Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Richard Pryor

Laughter: Most commonly, it is considered an auditory expression of a number of positive emotional states, such as joy, mirth, happiness, or relief.

The study of "Laughter" is called Gelotology.

I had some pretty terrible things happen to me when I was a young child. Things that should never happen to children. It was traumatizing and changed my life forever. I felt shame and was frightened of going to hell for what happened to me. The acts themselves were enough to ruin a child but the Catholic church added another element to the entire experience by scaring the living shit out of me night and day. I had very dark times when I was 6 and 7 years old. I was always afraid and ashamed. I got a guitar and a record player in 1978 and they would both change my life for the better. 

My brother Frank is 18 years older than me. My sister Patty is 16 years older than me and Judy is 11 years older than me. By the time I was 8 years old, all of them were long gone from the house. It was just me and my parents and a BUNCH of vinyl records that were left behind. Those records consisted of Led Zepplin, The Eagles, Heart, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Jackson 5, and many more. But maybe more important than the music albums were comedy albums. Cheech and Chong, Steve Martin, and most important, Richard Pryor. There were two Richard Pryor albums; "That ni$$ers crazy" and "Is it something I said?". These two albums changed my life for the better and continue to do so today. I was 8 years old with two Richard Pryor albums and a world of hurt. I remember listening to them for the first time. His voice was just funny, he was playful. He did different voices of characters that made me laugh. Obviously, many sexual jokes and racial ideas went over my head at such a young age. I knew he was using dirty words and I loved it! But I didn't always understand the context. What I did understand and feel almost immediately was that this man was special. He was kind and full of love. He had a softness to his personality that instantly made me feel better. He was vulnerable. Even as a young kid, I could tell he was saying that life is painful and weird and that's ok cause it's like that for all of us. I could see the scene when he did voices and told stories of the wino on the street corner. I was there in my head watching him tell this story, he took me somewhere far away from my own mind and thoughts. My absolute favorite is of course "Mudbone". I would listen to these stories over and over and watch them play out like a movie that was only for me. I was enthralled by the laughter of the live audience. They howled, screamed, and cheered him on as he poured his heart out in front of them. I memorized all of the stories word for word and would laugh to myself at school as I replayed them in my mind. I couldn't wait to get home to put on my comedy records and just fantasize for hours. I loved Steve Martin and his silliness and adored Cheech and Chong with the stories and characters and sound effects, but most of all I loved Richard Pryor. He was just more real and honest and he always made me feel like everything was going to be ok. He instilled in me a feeling of resilience that I carry with me to this day. His albums became my religion, my sanctuary. I listened to them over and over all of my life. His understanding of the human condition continues to inspire me today. 

Later in life I became friends with Cyril Neville. We wrote a song together called "Pearl River" and it won a Blues Music Award for Song of the Year in 2010. That brought us together to write more songs and start a band called Royal Southern Brotherhood. We traveled the world with this band and spent many days and nights on the road together. Soon enough Cyril found out how much I loved Richard Pryor and we became much closer. Richard Pryor was a hero to Cyril as well. Cyril just loved him for all the same reasons I did. We would listen to those albums in the van on the road, quote his best lines to each other and sometimes Cyril would just ask me to recite some of Mudbone or the Wino to make him laugh. Richard Pryor brought Cyril and me together much closer because we both understood what his comedy meant and how deep it was, still today. To truly feel his comedy you have to have a bit of sadness inside and Cyril and I shared that feeling together. We understood each other much better because of this connection. 

I wrote Richard Pryor's wife Jennifer years ago to let her know how Richard's comedy was still bringing people together and told her about myself and Cyril and she took the time to write back to me. She appreciated my sharing with her and wished us well, very sweet.

On this last tour, we spent super bowl Sunday in Peoria, Il. The next day we went to visit the Richard Pryor memorial statue. It was beautiful and very meaningful to me. His comedy is like my religion. He always makes me feel better. We listened all morning to Richard and laughed our way to Evansville. His comedy never goes out of style. You can hear where all of the others after him take their cues. Some just blatantly use his material for their own. But none are as powerful or vulnerable as Richard Pryor. He was real and needed to laugh to get past the sadness of life. His comedy endures today. I am so very thankful to have found those records all those years ago when I was young. They were waiting for me at the absolute right time in my life. 

Peace, Love, Zito

"yeah I know Jesus! I remember when the boy got kilt, thats for real man it was on a Friday down by the railroad depot" - RP

Take a few minutes to enjoy Mudbone today: