Paley Martin doesn’t believe in superstition.
“I’ll be loving you always. And there’s no greater love than this. That these five men gave their lives for all of us,” Dallas Police Chief Davis Brown told a somber crowd just last month. Sitting in the audience were President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama, the Dallas police force and the families of those lost during the city’s July 8th shootout. Awash with confusion and condolences, Brown recited the lyrics to Stevie Wonder’s 1976 “As” to offer compassion in a time that left a nation numb.
It’s been nearly four decades since “As” was released on Wonder’s legendary album Songs in the Key of Life, but the song, like most—if not all—of Wonder’s catalog, maintains a timeless resonance. Although Brown employed it to speak to a country in shock, he introduced the track with an innocent anecdote of his younger love life. “If I fell in love with a girl, I had to dig down deep and get some Stevie Wonder.”
While chuckles spread throughout the room, Brown proceeded to recite the song’s lyrics to an arena full of grieving strangers. The underlying message in his speech, throughout his early attempts at romance and his adult responsibility to engage with violent times, was love. Engulfed in that sweet, a-la-Stevie Wonder sort of love, these strangers shared a powerful moment of vulnerability that’s often better provided by music.
If anyone can sing to the spectrum of trying or tender moments, it’s Stevie Wonder. And if any song can be a source of warmth throughout these moments, it’s “As.” The song, like Brown’s expression, extends hope, even bliss, while acknowledging the jarring nature of reality.
“As today I know I’m living
But tomorrow could make me the past
But that I mustn’t fear
For I’ll know deep in my mind
The love of me I’ve left behind
‘Cause I’ll be loving you always”
“As” is music in its best form—sung with heart, smoothed over by soul. Steady percussion holds hands with a jovial piano, watching as Wonder’s glowing vocals talk of joy and pain, living and dying, what forever really means. A chorus chimes in, giving him time to breathe before he repeats, “Always.” In this in-between space, in the middle of life’s polarities, Wonder voices his message.
In “As,” Stevie Wonder finds light in—but never neglects—the inevitable dark. He promises connection, but not without truth. And to fans in September of 1976 and those Dallas families in July of 2016, Stevie Wonder reminded an audience not only of music’s visceral purpose but of the importance of always, always—“through all your joy and pain”—loving one other.