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9. So Glad He Let Him Try It Again

I'm so glad that he let me try it again
'Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin.
I'm so glad that I know more than I knew then.
Gonna keep on tryin', 'til I reach my
Highest ground.

Stevie Wonder car crashOn August 6th, 1973 Stevie played concert in Greeneville, South Carolina. It was on the way back just outside Durham, North Carolina that Stevie's life almost taken from him. Stevie was asleep in the front seat of a car being driven by his friend, John Harris . They were snaking along the road, just behind a truck loaded high with logs. Suddenly the trucker jammed on his brakes, and the two vehicles collided. Logs went flying, and one smashed through the wind shield, sailing squarely into Steve's forehead. He was bloody and unconscious when he was pulled from the wrecked car. For ten days he lay in a coma caused by severe brain contusion, as friends, fans, and relatives prayed.

It was his friend and tour director Ira Tucker who first elicited some response from him: "I remember when I got to the hospital in Winston-Salem. . .man, I couldn't even recognize him. His head was swollen up about five times normal size. And nobody could get through to him. I knew that he likes to listen to music really loud and I thought maybe if I shouted in his ear it might reach him. The doctor told me to go ahead and try, it couldn't hurt him. The first time I didn't get any response, but the next day I went back and I got right down in his ear and sang Higher Ground. His hand was resting on my arm and after awhile his fingers started going in time with the song. I said yeah! Yeeeeaaah! This dude is going to make it !"

Stevie WonderIt was still a long, slow climb back to health, though. When Stevie regained consciousness, he discovered that he had lost his sense of smell, perhaps permanently. And he was deeply afraid that he might have lost his musical faculty too. Finally Ira Tucker said, "We brought one of his instruments--I think it was the clavinet--to the hospital. For a while, Stevie just looked at it, or didn't do anything with it. You could see he was afraid to touch it, because he didn't know if he still had it in him--he didn't know if he could still play. And then, when he finally did touch it - man, you could just see the happiness spreading all over him. I'll never forget that."

Still, he had to take medication for a year, tired easily, and suffered severe headaches. That he lived at all is miraculous. But that he lived to reach higher and higher ground--personally, musically, spiritually--at least in part because of the accident makes you wonder. Steve's deep faith and spiritual vision make him even doubt that it was an accident: You can never change anything that has already happened, he once said, speaking of the incident. Everything is the way it's supposed to be . . . everything that ever happened to me is the way it is supposed to have been. A confirmation of his belief in destiny.

Michael Sembello, Wonderlove's lead guitarist at the time said, "Well, I think he'd always had some awareness of the spiritual side of life. But the accident really brought it to the surface. Like now I know he really sees--and uses--every concert as the spiritual opportunity it is, to reach people. . . The accident made him recognize God, it changed him a lot. Some times he'd just drift off in conversation, he'd just . . . be some place else. He got really intense after the accident, his ESP got really strong." Steve told the New York Times, The accident opened my ears up to many things around me. Naturally, life is just more important to me now . . . and what I do with my life.

The song Higher Ground, written a couple months before the accident, was truly uncanny. Stevie once said, I would like to believe in reincarnation. I would like to believe that there is another life. I think that sometimes your consciousness can happen on this earth a second time around. For me, I wrote Higher Ground even before the accident. But something must have been telling me that something was going to happen to make me aware of a lot of things and to get myself together. This is like my second chance for life, to do something or to do more, and to value the fact that I am alive.

Stevie WonderBefore the accident. Steve had been scheduled to do a five-week, twenty-city tour in March-April of 1974. It was postponed, with the exception of one date in Madison Square Garden in late March. That concert began with Stevie pointing to his scarred forehead, looking up, grinning, and giving "thanks to God that I'm alive." The crowd, 21,000 strong, roared, and as a Post critic noted, "it was hard not to be thrilled."

He gave himself about a month and a half of recuperation before heading back to the studio to work on his next album. By mid-November he was on stage again, for the homecoming benefit of Shaw University, where he was a trustee. The university was facing financial difficulties; the performers at the wildly successful fundraising show included LaBelle, Wonderlove, Exhuma, and Pride of the Ghetto, in addition to Steve himself. Later in the month, he was a surprise guest at an Elton John concert in Boston. "A friend of mine is here tonight, he was badly hurt in an accident some time ago. . ." Elton John started to announce to the 18,000-strong audience in the Boston Garden. But, according to Esquire's Burr Snider, Elton never finished the sentence: "The immense cavern began to rumble. It went on and on and it seemed as if it would never subside. When it did, Elton John and Stevie Wonder jammed into Honky Tonk Woman and when Stevie Wonder took a side-shot at Superstition, it seemed as if the Garden would tumble down. I found to my surprise that tears were tracking down my face."

Although he had originally planned to go to Africa that winter, that trip too was postponed. Late January and February found him knocking out audiences in Europe. He played at the annual MIDEM Convention in Cannes, France, and then did two sellout performances at the Rainbow Theatre in London in front of an audience comprising many stars of British rock.

March brought the Grammy awards. The nominations list had been announced in January, and Steve had been nominated in seven categories. He won five awards: Best Pop Vocal Performance-Male (Sunshine Of My Life), Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance--Male (Superstition), Best Rhythm and Blues Song-Writer (Superstition), Best Engineered Recording--Nonclassical (Innervisions), and the most prestigious of the Grammys, Album of the Year--Innervisions.