I first Aretha Franklin in a Chic jeans commercial that used “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” It’s funny that my first memory of Aretha is a commercial, but that’s her power – she can transcend anything. I still listen to that song once or twice a week. I’ll play “Ain’t No Way” for my friends who don’t know old–school R&B, and their jaws are on the floor by the end. If you don’t respond to that song, you’re dead. Aretha is crying, and she’s on her knees begging you to, like, heal her. Her voice is just a sword. It’s a liquid–lightning sword. It’s impossibly beautiful. Of course, the band is unbelievable and the production is unbelievable, but her voice it’s just perfect. I finally saw her at Radio City in 2007, just a few months before we played there; I wanted to soak up a little g bit of that magic.
One of the things I learned was to not think of myself as a white dude in a rock band. Aretha transcends barriers – you drive out to the richest suburb of the richest city, and I guarantee you they have Aretha Franklin CDs, and you can drive to the poorest ghetto in the worst part of town, and they’re listening to Aretha Franklin.
I buy lots of Aretha on vinyl at thrift stores, which is how I discovered her gospel music. One side of her Amazing Grace double album kicks off with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy” into “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – it’s an incredibly heavy psychedelic experience. Listening to that 12 minutes of music, no matter who I you think God is, there is no doubt that God exists. There’s something about her that’s just so natural – like a tree growing or a river ﬂowing or a cloud. It’s just meant to be. Aretha is the sound of God.
This story originally appeared in the November 26th, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.