I wrote a film score last year that I put away. One of several things I wrote in a prolific writing and recording period. Its just what I do in between my real life which is spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally labour intensive. But I digress. I didn’t have a title for it till today. Often the music will take the lead in the naming ceremony. After listening for a concentrated period, it began to suggest its ideal and ideas. Sonically its as harsh and as blunt as its subject matter till it opens up with a bit of colour after four minutes. And as I started to think about the contrast of sharp and pounding intensity of monolithic rhythm like a plantation field that shadows the soul, the humming dabs of colour stained the picture like droplets of sweet water on the tongue. And like a drop of blood mixed with sweat, landing without a parachute on the soil of that tethered soul. On one level its about the slavery that masters the body, which is mastered by desire or beauty or something else. Everything is a slave to something. Everything is mastered by something. So Its called ‘The Slave Who Masters The Mistress’. The recording has not yet been mixed and mastered.
Its the year 2005. I’m in Hamburg, Germany. I’m staying with my uncle. He has a spare room in his apartment which is the epitome of simplicity. In this little room there is a bed and not much else. There is a modestly priced keyboard that most likely belongs to one of my cousins. Its crucial in that moment of my discovery of it that it is not a high end keyboard. Its functional. Thats gold enough. I am alone. I have played something and recorded it to tape. I am in a different environment but there is a feeling of comfort from two chords which find me through this instrument. And a third. Yes chords do the finding and hands make the leap of faith which ultimately funds belief. Hands are not much different than hearts when it comes to loss. To be found is the price and the prize. And chords know us better than we know us worse. Seeing chords in colour is a luxurious vantage point, and what one lacks in sophistication is not necessarily lost in translation. So it was to be that I would be found by the melody of ‘The Pulse Of Life’, which would travel with me, faithfully, through years of iterations. Its been a patient process of reclamation.
I had a mug of coffee this morning. Much too large. Drank to my tongue’s content. Sweetless. I lost my charger yesterday and a dog bit my brother in the place where the nail went through Christ. No lie. It dawned on me. That’s just the noise though. It scatters like fragmented thoughts.
Its day 3 and passing over the amalgamated sweat stains of the years behind is like passing through the blood. Collected. Calm waters. Passing through the cup of storms. I’m not bitter. But like the cup of sugar free coffee, I drank to fulfill a ritual of my being alive. The sweetest taste is hope. And while the bread is without yeast it has all the flavour and colour of all the life I see before me. Glory is the path of pain and ressurection. Death lives in the middle. Stalking life. Salty. “Choose me. I want you to choose me”. And it begs to be noticed where life once stood erect and love bowed on bended knees. Like the mourning. It claims a temporary victory in an eternal contest and unlike its feathered cousin, it loses its way. Its only way. Once the fear of death is conquered, the fear of life is less potent. Love arises where death has no surprises.
Curtis’s hands were important. Not more than his heart. When he recorded his last album he had only the use of his neck and the head attached to it which housed his genius mind to do the work of breathing out hope into a world that had tasted too many losses to inhale the optimism extolled through music. His heart still functioned effectively and the evidence of soul and spirit was still audible. Lying on his back he recorded one short phrase at a time. Phrase by phrase, a word became a line of lyric. Phrase by phrase, a line of lyric became a verse. And then a chorus. And then a bridge. Curtis’s hands remained still and silent through this process. The eyes watched and waited for something that the hands knew would never happen again. Curtis could not find feeling in the physical form of hands that had mastered a style of guitar playing that was unique to himself. Hands that shaped sounds for Hendrix and Marley to study. Hands dramatically and unwillingly put to rest. And this is why those hands are a great teacher. In their absence of use he martialed the figurative hands that survived the destruction of his body, from the neck that shouldered the weight of his head, with a voice which expressed his deepest feelings in song. A lifetime’s worth of wisdom and openess to the mysteries of life. I remember listening to New World Order and being humbled by Curtis’s generosity of spirit, and in awe of what he accomplished in terms of sonic life affirmations in such desperate circumstances. The testament of the spirit when it intersects with the divine is all one can hope for when one puts in the work of exhalation. Curtis Mayfield’s musical soul holds the hands that raise up the weary hearted head of hurts. Unbowed.
