i’ve become so much more accepting of the fact that certain pieces of music speak to me at a certain time for a reason. i have so-called ‘songs of the week’ which stay with me for anytime from a week to a month.
this is what they are- for now:
i recall the days growing up as a child, where music was used at times to counteract the violence in the home. due to this i always looked at music as a way of diversion, with healing potential. i don’t recall a time when music was NOT played in the house; however it wasn’t until i was about 19 years old when i began to truly appreciate and love music for the gift that it is. as a teenager i used to hang out at a (sadly, now-closed) record shop on 6th street in the east village, new york city; just wide-eyed and taking in lessons from knowledgeable men 10 to 50 years my senior. my mother was my first musical teacher, pat. longo the second. i will forever be thankful for their lessons.
ironically the greatest musical teacher for me, at 19 years old, was the radio. within weeks of each other, both ‘maiden voyage’ and ‘giant steps’ exited the speakers, and without knowing what those two songs were, i overstood true beauty. i had to find out immediately what those songs were. love is indeed stronger than any compartmentalized notions of these waves of sound. modelled after a tone poem, ‘maiden voyage’ flowed as effortlessly as gwendolyn brooks’ or nikki giovanni’s prose; i listen to george coleman and freddie hubbard’s saxophone and trumpet-respectfully- and i imagine those warm sunny saturdays, strolling over the brooklyn bridge. i imagine those meditative moments as i listen to tony williams’ drums merge with ron carter and herbie hancock’s bass and piano call-and response where we had opportunities to watch the sun set on top of a tenement roof.
‘giant steps’- i heard coltrane’s scatting tenor saxophone, and to me it rivalled ella in grace. never had i heard an instrument sing in that way before. i began to memorize the quick notes in my head. there’s something about this that makes my spirit soar. both the albums those songs derive from have been two of my favourite albums of all time for years.
music can indeed be (and IS) a healing force of the universe, as albert ayler and mary maria parks so aptly put it. just as music should be an ever-flowing mode of communication spanning generations, so should our lives. however, just like far too many of us do to music; we hold on to these aspects of our lives to the point where it holds us back. it is one thing to honor our ancestors and the art they created; but it’s imperative we honor the spirit of what they do as opposed to the physical body itself, so we as artists, activists, and individuals could positively progress and engage with the generations proceeding our own.
this current overstanding allows me to make sense of my own histories. the journey i’ve taken has been one of no regrets. i feel as if i’m here to learn and experience as much as possible in my short time here on earth. i’ve met and spent time with so many people with different levels of fame and success (some of those moments also changing my life), i’ve travelled a few places around the world, i’ve been without a place to stay, i’ve been between living in comfort and living in poverty; i’ve been assaulted, robbed, stalked, abused; i’ve attempted suicide several times; i’ve been depressed, i’ve been loved and disliked (and perhaps hated)…
i think so many of these struggles stem from the fact that i have never really fit in anywhere. i didn’t necessarily fit in with the family dynamic growing up; i didn’t always fit amongst my peers growing up due to my views and experiences, and i don’t necessarily fit now for the same reasons. the difference is that now, i don’t see my differences as a hindrance.
i was the one who kept my head in the books when everyone else wanted to play; i was the one who became a vegetarian (then vegan) when i was told it would kill me; i was the one who played in punk rock bands… i was the one who studied anarchism and various spiritual practises; i was the one who regularly stopped watching television at the age of 18; i was the one who thrift shopped and shaved all my hair off. i was the one who majored in photography and made super 8 films… i did all of these things i wasn’t supposed to do as a young black person.
i never thought of my life in this way as all of these things were happening; however, i realize ultimately that i was the one who lived according to the way i wanted to live. i followed my heart/intuition and let the universe guide me. we all have several paths presented to us when we enter this earth; it is up to us to choose which path we are going to take.
the path i’ve taken has again, been challenging to the people or society around me at one time or another. i remember being the ‘odd one out’ because i wasn’t really interested in dating boys at the age of 11 or 12. some of my classmates already were in romantic relationships, and while i didn’t say anything i always thought that was too early to be in a relationship with anyone. i remember thinking people were ‘cute’, but it was nothing too big. at 11 i wanted to play; i wanted to still be a kid, and dating seemed like a big responsibility no kid should really be experiencing, with emotional baggage peering around the corner.
of course, even at that age i was accused of being gay- ‘what- you don’t like boys? well you CLEARLY like girls!!!’. even at that age, to me sexuality and intense romantic feelings were private. i wasn’t even processing sexual orientation at that age, and yet people decided to label me long before i felt ready to have romantic relationships. and of course (because they felt sorry for me), people decided to set me up with a young man who went to the same school, who was more ready than i ever was. i remember thinking that i was not into him, but i quietly/reluctantly obliged, noting one of the few times i recall actually caving into peer or societal pressure. another girl was into him… and he treated her quite mean. i thought to myself, ‘is this what it’s like?’ and i knew this was not the life i wanted.
despite not being into romantic relationships at that time, i’ve always been a romantic in some way, even as a child. i’ve always been an idealist to varying degrees, wanting to see others happy, even if i wasn’t. i remember a couple of my classmates being romantically linked; one of them knew that i wrote poetry, so they wanted me to write a piece, declaring love to the other. i was always interested in why people saw certain things in each other, and i was also interested in how i could write about something at that age that i’ve never really felt or experienced.
i remember all throughout older childhood and preadolescence i would do things for people- cleaning their desks, patting their heads, writing things for them; and i wonder if it was a way for me to get the attention from my peers in the way i wasn’t getting at home. it wasn’t until i was in my 20s that i was aware of how much boundaries existed for people. i didn’t realize that people in my world generally weren’t as starved for affection as i was.
