4 Things Kool and the Gang Taught Me
by Dale Reeves
A few weeks ago my brother-in-law invited me to a concert that he knew I would love. This night took me back to my high school and college days. At the age of 68, Robert “Kool” Bell is still playing bass and singing backup alongside Curtis Williams and the rest of Kool and the Gang. Thanks to Barry’s connections, when we entered the ballroom at The Jack, we discovered we were sitting in Row A— the front row. I was beyond excited and immediately started introducing myself to the people beside and behind me, since I knew they would be subjected to my celebrative “rhythmic standing.” It’s no secret that I grew up on Don Cornelius and Soul Train, launched my dancing contest career in high school, and still enjoy R&B music. I felt an immediate bond with my neighbors for the evening.
What ensued over the next hour and a half was a virtual trip down memory lane, dancing and singing along with hit tunes like “Hollywood Swinging,” “Jungle Boogie,” “Funky Stuff,” and “Get Down On It.” There were just a few yards between the stage and my seat until the band members invited the women in the house to join them down front as they performed the classic “Ladies’ Night.” That’s when a middle-aged woman who probably had a few too many drinks looked at me and told me to sit down because I wasn’t a lady. Haha. Glad she noticed.
The show that evening concluded with Kool and the Gang’s greatest, platinum-selling, and perhaps-most-overplayed-at-weddings single, “Celebration.” Celebrate good times—come on! You might be surprised to discover the background of that song. Songwriter Ronald “Khalis” Bell comments, “I was reading Scripture in the Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Ave. in Manhattan. I was thinking about when God called the angels together and made an announcement that He was going to create a human being. The angels [must have said], ‘We don’t know nothin’, but we just celebrate you, God—we celebrate and praise you.’ And I thought, Wow . . . That’s big. We’re talking about the origin of human beings. Everyone around the world . . . come on! I’m going to write a song about that.”
After the concert was over, I traveled north on I-71 Saturday night, but I couldn’t hear the radio or about anything else for that matter. (That’s the price you pay for sitting right next to the speakers.) That left me alone with my thoughts from the night. What takeaways did I leave with, besides the fact that it sounded louder to me than it used to? Here are a few things I mulled over on my drive home and in the subsequent days since.
- We Were Created to Celebrate God
As I met my new friend Ron who was seated next to me, I told him one of my favorite Bible verses, Philippians 4:4, which is paraphrased like this in The Message, “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revelin him!” I said, “Tonight, my friend, we are going to celebrate and have a good time.” And Ron responded, “Oh yeah, you’re in the club tonight, and we’re going to get after it!” And we did!
Have you ever attended a worship experience at a church and heard someone say, “Wow, that was awesome. God really showed up!”? I understand what they are saying when they say something like that. I don’t mean to discount their feelings and emotions, but that phrase is a pet peeve of mine. When I hear that phrase, I want to respond, “Wasn’t God already in the building before the worship reached a crescendo? Didn’t God show up even if you weren’t particularly moved by the songs that were part of the worship set that night?” God may have “shown up” in the heart and mind of a worshiper who was quietly seated, basking in the sounds of other worshipers, or perhaps even in the stillness before and after the throng of people were present. One time when God wanted to reveal himself in a powerful way to Elijah the prophet, he did so not in a great wind or in an earthquake or in a fire, but in a gentle whisper. He “showed up” all right, but not in a way in which Elijah would have imagined.
So, maybe it’s not about God showing up, but about us showing up to celebrate him, his grace, his goodness, his presence in our lives. Sometimes we do that with new songs, and sometimes he allows us to enjoy some throwback tunes to get us going.
- We All Need to Belong
You’ve met individuals who feel like they are a round peg trying to squeeze into a square hole—or perhaps that describes you. They may be aloof because they just have never seemed to fit the mold others have in mind for them. Much has been written on every person’s search for significance. Some people spend their whole life trying to find their niche. Physician and social activist Patch Adams said, “We can never get a re-creation of community and heal our society without giving our citizens a sense of belonging.”
In a previous blog I wrote about why some people go to bars, and the camaraderie they find there. For others, their community is found at a particular coffee house, a favorite breakfast spot, or at a casino such as The Jack. This is where they feel they belong, where they can be themselves. We were all created for community and desperately need to find it.
- We’re Supposed to Get Along
When my newfound friend Ron said to me, “You’re in the club tonight,” he was speaking as a black man inviting a white dude into the brotherhood represented by Kool and the Gang. When I surveyed the 1,900 people who were in the ballroom that night, I saw black and white, Asian, Hispanic, male and female, young and old (OK, with a definite leaning toward those who were in high school in the 70s and 80s.) For the majority of the people in the room this was “our music,” and we were all united in spirit. Nobody would have talked about racial problems in our city or political separation in our country that evening. We were there with an esprit de corps for this one purpose: “It’s time to come together . . . Everyone around the world, come on!” Music has the power to heal. Music has the power to help us get along.
- We Should Enjoy Life
So many people in our society today are filled with anxiety, they are in desperate need of hope. They have been through all kinds of personal battles, and have become very good at masking their real selves, and just live for one escape moment to the next. Sometimes people just need to have a throwback night to what once was, when life was simpler and less complicated and they could just sing about more “funky stuff.” We all have songs and memories that take us back to places that were less stressful, times when we felt better about ourselves, times when we weren’t just surviving, not just enduring—but actually enjoying life.
God wants us to enjoy the life he has given us. Every day he provides many reasons to celebrate and have a good time. I loved sitting in the front row at the concert the other night, singing with reckless abandon beside my new friends. But even more I enjoy the front-row perspective I get with God’s people as I watch some incredible life transformation taking place. And, if I enjoy watching, I know God really loves seeing his kids embrace the joy he longs for us to experience.