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Bobby Womack Still Has It Because He Never Lost It

The legend performed at New York's City Winery this past weekend, and we were there to bask in all of his glory.

Bobby Womack is supposed to be old. That’s what Wikipedia says—69, making headlines this year when he announced he had Alzheimer’s. Closing out his three-night stand at New York’s City Winery, he’ll say things like, “Sometimes I wonder if I can still do it” while he sits down for a breather after “Lookin’ For a Love,” his neck disappearing into his chest. But then he kicks up onto the floor and starts howling, belting notes like they failed a math quiz. And his blood pressure’s fine. He smirks: "I like my women like I like my music: sorta easy.” Also, "The slower you go, the longer it gon’ last, baby." When a woman screams, “Bobby, I love you!” he snaps back, “I’m in room 222!” At this point, he is James Brown; age is just the cape.

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It’s too bad that’s the way we’re taught to view older people, emphasizing the “still” in “still got it” as if it’s a surprise, as if everything fades with the spotlight.

When Ronnie Wood inducted Womack into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, he said, “It’s about time!” It’d been 50 years since Sam Cooke plucked him and his brothers out of Cleveland, years where he’d been the leading voice of soul (after a half-decade of being blackballed); where he’d been covered by the Aretha, Janis, Chaka, K-Ci, Kelly Rowland. Pam Grier opened “Jackie Brown” on the bed that is “Across 110th Street.” Now rappers sample him; 2 Chainz and Stalley rhymed his name with things this year. He teamed up with Damon Albarn, putting out an album in 2012, together headlining a stage at the Glastonbury Festival this April.

And we say he’s “still” got it. Maybe that’s just the easiest way to explain away his endurance, the way he stomps his good foot and screams “your turn!” at the end of some songs, knowing well why the rest of the room lays dark. He walks the stage, in a leather suit so red it looks plastic, tipping his hat from the back and throwing his hand skyward, screaming, “Feels so good, I just wanna ugh, wanna ugh, wanna one more time!" He sings “Mercy Mercy Me,” “California Dreamin’,” “Land of 1,000 Dances,” all as interludes, tacking them onto “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” and “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much” because he’s having so much fun, his first time playing New York in a decade. A smile crinkles his cheek, half of it hidden by sunglasses. He drags the high notes on as long as they’ll go, like they’re tractor pulls airing Sunday mornings on ESPN. And even though he sits down every so often, it all seems effortless, an afternoon peeling oranges on the corner.

If anything, his age allows him to say things like “my dear friend Mr. Marvin Gaye” or “I ran into Chaka Khan when I wrote this,” or “everyone today sounds the same, Otis and Marvin were too busy being themselves to sound like anyone else!” He plays around with his lyrics, saying, “If you think you lonely now…wait until I leave your ass.” He cackles; it’s fun to imagine Mariah turning that into a number-one hit. But, after an hour and a half, he tells everyone he’s leaving. Thank you, goodnight. He waves. He blows kisses.

And then he’s back, more hopped up than before, screaming, “Is it alright? I said is it alright if I party with you?” And for two minutes, he’s dancing, shuffling, shaking hands before he grabs the sleeve of his handler and follows him off the side of the stage. One woman grabbed his sweat towel, and another – holding a non-digital camera – tried valiently to sneak backstage, as she had been all night. Guess he’s still got it.

Jeff Rosenthal also has it, but in a different way. With his brother Eric, he performs hip-hop sketch comedy as ItsTheReal. Find them on Twitter@itsthereal