it wasn’t until i was 15- a late bloomer to some- before i actually ‘officially’ liked anyone, thinking i could just declare my feelings. after this period came a series of mishandled relationships and mass rejections. throughout this time i spent time with a lot of guys significantly older than me, and was usually the ‘little sister’. very rarely did any of these men declare feelings for me. the men i hung out with usually were in committed relationships, and did not stray from that. in fact, i became friendly with their wives and partners; thus dispelling the myth that women and men can’t be ‘just friends’.
i was always the ‘bridesmaid’, the ‘friend’… i’ve always been convinced that this was how i was going to live out the rest of my days. admittedly it was something i found comfort in, due to this extreme fear of rejection. for a while i was actually sad about it, since the older i got i saw a lot of my friends and acquaintances getting married and becoming parents. relationships gradually change once you have other commitments to tend to. there’s not much in the way of rationalizing the ‘cat lady’ future (as mentioned in the inaugural post); it just appears to be something that is. i’ve just learned to accept it, and cherish the relationships i’ve had when i had them. i know that i’ve learned something from everyone, even if it seems minute.
my fear of rejection has lessened tremendously over the years, and i’ve learned to take each case of it as a lesson.
and here is where we return to music. for many artists, depression or devastating events fuel what one does with their art. at some points it’s a reflection, and others, a diversion.
there are two artists i have in mind when i think of this: michael jackson (who i consider my teacher (and have a different blog dedicated to him)) and isaac hayes. both artists were phenomenal performers and composers in their own right, as well as generous outside of their profession. both helped to build/fund schools in the continent of africa; both were crowned honorary kings (in ghana and côte d’ivoire, respectfully), both were concerned about injustice… their painful experiences also fuelled their art.
recently watching films documenting their lives (either personal or through performance) put things in perspective for me. mr. hayes was said by friends and family members to have suffered from a low-self esteem. and of course michael has publicly stated that he did what he did in terms of his looks, in order to please his father. both men in my view were incredibly handsome; and even though both took advantage of their looks to get mileage out of their performances, somehow there was something in their minds which stated the opposite.
having experienced strong issues with self-esteem, i empathize with these two men. no matter how beautiful people think or say you are, there’s something different in the brain wiring which either makes you think they’re actually calling you ugly, or that they want something from you. and if you don’t strive towards self-rewiring, the places you can go can lend to a potentiality of danger.
both michael and isaac hayes seemingly overcompensated in their performances to make up for whatever peace of mind they lacked. they needed audiences to fuel them; they needed to keep working to feel relatively whole. it’s also interesting that both were constant seekers of a spiritual resolve or peace.
there is something about art that leads people who have struggled to it. for some it’s escapism, and others it’s for the purpose of healing/community/storytelling. i began writing songs and poetry when i was 8 years old. there’s always been a lot on my mind, and creative expression was the one thing i identified with. as a child i used to write about things such as my imaginary friends, and i graduated to the teenage years with writing about morbid subjects, to reflect whatever depression i was going through. at times i’d even sneak in actual events. i look at some of this stuff now, and i don’t regret anything i’ve written; for it’s proof that i’ve come a long way in not only my creative journey, but emotional as well.
in this journey i’m also learning to say ‘no’. i do advocate for pushing the limit (or even ‘going the extra mile’) when it comes to some things; however, i’ve realized that capacity is everything. if you tap out your resources for personal, creative and spiritual growth there becomes a point where you may run out of things to contribute or produce, and you end up repeating yourself out of habit. if you don’t openly state where your capacity lies, you may run the risk of people taking advantage of you.
people who have not grown up in a place of love may not be aware of where the capacity lies, so they may be unusually nice to people, in comparison to their peers. the need for love is so great that boundaries appear to be nowhere in sight. this seems to be what happened with mr. hayes and michael- i definitely know this is what happened to me growing up.
capacity lends to the weight of something. again, whatever capacity you have, this most likely will determine how much energy you give to something. the more energy you have makes less room for negation or lapses in discernment- you are better able to clearly see the types of energy in people you encounter. the more energy you have makes less room for mistakes.
do mistakes carry weight? indeed they do, and paraphrasing mr. samuel, they do depend on how you feel- about yourself, and the world around you. yes, there are genuine mistakes people make at their jobs, there are mistakes that happen with equipment or electronics, there are financial errors, etc. right now though i’m speaking to the types of mistakes specifically to human relationships. since this is the case i am wondering if bob ross was right when he stated there were no such thing as mistakes- “only happy accidents.” did mr. ross’ statement even apply to humans, or just art?
depending on how one feels, those ‘mistakes’ can be used as life lessons, devoid of the negative connotations mistakes carry on their shoulders. these ‘mistakes’ can really be gifts at times. i find that encountering the same (negative) patterns in relationships leads to a time for me to reevaluate where i am at in life, and to examine myself. i have worked hard at making the capacity for self-doubt smaller, so i can make room for allowing these lessons to come in.
and once you’ve opened yourself to that capacity; once you’ve tapped into that energy you’ll be able to fit anywhere in this world. it doesn’t matter if others don’t say you fit. whatever love or compassion you have for yourself is going to reflect your interactions with those individuals, whether or not you openly have love for them. you may not love (or even like) a person; because of where you are in your life, addressing that person with the same respect you demand for yourself is going to be a higher priority than addressing them with the same negativity they deliver towards you. when this happens- in my experience anyway- the person usually responds in kind, without the negative tone, or… they tend to just go away.
self-love, self-respect and self-appreciation really do carry weight- and it’s much stronger than pride, which can be unsteady if rooted in negativity. as the saying goes, ‘there’s only one way to go but down’; so a sense of humility is important- not just to formulate better relationships with others, but to also be open to learning more from your ‘mistakes’.