Stevie Wonder’s voice is as warm and radiant as the sun shining through the windows of Lamont Peterson’s black SUV.
“The force of evil / Plans to make you its possession / And it will if we let it /Destroy ev-er-y-body,” Wonder sings, elongating his words, letting them linger like a particularly inviting fragrance, as if to give anyone hearing them as much time as possible to allow them to fully sink in.
“This is one of my favorite songs ever,” Lamont Peterson announces from the passenger seat, relishing Wonder’s soul touchstone “Love’s In Need of Love Today." “It's a deep song. He was just saying that with the whole concept of love, we need more people showing it so that the next generation will see it and keep it going on. Right now, not a lot of people fall in love and live happily ever after.”
Peterson’s playing the DJ as he travels to the Bald Eagle Boxing Annex in his native Washington, D.C., for a workout on a humid Wednesday morning, his selections betraying a deep love of even more deeply felt R&B—from Marvin Gaye’s carnally volcanic “I Want You” to Anita Baker’s purring “Sometimes.”
“This is the song I listen to when I need to get over something,” Peterson says of the Baker cut. “I hear it once or twice and I’m over it.”
The song’s about good times and bad times, and not letting the latter eclipse the former.
“I can say I’ve had both,” Peterson notes, “and I embrace both.”
Peterson’s playlist is more than just a collection of songs he digs, it’s a direct reflection of the type of person he is: contemplative, passionate, self-possessed, cool as something way cooler than a cucumber.
Peterson has an ease about himself that translates to his surroundings.
He’s like a human muscle relaxer: Just being in his presence tends to have a calming effect on those around him.
Once in the gym, the music stays relaxed and smooth—a little Johnny Gill soundtracks the beginning of his workout—which is how Peterson tends to carry himself in the ring.
Peterson was just a boy, around 10 years old, when he first entered the man’s world that was the boxing gym, and the songs from back then continue to stick with him now.
“When I got to the gym, there wasn’t really any kids there, it was all older guys in their 20s and 30s. And they always played slow jams,” Peterson recalls. “I found a groove to train to it, and now I don’t want to hear any other music. I’m working hard, but the smoothness of the music keeps me calm. I guess it makes it seem like I’m not working that hard.”
It doesn’t seem that way from a distance, however: Although Peterson isn’t training for a fight at this particular moment, you’d wouldn’t know it from the way he feverishly works the ring, shadowboxing some invisible foe until he’s in the need of an invisible enswell.
He then unleashes some prolonged punishment on a heavy bag. If the thing had ribs, they’d be splintered.
Peterson punctuates each blow with a loud “ugh!,” which is just about the only time you’ll hear him raise his voice.
Even then he never seems to be all that worked up.
“I’ve always been comfortable, laid-back and not really worried about too much,” Peterson says afterward of his easy-going demeanor, which betrays little of the aggression that his sport demands. “I’m comfortable with being me regardless of what I’m supposed to be or what somebody thinks I’m supposed to be.”
Still, there’s a duality to Lamont Peterson: In general, he’s an open book—he’s just very selective about who’s privy to its pages. And when.
“A lot of people say I’m quiet, but I can talk,” Peterson says with a wide, welcoming grin, which he flashes often. “But there’s a time and place for everything.”
And with that, the time for talking is done.
This is the gym, the place for work.