I'm too young to remember him as Cassius Clay but I remember Ali's omnipresence in the late '60s and throughout the '70s very well. My dad and my brother are both big boxing fans (and I often wonder if I would be if I hadn't been surrounded by it at home, or had to endure my would-be-World-champion brother offering me out every 5 minutes or so) which meant that his fights with the likes of Henry Cooper, Joe Frazier (The Fight Of The Century and The Thrilla In Manila) and George Foreman (The Rumble In The Jungle) assumed legendary status in our house almost before they had taken place. And not without reason - watch the amazing 'When We Were Kings' and you'll see Ali in his element, with everyone from the local kids to the World's media falling under his spell.
As a man he was a sports reporter's dream, being charming, witty and erudite with a quote for every occasion - but none of this would matter if he wasn't a great sportsman, a fearsome fighting machine who's outrageous predictions of which round he would knock his opponent out in earlier in his career only made his achievements in the ring seem all the more extraordinary.
Then there was his stance against the Vietnam War - his refusal to be drafted ('I ain't got no quarrel with the Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger') cost him over two years of his boxing career but made him a hero to anyone who shared his point of view. It's difficult to realise now what a powerful statement it made.
For what my opinion is worth - and as I said earlier I'm by no means the World's biggest boxing fan - he had a few fights too many (which may or may not have contributed to his ongoing Parkinson's Syndrome) but if you look at footage of his earlier bouts it's hard not to believe that he wasn't indeed 'the greatest'. And let's face it, anyone that can deliver a line like 'I'm so fast that last night I turned of the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark' is more than a little bit ahead of the game...
And Etta James died on Friday - I must admit that I knew her name but didn't know much about her until I saw her fabulous rendition of 'Rock And Roll Music' in the film 'Hail Hail Rock 'n' Roll' I soon realised that her Chess Records recordings were what her legend was based on. There was much more to her than 'I'd Rather Go Blind' and 'I Just Wanna Make Love To You', although if she'd only released those two recordings she'd still be one of the most important blues artists of them all. Another sad loss.
No gigs for your humble narrator this week (bah!) but I did see two great shows, the first of which featured the mighty Henry Rollins at The Academy in Oxford. I last saw him way back in August 2008 (doesn't time fly when you're having fun?!?) and if Wednesday's show is anything to go by he's showing no signs of slowing down, with his astonishing work schedule giving him even more subjects to comment upon. Bizarre tales of eating rats (urgh!) sat alongside hilarious stories of shopping in Costco with his scary-sounding assistant Heidi during a 2 1/2 hour show (imagine standing on a stage and talking for that length of time!) which had the capacity crowd enthralled throughout. I managed a few words with him afterwards and he was as courteous as ever - rather than get straight onto the tourbus after talking to me he stood out in the rain signing autographs and chatting to fans. Top man.
And last night myself and the long-suffering Shirley made our way over to Sutton to see The Kast Off Kinks at The Boom Boom Club. Chicago Blues Brothers keyboard maestro Ian Gibbons is a member of said combo, and it was great to see him play from the audience perspective rather than from a couple of yards away on stage. He's very good you know!
The first person we saw as we walked in was Steve Simpson, a very welcome sight since the last conversation I had with him was when he phoned to cancel his appearance at the Load Of Hay back in November due to ill health- he's still not 100% fit but is back playing again which is good news. And The Kast Off Kinks were terrific - I last saw them in Ruislip back in July 2009 when I thought they were excellent, but they've got even better in the interim period. Mick Avory prefaced his vocal performance of 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' by holding up a pint of beer which he proclaimed to be 'vocal petrol' (I'm definitely stealing that line!) and much audience dancing and merriment ensued throughout. A fine evening.