Another Ghost Town; Numbness and Artistic Responsibility

The hook to Kanye's "Ghost Town" was turning on itself in my head when I learned of Anthony Bourdain's passing. I have no relationship with Bourdain's work - for me, learning of his passing was another data point shaping a dismal arc, and a sick feeling in my stomach. Of where we are, now, here. 

Sick is the way I'd describe the end of Kanye's Ghost Town (and, now with the release of Kids See Ghosts, its second part). It is, in my opinion, the role of musicians to aid people in connecting with deep feeling. As a means of grounding oneself, of building power, of admiring beauty. To say that life is filled with amazing things, and music helps us lean into feeling - making life more vibrant.

Something is deeply off when the catchiest hook on a new pop record (if we can call it that - I take issue with the assertion) is a glorification of numbness. 

And it is anthemic - meant to be sung along to by crowds of people.

When I think of the most powerful lyrics of pop music, they are collective assertions of action, of feeling, all connected to a network of life-living that believes life to be worth living. Life to be rich. This is what I believe to be true, and I believe it is what we must assert as artists. Even as we write of life's difficulties, or warn of dangers and injustices inhibiting our life-living, we are investing time towards a better world, a better way of living. 

Celebrating numbness is the opposite. It is clocking out.

Kanye demonstrates a lack of any sense of responsibility in his work. 

 

Throwing Glowsticks in the Pool

When I was young, I would gather around the pool with my cousins, every summer beach vacation, and go diving for glowsticks in the night. My father designed the exercise. Like streetlights strange effect on trees, there was something captivating about the unnatural light.

Recently, I feel like I've been dropping glowsticks into myself, and watching where they land. How they light up the strange new spaces, with beautiful, unnatural light.

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Potluck, Success

A veritable potluck success. Congratulations to all those involved.

An interesting thing: tried to record group vocal with everyone tonight. Got nervous sharing about the record, what it means to me, having others sing on it. 

I also got very serious. Very meticulous and precise - had trouble just chilling out / handling being in charge. Need more practice with that.

A long, winding, productive conversation about gender and sexuality at the end. In times like those that I feel I have an ability to synthesize information into broad cultural critiques that are helpful to people. That help them understand their world. I feel proud when I make a point that resonates with people. 

On Returning, Tectonic Plates

Saying goodbye is filled with feeling. The end of something holds within it the weight of the thing itself, in its entirety. It is here where we decide to let it die, to let go of it. Like the end of any artistic work - it's complicated. Often cut short by a deadline, a plane flight, a death. Business interests, the inevitable transience of time and value. 

Today, Mom and I are returning east. From the first trip visiting my grandparents in ten years - certainly the first in this body, this state of mind. It was a first contact, and it's a lot to let go of. 

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The televisions in the airport report on the shooting of Stephon Clark. He shares our last name.

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How we become numb to this abuse. The abuse of family, as well as of culture. 

Texas, pt. 4

Nettie is kind of a bad ass.

Today she showed me her music. We sat on small office chairs in her music room, and for the first time in my life she showed me compositions she's been working on for at least fifteen years. They are all part of one project - a collection of songs based on stories in the bible she'd like to have performed as a single service (probably lasting around two hours). She says, at this point, she probably has around 70 different songs more or less finished. 

She is completely different when singing along to her music than in the real world. She is powerful, confident, expressive. She is in control and happy. I thought her voice was so gorgeous, and her songs were well-constructed (in one case, she had a chord progression and melody I really was excited about). If anything, she showcased a formidable dedication (see: obsession) with her work, in the context of a very solitary and interior life. It was nice to learn these things have precedence in my family.

Ray has been singing his whole life - in and out of professional choirs, churches, and touring groups. Nettie has been performing professionally for much of her life. She is a composer as well and has had her work published. Ray's parents were both musicians and would perform regularly. Mom's uncle (Keith, I believe, is his name) was a professional singer. It is a nice surprise to realize today that I do truly come from a family of musicians. Serious musicians, who took it on in a spiritual and powerful way.

