February 28, 2004

"I come from a world made of love....."
Brace yourselves. This is a long one.

I haven't bought music in a very long time.

Not that I haven't tasted new sounds in a long time. As long as I have Rhapsody and music-loving friends with CD burners, I manage to keep growing my collection.

It's just that, like so many other things in my life (books, comics, movies, etc.), my music tastes have become much more selective and specific than they were in the past. There was a time that I bought anything that made me move. Which explains such unfortunate additions to my rack as NORE's "Superthug". Of course, that was back when I was perpetually planning for some mythic house party in the ill-defined future, when having 6 different versions of Luke's "Work It Out" actually made plausible sense.

Now, I'm older and my living room entertaining has become much more, shall we say, personalized. Isaac Hayes and other 70's artists my father can't stand have slowly but surely replaced any and all club anthems and left them for, well, the club.

Interestingly enough, my mother loves Isaac Hayes. They also disagree over Muhammad Ali. Mom loves him from when he was pretty and talked trash, while Dad, missing the obvious similarities between The Greatest of All Time and his good-looking, trash-talking self, merely respects him. But I digress.

Moreover, as a writer and a resident of Los Angeles, my regular habits play a much bigger place in my musical appetites, and, unfortunately, Nelly rarely makes music I want to drive to and never makes music I want to write to.

I look for music that inspires.

Frank Sinatra for the magic of New York City.

Godsmack for the horror that hides in your bedroom closet.

New Wave Top 40 from my teenage years for unrequited love.

Roy Ayers for the agelessness of the Motherland.

The point, of course, is that I already own or can access most of these at my leisure, some from other discs and others over the web.

So the fact that I heard an album online, then felt strong enough to buy it here in the real world means a number of things to me.

The album in question is the latest from Meshell Ndegeocello, entitled "Comfort Woman".

If memory serves, comfort women were the daughters of Japan who were pressed into service as sex slaves for the army of the Rising Sun during World War II. And my sense of the album is that the title is oddly poetic and totally appropriate. It seems to both acknowledge and still revel in the shackles that love seems to place on us - our willingness to plunge into the deep end of another human soul and let it mingle with our own, sometimes even at the risk of drowning.

Because the world is hot and the water is just so very, very cool.

I'm especially fond of "Love Song #2", where she says:

So happy I'm here
Born on a black star
I've come so far
To give you love
Beautiful, beautiful love
Beyond the stars
Is where I'm from
Come with me
We can live in love

I come from a world made of love
I want to take you there
I come from a world made of love
I want to take you there
We can fly butterflies

Don't leave
Stay with me
Say you love me
Look in my eyes
I love you
I just want to love you
With beautiful, beautiful love

Which brings me to the real issue at hand, namely love.

A new friend recently told me that she didn't like Male R&B, because she thought most of it was bullshit. "Let's Get It On" she could handle, because she felt like it just cut to the chase. Anything beyond that, to her, was simply a lie that men tell to lasso ass.

Which is interesting to me on two levels. On the first level, in my opinion, most contemporary Male R&B, populated with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Genuwine, R. Kelly, and the rest of their cohorts, seem to be pretty crude and direct about their intentions ("I wanna rock your body", "You owe me", "You remind me of my jeep...I wanna ride it."). On the second level, it sounds like she's presuming that no man is ever actually sincere when he professes to love a woman.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm a fan of Male R&B. But, as my good buddy in Harvard Square likes to say, I am a "'sucka for love".

Maybe because I was raised by two people who can't seem to agree on music or old-school fighters or what movies to watch or how much they love church or any number of things they don't have in common, but still manage to stay silly and lovey-dovey after 43 years of marriage.

Maybe because the sight of a 70 year old widow, beaming as she walking down the aisle in a no-frills burgundy dress to marry a 70 year old widower was, without a doubt, the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my entire life.

Maybe because I'm an obsessive movie fan and I've internalized the Hollywood notion of the happy ending.

Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is I believe in love. Love in all its forms.

