No, I haven’t seen “High Fidelity,” but I’ll put it on a “should-see” list. Songs in the Key of Life is an amazing album — there isn’t a bad song on it.

Betsy Burke August 8, 2003 at 4:17 am

On blindness, somebody might find Jacques Lusseyran’s autobiography interesting. Steve Talbott mentioned him in his newsletter- Lusseyran makes it sound as though sight were more of a handicap than a useful sense. During the war, Lusseyran was the teenage head of a resistance movement in Paris, because he could perceive so much through hearing- the one occasion in which he had doubts about what he heard in a voice, turned out to be their downfall- that particular person betrayed the the movement. But he has some very interesting comments and advice for parents- about limitation and expanded horizons of expectation.

Joel August 8, 2003 at 6:08 am

Sadly, the one Stevie Wonder song that got set off in my head was “Ebony and Ivory”, not for the message of the song, but for the stupid girl friend I had at the time. She treated me as a complete naive when it came to race relations. The fact was I came from California where you could talk about your friends as people, not as a color. Many people out here are well beyond the sentiments of that song (and some have a lot to learn), but most importantly, the divisions aren’t institutionalized in the same way I saw them in the East and, especially, in the South.

She was convinced that I was racist because I didn’t want to make a big deal about “walking across the color line”. The truth was I wanted to walk where it pleased me. I’d talk to whoever was there. And that’s how I lived, much to the frustration of her and those who were her antithesis.

Getting out of NC and coming home to California was a smart move, though with the political machinations that I’ve been seeing here, it appears more and more that there are those who are desparately trying to destroy what we have made here.

When I think of “Ebony and Ivory”, I think of Laura’s take on the world: black and white. I love the spectrum of people and would not rob a single person of her or his individuality by pressing them into a stereotype as she often did.

Vernica August 8, 2003 at 3:59 pm

Your final question is a good one, Yule. It is something that I have never thought of as a library worker. But, perhaps, if more directors of libraries had first-hand experience with disabilities, such as visual impairment, they would push harder to make resources, collections, and buildings more accessible.

I was also really struck by your statement about people in the modern world not having time to be read to. I used to volunteer as a reader for an elderly man with a visual impairment. It was a very moving experience to bring the printed word to someone with my voice, especially to do this for someone who had been a lifelong reader before losing his sight and was now limited to books on tape and text read by passionless (and imperfect) print readers.

It was also a regular reminder of how wonderful it is to read for others and to have others read to you.

Yule Heibel August 8, 2003 at 5:39 pm

Borges actually took over the post at the National Library from a man who also had been blind. Maybe the Argentines are different from us. He names a couple of other librarian-individuals with that particular disability (although if you read about Jacques Lusseyran, you won’t want to use that word anymore!); take a look at his essay, “Blindness” in the Non Fictions book (pointed to in post). Good for you for having been someone’s reader. My experience in that department is limited to reading to my kids when they were younger, but it is interesting how much fun it can be to do.

Joel August 9, 2003 at 1:13 am

I should add that another Stevie Wonder song has started to play in my head: “Isn’t she lovely”. I’m more than happy to let that one go round and round for as long it wants.

The phrase describing the world as “dark and wide” for a blind person got me to reflecting on a waking vision that I have. I imagine that the walls have fallen down and that there is nothing but me, the bed, and whoever is in the bed with me. Beyond that is nothing but a plain. In the instant between my decision to open my eyes and the lids actually rising, some clever and industrious demon puts everything back up. 😉

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