Gay For Sade

18 02 2011

It’s true. I can’t help myself. Her music may be one degree (or less) away from Kenny G on the smoothness factor, but I don’t care. It’s just got this vibe, takes me back to the rainforest, feeling moody storm shadows pass through me, sipping sweet rum in plastic chairs, making early afternoon love while tourists beach and shop, the locals talk about boats and politics two floors below. Below the thick green, leafy and moist, crawling and reaching for a taste of tropical sun, which peeks out intermittently when the billowing clouds pass by, searing the sense of place into your skin, browning by the instant.

Sade’s music may have a home on every soft rock radio station, every “Quiet Storm”, feathering its way around plasticine corridors and the fuzzy foam labyrinths of corporate America, but that’s precisely because it echoes from a place (and a bosom) more exotic, suggestive of days of sand pounded by air-temperature waves and rays of sun in single digit latitudes offset by steamy nights in side street cafes or clubs oozing with hustle and soul.

Many fans are attracted to the escapism that goes with such exotic origins. Sade sings from a heart that seeks soothing reassurance and mercy as much as it demands to be recognized as its own. The mainline, the IV drip, to our souls is established through the Brazilian and Afro-infused arrangements. It’s not an escapism in the vein of Jimmy Buffet, who is all country and calypso and who preaches to the overgrown college boy crowd. Sade has won the hearts of the third world and first world alike, a fierce soldier of love, and she plays to her army, unafraid to care and unashamed to feel their feelings, rather than a frat party.

That’s why she is so beloved, she builds her fans a fortress within which they are free to be and feel exactly how they are, and through her love she shows that we are all brave enough to love without those walls at all. In fact, those walls aren’t even there; they only exist as a guide, training wheels, if you will. The ultimate power of Sade’s music, her lesson, is that we are free…we should and can be brave enough to love and be and feel exactly how we do without any need for explanation or justification. Because what we are is beautiful.


A Day of Ghosts, A Day of Kings

8 02 2011

My first time in Memphis. Southaven, Mississippi, really. But close enough, just over the state line; you fly into Memphis. Usually on these work trips I never get to see or experience anything that brings the place renown, anything touristy. Hence my over-elation (perhaps) at the smell of barbecue right off the jetway. Who knows? This may be the most culturally significant experience of the entire trip.

At baggage claim, where I rendezvous with the rest of the crew, the director informs me that our services will not be required until late afternoon the following day, and that in the morning we will be taking a field trip into downtown Memphis (my heart leaped) to the world famous Sun Studios (out of my throat and across the lobby). And if there is time, we’ll go to Graceland or the Civil Rights Museum. All gravy, as far as I am concerned, some real Southern-fried sightseeing.

Walking into the one room studio at Sun, you think you’re going to be prepared. How mind blowing could it be, such a simple room? Well, I think that’s exactly how they must want you to feel…because all the history begins to flow through your mind (Karl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, U2, oh, and that Elvis guy. What’s his name?) There’s even a picture of the Million Dollar Quartet on the wall. The wall itself looks identical today.

But that’s nothing compared to when they play you the music. You look around, hear the music soar through the room, and you know there are ghosts in there with you. The feeling is undeniable. There’s the microphone that captured all the voices for decades, right next to an ‘X’ on the floor where Elvis stood when he first auditioned for Sam Phillips. He wasn’t quite The King yet; that would take another, oh, couple weeks! You feel it in your gut, all the history and mystique wringing out all your adrenaline.

I take a picture with the microphone…and buy a t-shirt.

After that, and a few miles down the road, we go to the National Civil Rights Museum. Quite a timely visit, February being Black History Month. The whole turn of events is becoming more serendipitous by the second, given my meeting Myrlie Evers last week. We pull into the parking lot, and begin walking towards the complex, something seems very familiar, and I begin to experience a feeling similar to that I felt at Sun; my adrenaline was charging and the place had a certain spirit. But the spirit here takes on a somber tone, a funeral hymn. I find myself standing in front of the Lorraine Motel: the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King.

To call these hallowed grounds would be inadequate, like calling the Himalayas “hills”. Nothing prepared me to see the place where King fell, the newer square of concrete poured to replace the blood-stained piece that he left, the beautiful gospel music playing in the shrine. This wasn’t simply a feeling of ghosts, but of a much greater tide of spirit, much more emotional. The combined sorrow of an entire people, past and present.