My aunt once told me that she didn't know what unconditional love was until the day that she became a grandmother. A very good friend of mine said that he really considered the full ramifications of the idea that God loves him, no matter what he's done, and that it nearly brought him to tears.

But if we don't ever think to question the love between a parent and a child, or of a worshipper for their God, or of a patriot for his country, or among old friends, how did romance become so farfetched?

I'm sure it begins with sex. After all, our bodies are very much like a recording device. And no matter how much you love mama's home cooking, it doesn't quite leave the same mark in your memory as looking into someone else's eyes as you both share a moment of ecstasy. Even the most delicate kiss is looped on our lips and our hearts a thousand times more than any dap you receive from your boys. Someone once told me how she once got it so good that she actually shed tears of joy amidst her screams of passion. We never forget the things that make us cry.

And yet, offering our bodies is far easier than our hearts. In fact, I suspect there are many people who'd sooner have sex with someone to distract them from actually looking at who they really are (or who they THINK they really are) on the inside. As if helping someone achieve an orgasm will make them stop asking all those annoying questions about your interior life.

Romantic love is the only kind of love that operates in two dimensions.

And sometimes, even more than that, because beyond our hearts and bodies, there's also history. How many relationships have had the seeds of their destruction sown years before when a child couldn't escape the unspeakable appetites of a fiendish adult, or the rubberstamping of violence in their parents' relationships, or the hard choices forced upon them through their responsibilities to their own children, or the complication of an STD, and so on, and so on, and so on...

But does the fact that the equations are more complex mean that they're simply unsolvable? No, but they are harder, and I think many simply give up. They just ignore one variable in the equation and stick with the easy one, because it's simply not that hard to sleep with someone (or someones) you don't love.

Of course, I personally don't believe you can ever completely ignore the other half of the equation. Your body is still recording the experiences. They still have more meaning than last night's steak. Those who delude themselves into thinking it's just an endurance sport do so at their peril.

And let's be honest for a moment. For each and every person who talks about how cynical they are, about how much they don't believe love exists, and that all men are dogs, and that they don't love these hoes, and all the other crap we tell ourselves to make it OK that we aren't getting the love we really want, there was probably someone, somewhere, sometime, who made them float on air. Someone who made them want to call every single person they've ever known in their entire lives to tell them just how absolutely grand they've made them feel, body and soul. Every last one of them has had at least a taste of love. They're just mad that they were only given the sampler before they were kicked out of the restaurant.

And this applies to both men and women. Every dog was once just a precocious little boy who had his heart broken and then decided he'd have to teach every other girl a lesson for what the first one did to him. Does it excuse his behavior? Of course not.

But when the Dramatics say they want to go outside in the rain so she can't see them cry, or Teddy Pendegrass says he's been thinkin'-thinkin'-thinkin', and then started drinkin'-drinkin'-drinkin' because he missed her, or Earth Wind and Fire asked if she minded if they touched, if they kissed, if they held her tight 'til the morning light, I know for a fact that they are speaking SOMEONE'S truth, even if it's not their own.

On the other hand, I'm saddened that I have to reach back at least 15 years to find a preponderance of songs by men talking about more than just "I'm really glad I get to bone you on a regular basis." I'm sickened by all these stupid falsetto Romeos who have nothing to offer women on wax but a ride in an overpriced car, a good lay, and maybe some really nice jewelry for their troubles. And that fact forces me to at least acknowledge the reality that spawned my friend's lack of faith in love.

I miss the days when more brothers had the stones to actually love women.

At least I'd have some company. :-)

And I really miss the days when more women knew what to do with love when they actually got it.

I guess we're all out of practice. Maybe we need some lessons from the old folks. Hey, if Mom & Dad can do it for four decades, they might be on to something.

Anyway, I love this album, so here's my first truly shameless Amazon.com plug. Buy it. You won't regret it.

And, while I'm on the subject, I'd also like recommend "Salvation: Black People and Love", by bell hooks. I'm sure you can guess it's relevance to the topic of the day.

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