The Joe Frazier I met

November 8, 2011 by  

The modern human being often lives life vicariously. What might otherwise be a dull and uneventful passing of time becomes excitingly enhanced by the amplified lives of others ... celebrities. Whether they are musicians, actors or athletes, they lift the average person out of the tedium of the ordinary. In that way we can become bound to them much like family, in some cases, the attachment can be even more extreme.

The moment I heard that Ex-Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Smokin'Joe Frazier had been placed in a hospice suffering from liver cancer the news was personal. A few hours later, I learned that he died. The world, at large, may naturally, reflect on Frazier and his ring relationship with Muhammad Ali but years after he left the ring I had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting a different Joe Frazier. It is that man that stirs my heart at this writing.

There is a saying, ichi bun bu. Roughly, it translates as harmony between sword and pen. The warrior should balance his energy with poetic sensitivity. I met Joe Frazier when both of us were doing just that. He was refining himself through music. I was refining my Martial energy through writing. At that time, I was free-lance writing for many publications in Hampton Roads. I received a call from the Public Affairs officer at Holiday Inn, inviting me to come and hear Joe Frazier and the Knockouts. That was intriguing. Until that call I had no idea that Frazier could sing. Nevertheless, he was appearing at The French Quarter at the Holiday Inn. The French Quarter was reserved for quality performers, Las Vegas acts, and such.

The music started and I observed a different kind of Joe Frazier, smoother as a singer than he had ever been as a speaker. I saw in him, a touch of class missing when he was measured against his nemesis, Ali.

After the show, Joe Frazier and I chatted for a while. I had him all to myself. The subject of his book came up. I told him that I noticed that he called Muhammad Ali Cassius Clay all through the book. "That is who he was when I met him and as far as I'm concerned, he is still Cassius Clay today." It was clear that he still had issues with Ali, and that was not hard to understand.

"The ever-popular, "beautiful," Muhammad Ali, nearly demonized Frazier with his name calling of "Uncle Tom, gorilla, ignorant and other hurtful terms. For the most part, Joe Frazier remained quiet and neutral but he felt the sting of Ali's taunts. It is important to know that Frazier was a great boxer, himself. He lost only four matches in his career, two against Ali and two against George Foreman. What he lacked was showmanship, something Ali had plenty of. Even in defeat, Ali garnered positive press.

The irony of all this was that I was able to spend time with the Frazier who had not only developed some showmanship but he was fronting his own band. I stood there admiring him with his hat cocked to the side and wearing an expensive suit. He conversed with me, attentively, displaying a faint smile which only vanished for a moment at mention of Ali. What I felt then was that Frazier did not feel hatred for Ali but that he felt wounded by him. Years passed since that talk of ours. Please play and listen to Frazier's rendition of My Way. It is not only done his way but the very flavor of the song is an epithet, a glimpse into his spirit hidden from the view of many for so long. The link is on this page.

According to an interview, in The New York Times Muhummad Ali made an extraordinary statement regarding the matter. Long after his fighting days were over, Frazier retained his enmity for Ali. But in March 2001, the 30th anniversary of the first Ali-Frazier bout, Ali told The New York Times: “I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said. Called him names I shouldn’t have called him. I apologize for that. I’m sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight.” Asked for a response, Frazier said: “We have to embrace each other. It’s time to talk and get together. Life’s too short.”

I do not know if Ali and Frazier ever saw each other again but I do know that their names are forever paired in Sports History. Their rivalry became a legend. Apparently, Ali realized that his words cut too deep. They caused more harm to Frazier than his (ali's) blows. It is good that he apologized while Frazier was still living to hear it.

It is true that Muhammad Ali has always stood large in the public eye and the heart of the people. He knew how to win people but sitting in the lounge watching and listening to Joe Frazier perform his music, I saw Frazier out of the shadow of Ali. I enjoyed that experience and I really liked Smokin' Joe.

We are each different in our ways but it does not mean we are unworthy because we are less flamboyant than someone else. I wish more people took a leap beyond media-hype or even public opinion to look at each person outside of the "ring." Even gladiators bleed ... from the heart. When I started this piece Joe Frazier was alive. Only a few hours have passed since I heard he was sick. Everyone can go just like that, quickly. How we treat everyone matters. I hope that Smokin' Joe knew and felt that he was important, that he was loved, too. Love is not a limited power. We can love more than one person. Sometimes we forget that. Heal someone with your words.The tongue can kill.To the Frazier family, I send you prayers to ease a heavy heart.


Kitabu Roshi


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