I love music. It’s been part of my daily life and identity for as long as I can remember. I have noticed, however, that my ideas about music and even the ways I engage music have changed over time. Now, this is certainly not surprising. I’m older. Let’s hope I’m a little wiser. My life has changed in some wonderful ways. It makes sense that my ideas about music would change. I do often wonder, however, if there’s a little more too it. I read parts of Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia years ago. Lately, I’ve had a strong desire to dig in again. Sometimes a book comes to me long before I’m truly ready to receive it and I definitely think Musicophilia was one of those books. Now, I don’t expect to uncover the secrets to my current level of musical engagement necessarily, but I’m more and more curious about the ways the brain and music interact. Before I had a
A wonderfully talented friend of mine told me about Moses Sumney over tea a few days ago. I’m not sure what rock I’ve been under, but I’ve clearly been hibernating because I had no clue this creative human existed. So, I decided to go down a Moses Sumney hole starting with his debut album Aromanticism. To begin, I learned a new word—aromantic. An aromantic is someone who experiences little to no romantic attraction. In a New York Times article, Moses Sumney explains that he has never experienced romantic love and wanted to challenge a culture that values romantic love so highly: I was just bored with the love song, the idea of the love song as the archetype, and also the culture that suggests romantic love is the end-all and be-all of human existence. I wanted to question and challenge that on a personal level and on the social level — the personal is the social. I think I just felt
I don’t usually like listening to posthumously released albums. If the artist didn’t want me to hear it, I don’t think I should hear it. It may be weird, but listening to “gems” from the vault have always felt like crossing some kind of line. What I do love, however, is hearing songs stripped down to the basics. Prince Piano & a Microphone 1983 sounds like Prince playing around. That’s what I love about it. It’s not perfect. It’s not clean. It’s an artist at work, an artist at play. Is it something I’ll listen to every day? Probably not. But I do wonder what benefits a songwriter could find in just listening to what working sounds like and reminding themselves what it feels like to just play. Here are a few of the songs that were previously released and are stripped down to just piano and vocals on this album: “17 days” I wanna call you every day Beg
When I start following an artist, it’s usually because I think they write great lyrics. India.Arie is the epitome of that. She has this way of being inspirational without it being corny: I close my eyes and I think of all the things that I want to see ‘Cause I know, now that I’ve opened up my heart I know that Anything I want can be, so let it be, so let it be Strength, courage, and wisdom And it’s been inside of me all along Strength, courage, and wisdom Inside of me ~From “Strength, Courage and Wisdom” The difference in living and feeling alive Is using your fear as fuel to fly ~From “Life is Good” Even as she inspires, she addresses hard times and those hard places that we can all relate to: Please understand that it’s not that I don’t care But right know these walls are closing in on me I love you more than
These songs remind me of dorm days, MySpace and friends who encircled music and formed bonds with the melodies. They bring back memories of confusion, heartbreak, bright hope and epiphany. They recall a yearning for love, an attempt to learn love.
Your eyes are the windows to heaven,
Your smile could heal a million souls.
Your love completes my existence.
You’re the other half that makes me whole.
You’re the only other half that makes me whole.
~ Amel Larrieux, “Make Me Whole”
Now, they communicate what I can’t, remind me of what I’ve learned and what I now cherish.
We have both been broken
Bent into painful shapes
We almost let those old fears
Carry over and get in our way
But every struggle just makes
Our love get stronger than it was yesterday
~ Amel Larrieux, “No One Else”
I’ve been listening to India.Arie’s new podcast, SongVersation. I started it soon after it came out and like most things I encounter, I waited for a little while to come back to it. The great part about that is I get to listen to all of the episodes back to back. It’s a very intriguing listen. Each episode focuses on one of her songs. For about 40 minutes or so, she tells stories about where she was—physically and emotionally—while writing a song; she talks about her songwriting partners; she even discusses some of her experiences as a black artist in the music industry. The most recent episode is about a song I have loved for years, “Ready for Love.” I am ready for love All of the joy and the pain And all the time that it takes Just to stay in your good grace “SongVersation: Ready for Love” is a perfect example of how broad the conversations can be.
I am currently sitting, eyes closed in a hole I created by playing the television show In the Heat of the Night in the background while writing something completely unrelated. It started, as most things do in my life, with the theme song, particularly the part of the song I’m used to hearing at the opening of an episode:
In the heat of the night
I’ve got trouble wall to wall
Oh yes I have
I repeat in the night
Must be an ending to it all
But hold on, it won’t be long
Just you be strong
And it’ll be all right
In the heat of the night
This inevitably led to me to the original film score Quincy Jones composed and Ray Charles’ recording of the same song:
Next, I found myself reading John Ridley’s foreword to the Penguin Classics 50th Anniversary Edition of John Ball’s novel, In the Heat of the Night. In it, Ridley describes the main character Virgil Tibbs as a “black man more carefully constructed than fully realized, an approximation of life designed to thwart a common enemy but to be of no threat to its originator.” My curiosity has been inflamed, to say the least. Now I want to know more. How did this book lead to an Oscar-winning movie starring Sidney Poitier and a television series that was certainly a familiar presence in my home? Maybe reading the book will offer some insight. I don’t know. For now I’m still in the hole, digging deeper.
We often assign music one task—to move us. We want it to make us sad, make us cry, make us happy, make us dance. In my opinion, the best songs ever written are the ones that give me what my heart wants, but also meet me where my head is.
And where is my head right now?
There’s always someone tryin’ to take someone’s power away.
The history of the world is violent. Will it ever change?
Now we’re livin’ in a time where you just can’t hide
There’s a camera in every hand
It’s not elusive. Even when they treat you like you’re useless,
We know what the truth is.
My head is burdened by thoughts I’m very tired of thinking. It’s almost impossible to understand how a people could deem themselves so superior that they would enslave another. Or how after decades of fights for freedom, we somehow still need to explain that we aren’t yet free and stand aside while the powerful, the wealthy, the white trivialize this perpetual war.
A noble piece of paper
With free society
Struggled but it died in vain
And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner
Hoping for some rain
Looks like it’s hoping
Hoping for some rain…
Gil Scott-Heron, “Winter in America”
In an effort to be kind, I’ll admit it is different now. We don’t walk around with our chains visible. But they’re there. A lot of us are bound by poverty and an inability to sustain ourselves financially, a state rooted in a system of slavery and racism conceived long before we were. Most of us are wondering why, so many years later, we even have to have a conversation about representation. Among these and many others, all of us are wondering why the mandate for an encounter with a black person is to shoot first and ask questions later.
Black human packages tied in subsistence
Having to justify your very existence
Try if you must, but you can’t have my soul
Black rage is made by ungodly control…
Lauryn Hill, “Black Rage”
Sip fancy coffees; Step over body outside he door.
Him fancy condo; He she call PO PO, me sing too loud.
I keep on knockin’. I keep on knockin’, but I can’t get in.
~ Fantastic Negrito, “Working Poor”
Control. Passion. Musicianship. Power. RIP Aretha Franklin.