Today is a wedding ceremony. A marriage of possibilities. My cousin has exchanged vows and time will study and tell what it has seen, heard and known under God. Black life like black bodies have long been a surrealistic feast for the voyeuristic eyes of fetishists and fantasists. Joseph Conrad could not open his eyes even behind the safety of his pen, to straddle his imaginative reconstructions of the monolithic burden bearers in the heart of darkness situated in the continent of his mind’s perception.
Baldwin generously invested the deformed and fragmented faces of exotica with the unusual idea that they were worthy of being depicted as fully human, even in a foreign land. The continent is not a country. And a country in this context is not a geographical destination. The poetry of Baldwin is not merely the words sentenced to a page but rather the lives affirmed by his words dancing to the tune past the margins of hate and redeemed by love. In his writings love is the great pacifier even when it sets fire to our expectations and challenges our notions of who is worthy of grace, and the horrors that transgress the invisible inhabitants who are generational custodians of a manifested multifaceted curse with wings.
Barry Jenkins painted the poetry of James Baldwin beautifully in ‘If Beale Street Cold Talk’. Next week lovers around the world will serenade each other with cards, gifts and kisses flavoured with wine and chocolates. Babies will be conceived. Lies will be ever more creative. Truths with be earnest and unsparing. Death will still be in business. Card or no card. Life will go on. Love in its bittersweetness covers the multitude and will endure the fall out. A torn page is the pity that a chapter can afford to lose.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
– James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
Wettest eye watering skinned brother on the inside, arachnid crawling out, side eyed, hunger bites the heart of fear, and the killer, mother knows best, knows not the fright that drives him to stomp small creatures and their secrets, like vaporous confessions that rise up with death.
Smoke city. A body burns, like nations, like bodies burning nations. Iraq hid in flames of refutation.
Web swinger, entrapped in the ganda, hung to dry on the rope that pulled him up to the measure of Spider men, climbed into company love of misery and a tail wagged for the milk of magnesia and human kindness, as mythical as the love that murders with good intentions to broadcast.
Charity. Just spare me the charity of words like the vain in life who speak of the ignoble dead, fishing in blood rivers. Dead as purpose of Pompey. Restless in peace.
Patriots are foreigners too. Like poets. Dead ones seem to outlive the living. Their words are the ideas that dreamers cling on to for a fictive future.
The living are dreamers at dawn. Walking on corn toes. Curved. Running the zig zag. They are pragmatic with crayons. And they laugh loud and unclear like the noise they speak.
Home is where the heart is heavy. If you cut through the chatter and chit it’s all bullsweat. Now if you knew where to bury the living, I’d hand you a shovel. No words. No songs. No honour to purchase.
They’ve got that one day exclusive on offer. Get your love at half the pain. All foreign currencies accepted. Faces are guilty but eyes are blameless.
Black bodies. Gold plated hope behind second skin. Black holes for weeping bullets, scream behind screens, unheard trauma scares dreams into a silence so loud that it hurts to hear. No fears to trace, to find the trail of tears that triggers the trigger of cowards and all that we choose not to see. All the cows we milk as they moo. Not yet found like Mother’s love. Away from home. Cold meat on a warm climate. Touch it. Pull. Tear it apart. A human lives behind it. Gold for skin, not cuddled, so dark as to be unseen. So much of night lives in you. Lights up your days. A paradox of mourning. You have known all your life how bright invisibility is. So shiny you didn’t need virtue to polish the skin that hides your identity. When is a human a being? In the womb of contemplation is a seed travelling the possibilities of being alive in a world not yet born.
When I was younger I used to spend a lot of time reading books in libraries. I think Art galleries are similar. One difference is that you can only read the words of a painting with the eyes behind your eyes if its the work of a true Artist. Such a pretentious thing to say but its half true. And the pages of some paintings are left unfinished with or without intention. Thats not as tolerable in books you would find in most books displayed alphabetically in a library. But the abstract ‘truth’ in unfinished paintings often seems much closer to my experience of the world and my perception of reality. The seeing and unseeing in paintings feel more accurate than the specificity of the language conveyed by written words on a page that bends. On the other hand, the written word is crucial. We write so that we might recite. And that is not all. Our malleable eyes are not only made for the glory of painterly visions but for redrafting what we see.
Its always the guy left of centre. And its always a game within a game. No crown. No throne. Just moving pieces.