It’s an emotion that’s hard to describe. This place, so wrought with sorrow at the loss of leader, a huge blow atop a mountain of centuries of pain and injustice. You feel something greater than yourself, you feel that weight. The gospel music comes through the speakers, the water wells up in your eyes, you can’t help it.

It’s quite a way to experience Memphis, or any other city, with one site so celebratory and one more contemplative. It’s a collective experience not shared by many other cities I have been to, at least not on that level. Though every town must have its legends and fallen heroes, accomplishments that deserve to be remembered and respected, gifts and deeds that changed lives, maybe not on a global scale like those of Kings, but at least on a local one, where you can interact directly and frequently with those leaders, any one who sacrifices time and even their lives to share with others, to lift them up, to make the world a better place for everyone.


7 02 2011

It’s weird to think about, really, how are lives are broken down into minutes and seconds. Planning has been taken to a microscopic level, schedules must be abided, targets must be reached. It’s all good to an extent, because the way or world is set up we must accomplish things to get ahead, put food on the table for ourselves or our families, plan for our retirement. There must be a debt for our mastery/defiance of time and space. The benefits of a global community come at a price.

Waiting to board the plane this morning, I had a conversation with a man regarding the virtues and dilemmas of window, middle and aisle seats. Because I travel often for work, and bring expensive equipment on board with me, I will sometimes prefer a middle seat to an aisle or window if it mean I will be in a better boarding group, thus ensuring bin space for my stuff. With exuberant eyes, he told me how he just loved window seats, how to him they represented mankind’s greatest achievement. By this he meant our ability to go anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours, when long-distance travel use to be considered in days, weeks, or months. Of course, for those who cannot afford or access air travel, this still remains the case.

It made me wonder how being up so high, 34,000 feet to be specific, and looking out of the window for miles and miles, so far that you can see the earth curve away, affects our perspective of life when we are on the ground. How do we relate to distance? To mountains or clouds? To walking? To planes flying overhead? How has our psychology changed since we began to view the earth from such great heights?

One of my favorite professors in college, N. Scott Momaday, was a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a Native American of the Kiowa tribe. With his deep, booming voice, he used to tell us the creation myth of his people, of how his ancestors crawled from the underworld to this world through a log, how they originally dwelled in the mountains, their view of the world inhibited by tree and shade. Some brave leaders ultimately led the tribe out of the mountains to the Great Plains, and there they were introduced to the single most powerful and catalyzing element their society would ever encounter: the horse.

On the back of a horse, a Kiowa could see for miles. They could see herds of buffalo or enemy raids while still miles away. It gave them time to react, but more importantly, it changed their psychology, their world view (on account of actually being able to see the world). It gave them the opportunity to plan, and they became wise to the advantages therein, from making the most of precious few minutes to avoid or prepare for an attack or laying the groundwork for generations to come. Their culture became enriched not only by the deeds of past ancestors but by the promise of the future as well.

There can be no doubt of the benefits of technological advances for both the Kiowa and our culture today, and they parallel each other with the enhancement of long range vision in the literal sense, but in a metaphorical way as well. And while this ability was and is used for the good of the tribe/society, it’s not without its bitter end. The horse brought the Kiowa into its own as a brave tribe, the became masters of the Great Plains and of war, which brought great glory and a heritage as well as the tragedies that go along with it. While, the thousands of flights every day around the world make possible incredible achievements in every profession and help enrich our global community, yet they also pour tons of carbon into the atmosphere, warming the planet, making our future a little less certain, even as we plan for it.

Search for Purpose Yields An Answer: A Footnote

3 02 2011

I feel kind of bad. Well, not bad necessarily, but maybe a little dishonest. You see, I believe when started this blog I was quite adamant about the subject matter being about not one thing in particular, and as of late, my writing has been overwhelmingly music-centric. Those who really know me will not be surprised at all, and anyone else with a heartbeat, after learning that music is my true passion (writing, a skill by education), will find nothing out of the ordinary about someone writing about what moves them. I understand this too, and also subscribe to the notion that one must follow his or her muse. I should’t feel too bad. Indeed I should be ecstatic at the outpouring on the subject, considering how long I remained silent.

