Tell them I said no

The soul singer Alice Clark and disappearance from the public limelight

Alice Clark started her music career in 1968 and by 1973 she was out of it, never to record a single minute in a studio again. We were left with fifty minutes of heartfelt soul (music-wise, as well as literally) - an LP and a couple of singles. For a brief time, all the pieces came together to make what is today described by many as one of the most brilliant soul albums of all time: the band, the orchestrations, the lyrics, the voice. In the few available promotional photographs, we see a pensive woman, whose sadness is guarded; the fact that we are even invited to listen to her music is a feat in itself. 

There is something about the talented enigmas who appear and then disappear shortly after, leaving us with a smidge or more of their brilliance. It makes us hungry for more. Did Alice Clark ever sing again in public? Right now we do not have any clues that she ever did after 1972. In her one and only eponymous album, I hear and see someone who put herself on the table, took a risk, the risk didn't pay off and that blow was too much. I don't think that makes her music any less valid, however. I think even more about her life after. Did she sing at home, for her own enjoyment? Did she sing to her children? Did she sing in the church or in a community centre? Did she sing while cooking, or while taking a shower? We say that Alice Clark disappeared, but that formulation implies that her art ceased to exist because it left the public space, with no discernible commercial success. 

It's easy to validate an artistic practice simply by thrusting it into a public limelight. The reasons are of course many. We want to share our work; we hope we can influence; we want money, recognition, and fame; the accountability of putting yourself out there is an undeniable force in working harder and improving your craft. When it’s public, it may seem realer. When we talk about Alice Clark and artists similar to her, we talk about being sorry. Being sorry that they left the music industry too soon, being beaten over and dissatisfied with having small sales figures or followings. We are sorry for having only fifteen songs. I want to flip that and instead be grateful that Alice even gave us the opportunity to hear the fifty minutes of genius.

I mention resistance again and again, week after week, because it often seems to me the only way to have agency about something, and that it is the soft landing we are looking for. I hope Alice Clark continued to resist and sing in private, even if no one was willing to listen, even if the music industry betrayed her. I hope she kept up the process of creation and practice against all odds, public admiration be damned. She did not disappear; her music was never ours in the first place.