Speaking of which, we sang for Irene tonight. She nodded her head and twirled her toes in approval. I felt lucky to get to sing with my family, but a bit self-conscious about my own music and my skill. I still want people to weep the first time they hear my music. And I want to say things worth weeping about. Still, I'm trusting in time and the process to keep developing. 

Mom and I had another talk. Nice to process directly at the end of every day. This time here has been immensely productive in terms of internal development, and understanding my family. I am thankful she's so open to talk. 

We head back to Richmond tomorrow. I look forward to the hangs, and a quick and direct effort to establish more routine in my life (dance classes, other jobs, etc). 

 

Texas, pt. 3

Went for a long walk with my mom tonight. She said that it's hard seeing how her family is so broken. 

I feel the same way. It's certainly hard to uncover the roots of your life and find them dry, tormented, twisting in all sorts of ungodly shapes (much like the trees down here in Texas). The unloving language that never seems to talk about anything below the surface. The deep uncomfortability with, and thus inability to show affection through touch. The sexism and homophobia that have caused such pain to both my mother and her brother (who is here with his husband). 

I wrote in my journal today that perhaps the best thing I can do here is to listen. That hearing and judging are sequential, and perhaps I can do my grandparents the service I am guessing they haven't received enough in their lives - that of being listened to because they are human and deserve it, outside of judgment. 

I am trying. I'm not sure they have much to say. Already they fall into clean categories. Ray talks about facts - places, dates, things he knows. He shares, sometimes, anecdotes from his life, but rarely do they drift towards deeper meaning. Rarely does he talk with sincerity about why these events meant something to him - what a relationship means to him - what he believes or what he still aspires for with his life. Nor does he ask.

Nettie talks to fill the space, to express anxiety, to take control over a situation. It's not always clear which is which, and is very confusing to make out what she means to communicate. 

With both of them, I am waiting for sincere contact. As their grandson, I crave it. I would be thrilled to hear how they've lived their life, what they regret, what they are proud of. What they believe, on the deepest level. How they view their response to Jeff's being gay. How they view their relationship (or lack thereof) with me and my brothers. I'm not sure it's coming. At least, perhaps not on this trip. They have other things to deal with (tip-toeing around the aforementioned mishandling of their son's coming out).

It does feel good, however, to talk to Mom. We can help each other comprehend the situation much better, and it feels that some progress is made as we talk with one another. That she is beginning to understand the nature of my love for her - that I am her son, I'm not going anywhere. As a result, let's be totally honest. And I feel that I can now be more honest with her about what I'm seeing in our family. At times, I'm too critical. Most of the time I think I'm pretty balanced. I'm trying to feel and speak honestly, patiently, clearly. 

Two other points to touch on:

I exchanged messages with Katie before she went to bed in Iceland. While I don't want a traditional relationship with her (whatever that means), I've really enjoyed the increased frequency of messages exchanged between us as we've been traveling, and the small gestures of emotional support contained therein. I opened up a little about my frustrations with family - she sent support and a kissing emoji (the power of which is surprisingly large). We said goodnight to one another. Lucky us.

Walking around downtown Austin was strange. It felt to me to be at the crossroads between a town's community-based soul, and the influence of corporations and new money in a town. The stores seemed to be performing the soul the city is known to have, hiding their own responsibility in destroying it. A familiar script for cities victim to gentrification, but a unique performance out tonight. It felt like Disney world, walking down Sixth ave. Wide, manufactured, eerie, and sad. Made me feel proud to be from (and soon heading back to) Richmond, VA.

Which brings up one other thing: this time with my mother and our family has put the rest of my family into clarity by contrast. Oma and Opa are imperfect, but god bless them for all the effort they've put into having relationships with me and my siblings, and the genuine warmth they project towards us. I guess this is the nature of family - the varying branches each help you understand the other. Jump from one to one untill you can see the whole.