Yet still I wonder if I should alter the course a bit: either 1) decidedly narrowing the scope of this blog to only music, or 2) intentionally taking up a different subject just to mix it up. And now I guess there is a 3) go with the flow, because you have already made steps to mix it up, just let the ideas come to you for that will be most genuine. And that too was a promise I made from the very beginning.

Ghost, part 2

3 02 2011

The White Stripes officially hung it up today. You could say music lost another legend; I would say we lost them a long time ago.

Jack White will never quit. He is the undisputed king of modern rock and roll. Just about everything he touches turns to gold, even if record sales don’t show it; and his fans eat up each and every project. But he doesn’t need the White Stripes anymore; it’s always better for an artist to follow his muse than to fake it, unless they’re just in it for the money. Sometimes even rock stars grow up.

No other band since Nirvana has so successfully embodied youth and rebellion. Rocketing out of obscurity in an unprecedented DIY fashion, playing by their own rules, playing everywhere, with their garage aesthetic and candy cane colored wet dream, they¬†tore the establishment a new one. Then, at the peek of their popularity, Jack pulled a Sting maneuver, and went off and formed The Raconteurs, another great, heavy band, but one that lacked the originality of the Stripes, and in doing so made the first puncture in an ever growing hole in the time-space continuum of rock and roll. Sure, Jack’s destiny was locked in, his fame would spread around the multitude of inevitable projects, but the White Stripes were doomed.

Everyone knew it. Get Behind Me Satan failed to connect with the fans. While it showcased Jack’s growing palette for new sounds, it also became clear that Meg would never be able to keep up the pace. As always, the increased radio play alienated those fans who, no matter how long they had actually been listening, felt personally responsible for the band’s success. All the signs were there.

The press release may be dated today, but their absence has been felt for much longer. Instead, a misty, cavernous hollow still exists, fringed by hundreds of minor bands that come and go like reviewers for Pitchfork, touted for their brilliance and originality, and several thousand more that aren’t, none them able to occupy the sonic and visceral space the Stripes could, not yet. But were waiting…and listening.

Ghost Consciousness

1 02 2011

It lurks without you knowing it is there, until you feel it; in the aisles at the record store, while flipping through channels on the radio, when staying up way past bedtime sampling music online for that sound that you know in your marrow must be out there but haven’t found yet. I call it the ghost consciousness, because you can’t quite put your finger on it. It’s probably different for everyone; we all have different tastes. (Although, there are times I believe when we share the feeling. Like 9/11, where, separate from the tragedy and the horror, a sense of foundation was ripped out from underneath us and a feeling beyond loss took its place, an enigmatic shadow gathering here, dissipating there, only to rush in again, shaking constitutions; an wretched, aching cavity.)

The ghost consciousness is rampant in music (and the arts in general) because of all the artists who seem to take their bow before they reach their fullest potential. Rock and roll has been notorious for this since its inception (Buddy Holly, Richie Valens) and reached a critical mass in the late 60s and early 70s with drugs and alcohol playing a key role. But we shall never forget the classical genius of Mozart, succumbing at an early age, and the spontaneous wizardry of Charlie Parker, who gave his life away to heroin.

In light of more recent times, Kurt Cobain cannot be left out of the discussion. Whether you liked Nirvana or despised them, Kurt’s exit left an undeniable and ever-present hole, and I am not talking about the band that released a record that same week. That Nirvana changed the world is irrefutable; they didn’t just happen to be in the right place at the right time, they WERE the right place at the right time. And as fans scrambled to ease the pain with something as visceral and indicting and bone jarring and beautiful (they never would), a dark misty gloom settled over all of rock and roll. The entire notion of alternative music would forever be haunted by Kurt’s absence and by the decay of the wonder of what delights he would have served our ears.

All the tragedy aside, I do believe we are fortunate to have been left with what gifts these artists did give us. And there are many who will say that there is nothing else: this is what they made, and that’s it. But for fans, it’s not that easy. We love to watch our favorite acts evolve, and thus evolve with them. They enrich our lives, and when they are gone, not only are we robbed of hearing their next masterpiece, there is a part of us that never gets to be realized, a voice that will forever be silent. And that is the ghost that hangs over our heads when we desperately search but never find.