Posted in Music Appreciation, Nonfiction

As Always, In Parting, RILPS, Don Cornelius.

It is entirely possible that you did not know. Conjurers are rarely still aware of the ripples their handiwork incites, years after they uncork the lightning in their bottles. The world looks different now, like a dystopia that displaces its elders, like a nether region that edges brothers like you right on out of the game.

Your mansion, cold and underinhabited, may’ve felt like an ice floe.

We will never know.

But we are sure that it would’ve taken more than reassurance of your relevance to keep you here. If all you had needed were confirmations of your impact, you could’ve slipped into the back of any black wedding reception or family reunion, could’ve glanced in the general direction of a public school dance troupe, could’ve listened to the hooks in any number of hip-hop songs, keened your ear to the affected baritone of brothers who’d give anything to sound as effortlessly smooth as you. You needn’t have even left your home; there is Centric. There are the chanteuses and crooners who are your contemporaries, still rockin’ steady, still beautifully wooing, still owing you a world they would never have known if you hadn’t created it. There are Crooklyn‘s closing credits. There is the devastated, ever-lovingly devoted ?uestlove.

There are the voices of our parents whenever they talk about how “baaaad” the Soul Train dancers were, their tones still crackling with energy of yore, as they add, “I coulda been one of them, man,” or “I thought I was one.”

You see? It didn’t end with them. What you built was no sprint; this is a relay. Our parents bore your baton. And though your passing may cause the slightest quaver, ┬áthe most momentary stumble, we hold it now.

We know the dissonance between the generations. We know your era questions whether ours knows the true meaning of “good music,” or worse, whether we are capable of creating it at all.

You needn’t worry. We understand your labor. We know it has given us opportunities we’ve both cherished and squandered. We realize we would never have had the artistic community, the mainstream exposure, and the simple, undiluted fun we now freely enjoy in musical performance and appreciation were it not for you.

Soul Train was a space for us to shuffle off the coil of code-switching. There, our legends didn’t have to perform for audiences who regarded them as little more than organ-grinders. And our young men had a space where dancing could be un-self-conscious, could have grace and power and coolness and aggression, could escape the stigma of effeminacy. Our young ladies could explore their fashion sense, draping themselves in hood couture, half-shirts and high-waisted pants and maxidresses, while angling their arms, legs, hips and torsos in ways reminiscent of Ernie Barnes’ art.

We understood you, Mr. Cornelius, with few exceptions—until now. As a culture, we still struggle to reconcile suicide. It distances us in ways other deaths tend not to, and when the act is committed by a recluse like yourself, it’s even more bewildering.

But we can love without fully understanding. And we can mourn all that we’ve lost in you, apart from longing to know the mysteries that led you to leave us.

As always, in parting, we wish you love, peace, and soul.

Posted in Music Appreciation

Let Aretha Be Your Soundtrack

cross-posted from PostBourgie:

Aretha Franklin, circa 1960s

Last week, a friend of my grandmother’s passed away, after a brief struggle with pancreatic cancer. She was chic, impeccably styled and coiffed, well-traveled, well-read, highly educated, and within three months of her diagnosis, she was gone.

For my grandmother, the loss is primary. Her memories with Miss Edna span decades. And in her late 60s, losing lifelong acquaintances is becoming an all too frequent an occurrence.

For my mother, the loss is secondary. She grew up admiring Miss Edna’s poise and the kind way she had of treating young people as equals. She spoke wistfully of her travels and achievements and, in some ways, perhaps, wanted to be quite like her.

For me, the loss is tertiary. What I remember most about Miss Edna is having to hide when she came to visit, because whenever she did, her beloved poodle, Pierre, was in tow, and I was terrified of him. When I was older, though, I wanted her courage. She’d gone after a PhD in middle-age, traveled to Africa alone and lived there for quite some time. She’d raised a son. She’d worked at Morgan State, Baltimore’s favored HBCU. I wanted an inkling of whatever motivated her.

In some ways, our relationships to Miss Edna mirror our relationships to Aretha Franklin.

Nana remembers her first as a dewy ingenue, singing solos with her Daddy’s choir, then as a source of wonder, when at just 19, she could sing heartache that resonated with the long-grown.

Mom remembers her “Soul Train” years: afros and and maxi-dresses and Rock Steady. She remembers breaking up and feeling like the world would stop if an Aretha record did. She played “Till You Come Back to Me” until the vinyl wore thin.

My earliest memories of Aretha are the iconography. I remember her performing, “Think” in a waitress uniform in The Blues Brothers. I remember the fun of spelling (and misspelling) “Respect” on the playground and hearing her cover of “Natural Woman” for the first time on a bra commercial.

But as in the case of Miss Edna, we all, in our own way, claim Aretha as ours. And news of her illness isn’t filtered through our gradations of acquaintance with her. The worry isn’t watered down through the generations.

Whether you heard her first in the 50s or just this week, you likely feel a kinship.

Aretha is your all-knowing aunt. The one who’s been everywhere and always has money and stays telling your mama what to do. The one who’s unlucky in love, but still sings tales of hopeless romance at your parents’ anniversary parties. She’s all brass, strutting into every room with her back straight and shoulders square, no matter how much weight they’re carrying, always wearing something that makes the crowd whoop, “Ooooh, girl! No, you didn’t… She’s known great loss and that glint of loneliness you think you see in her eyes isn’t imagined. And you wish you could tell her how much she’s adored. And you wish you could tell her to take better care of herself. And you wish you knew an accurate count of the women who emulate her.

But she wouldn’t entirely believe you.

You so desperately want her to, especially now, when her time here with you might be more limited, especially now, when you know so well what cancer is capable of.

At its most malevolent, cancer robs. It takes and it takes and it takes; it is insatiable. And you hate to hear that anyone’s body is being pillaged by it.

Hope, if you hope. Pray, if you pray. Wait.

And now, as ever, let Aretha be your soundtrack.