“Her (Mitty Collier) voice fucking blows me away…and the fact that she was so young when she recorded that stuff…how many 20 something year olds can sing like they know what they are talking about. and people want to know why i hate beyonce and solange. fucking worthless bitches.”
So I introduced (otherwise felt guilty about not having enough money for Christmas gifts and gave a CD I already had and have in my iPod) Cheyenne to Mitty Collier. And It had me thinking when he said this, as I replied:
“But don’t you think, if we compare how many of our favorite singers grew up, and had to go through life that was, painfully harsh by the time they actually reached 18 or 21, compared to the Suburban Opulence and Middle class ease that Beyonce or a number of other pop tartlets these days go through. Altho “Rage to Survive” is the title of Etta’s book, you can come up with a list of 500 performances from different women from the past that show that “rage to survive.” To be loved, to be respected, to be honored, to be taken seriously, to be heard. “
And I thought about what I said a little more in response. Those Soul Singers (particularly the women from the gut bucket blues singers like Bessie Smith through the 1970s singers like Kim Tolliver) lived through an era where it was a lot “tougher” to be a minority female. A lot of them came from impoverished backgrounds. And even if they didn’t there were plenty of societal limitations about who they could be, how they could represent themselves, and how they could live.
Beyonce Knowles was born less than a year before me. She was born into an upper middle class Creole family in Houston, in an era that, as I interpret it from my view of being (lesser) middle class and Creole, growing up in the affluent Silicon Valley of the 1980s, there were fewer restrictions on who, as a minority female, you could be in the last 20 years of the 20th century. We didn’t suffer like the generation that birthed us. Or the generations before. We were the generation that was told we could have it all, there was no pain, and everything came as we asked for it.
We had maids (Black folks with maids?!?!?!) We had Ninetendos, We had our first cars at 16.
It’s a reality that Mitty Collier didn’t have. It’s a reality even Diana Ross didn’t have. If you look beyond the myth of The Supremes even, although Diana Ross and Mary Wilson, for points in their childhoods, had middle class existances, they didn’t have their first cars at 16, didn’t have new clothes to wear when school started, and, because of the size or politics of their family didn’t get attention, or material possessions to fill the voids of not getting affection and attention.
So often, in their late teens, or early twenties, when they won the chance to steal the spotlight for themselves, even if it were only for 5 minutes on stage, or 3 minutes on a 45rpm single, they put every breath of life into it. And they didn’t take the chance for an encore for granted.
Maybe if the lyrics handed to them didn’t relate to who they were, they found meaning in the words. Learned what those words meant. Expressed a knowledge of the power of statements. Dionne Warwick says she doesn’t understand why everyone thinks she was soo heartbroken, crying through songs like “Anyone Who Had a Heart” or “Walk On By” but, there’s no question she understood where the lyric was coming from. Followed the emotion in the words.
“If you see me walking down the street, and I start to Cry, each time we meet……..”
If one thinks about how devastated one would be, to utter those words. One might be able to make a pastiche of that heartbreak.
Whatever happened to lyrical content being actually a story that you can follow. A story that you could apply to your own life? Whether you were the singer on the stage or in the recording studio, or the listener on a radio, or buying the single that spoke to you in a way that’s beyond words?
That’s why I laugh, still, like 18 months later at Beyonce tripping down the stairs. Or the lack of passion in today’s popular music, and how that shows popular culture might be a bit rotten at its core right now. People who land record contracts and make it to iTunes, or on TV, feel that they are entitled to whatever attention is lavished on them. Not that they necessarily worked hard for it, or are filling a void about needing to be heard, recognized, acknowledged, cause this is the only way you know how.
Maybe we’ve forgotten how to get in touch with the words, how those words express emotion. I guess that’s why I sit on a bedroom floor, with CDs and old mixtapes and LPs and 45s, to make sure that, I, of all people, don’t forget.