Life does this to you so many times. Just when you are getting a little too proud of yourself, feeling a little bit superior to your fellow man, fate comes along and beats you with a club. You go back to being humble for awhile. Then the whole cycle starts over again.
I had developed my scorn for the fixation on and the adoration of celebrities by others to a sniffy, high art form. Then Erykah Badu got in trouble for getting naked in public in Dallas. I am not going to provide any links. If you are interested, you surely will not have any trouble finding reading material. The point is that I felt badly about this and angry. Although she will be fine.
Erykah gradually slipped into my life some years ago during one of my phases that we will leave there in the past where it belongs. I noticed only the sound first, a sophisticated, but simple, mellow blend of jazz, funk, hiphop, reggae in varying proportions from tune to tune. The sound of that voice over top struck me as maybe the voice of the young Billie Holiday that I will never hear because the good recording equipment was not around until Billie Holiday’s voice was already shot.
So I borrowed the disk “Mamma’s Gun” (2000), loaded it into iTunes, and then into the iPod of course. Just for the sound of it, mind you. It took my white bread ears some time to discern the words of her lyrics.
This is the honest-to-god truth. I was at the gym with the iPod jacked in one day after having listened to her music for some time in the background at home. All of the sudden the lyrics became clear as crystal. This young lady was singing about how her breasts sag when she does not wear a bra, about her menstrual period, and about other aspects of the feminine experience that I have not made it a practice to seek information on. The track entitled “Booty” is hilariously obscene but in a defiantly feminine way. Involuntarily, I looked around to make absolutely sure nobody was hearing what I was listening to through those ear buds.
I have logged a lot of time listening to her lyrics since then. Erykah Badu is a poet in my estimation. She is pungently female with great pride and joy in her femininity, but it is not exclusionary. Know what I mean? She lets me in on it. When that young black woman does Cleva (“when I bust a rhyme”) and breaks into that chant at the end, “I’m all right with me,” then this old white guy is all right with himself, too.
She went on to do some bleaker, angrier material and then returned to material more like this. I don’t know. Maybe the deal in Dallas was another flare up of the anger in her art. I have not listened to her very latest work yet.
Of course, because I became a believer, all the emotional, trivial detritus followed in its wake. My disappointment because she cut off her super-sized afro, for example. I feel like confronting whoever it was that ratted her out for getting naked in public in Dallas. Knowing her as I do, I know it was not a publicity stunt. At the same time, I am holding my head in my hands in the very same way that I used to after some of the things that my own daughters did.
Please explain to me one more time, honey, why you did what you did before I leave to jerk that guy off his bar stool and send him sliding backwards on his ass across the floor.
That is how delusional I have become about this particular celebrity, Erykah Badu.
Cleva at the North Sea Jazz Festival (2001):
[Apparently, that video is now unavailable because the one who posted it closed their you.tube account. Want to leap forward in time and see me lip sync to Erykah? Click here.]