Discover more from Donita Reason
We'll never be those kids again
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I listened to Rihanna's album ANTI pretty much nonstop this past spring and summer. "I got to do things my own way darling," she sings obstinately (and gleefully!) on the opening track, "Consideration." She does it over a throbbing bass line and itchy beat that I couldn't get enough of, that made me want to roll around and get really sweaty. Stylistically, the album is a little all over the place, but every second of it is firm in its insistence that this woman is taking ownership of her work, her image, her body, her decisions—and the consequences.
Emboldened, I made the decision to sing "Needed Me" at karaoke twice this summer and, while I was way out of my league, the high of being able to pose the question "Didn't they tell you that I was a savage?," to a room full of your peers is one we should all experience. (If you happen to live in Seattle, the Rock Box has it in their catalog.)
"Let me cover your shit in glitter, I can make it gold," I sang silently in my head for months whenever someone at the office said something asinine in an editorial meeting or Slack channel. At home I sang the words aloud, conjuring kitchen magic as I rooted through the fridge for withering vegetables to make into soup or leftovers to turn into a new meal.
I still love ANTI, but now when I listen to it, the bumpy, brooding songs that got me so juiced this summer feel more menacing, less assured. Now the words that immediately follow Rihanna's declaration of autonomy are what linger in my head: "Will you ever let me? Will you ever respect me? No."
I've been meaning to write this newsletter for at least a month now, but after my last one, which was steeped in bleak post-election emotions, I wanted to do something different. To try and be hopeful. (Spoiler alert: not happening today.) It's hard. I'm figuring out how to stay agitated, speak up, and be politically active everyday without feeling terrible all the time. It's a tricky balance, but I've been working on it, even feeling like I might be getting somewhere.
But two days ago, I read an article about how our soon-to-be president has likely, in part because of piss play, been compromised by a foreign government. Yesterday, during a press conference I watched him refer to himself in the third person multiple times, then scold and deride a journalist in a tone I wouldn't use with my two-year-old. Then I watched as he used the CATCH PHRASE FROM HIS REALITY TV SHOW to end the event. This morning I woke to the news that, during a middle-of-the-night vote-o-rama (how is this an official term?), Republican senators set on repealing the ACA rejected the opportunity to protect rural hospitals and the health coverage of people with pre-existing conditions.
"Is this real?," I had to ask myself out loud. "This is real." I felt oddly grateful for the term vote-o-rama, which at least brings some relief by exposing how everything happening right now is a spectacular circus shitshow broadcast live, ad infinitum, for ratings and corporate profit. For the last month or so, the progressive-leaning network MSNBC has been running the same disgusting ad—a close-up of the president-elect's face with the words "What will he do? What won't he do? This is why you watch."—in the New Yorker. Week after week, it makes me throw the magazine across the room, through its miasma, screaming.
Back in October, I got pulled deep into the world of Frank Ocean’s album Blond. Like ANTI, it begins with a simple, rattling beat, though Ocean immediately pours a big bucket of glowing, viscous organ sounds over you. It only takes him five lines into the opening track, “Nikes,” to make the first of many drug references that populate the album and, from the start, he's severely altered and pitched up his voice so it sounds like a nervous kid's. He crafts an alternate reality, one that’s lush, disorienting, and feverish, but still very much rooted in the mind and body. There's a haunting, somnambulant restlessness to it that feels familiar. You’re high, you’re swimming, maybe drowning in your own thoughts, but look down and you're where you always were, "bones feeling dense as fuck."
On Blond, Ocean obsesses over human connections, most of them failed and flawed, and the ways those relationships can be enhanced, altered, and corrupted—by chemicals or just memory itself. He's continually looking backwards, trying to reconnect with and recall lost loves, lovers, and the specific moments they shared. He's captures the particular synergy and dynamic that can be created between people, even as he knows those possibilities are mutable and infinite. The music reverberates and swells in my brain; it trails off, unresolved. It no longer surprises me to look at someone—a stranger, a colleague, a relative, someone I was once close to, and maybe still am close to—and realize that, as he sings, "I came to visit cause you see me like a UFO.”
Something has changed and there is no going back. This is a thought that's been rolling around in my head since the election and gained traction over the last couple of days. It's true, but I also know better.
Memory is faulty, our views of the past can't be fully trusted. Maybe they are built on youth, drunken nights, enhanced sensations, a hot season, suspended inhibitions, blissed out ignorance. Or maybe they are built on ideas of who we were, the times we happened to be living in, the comforts and progress we took for granted, the leaders we looked up to.
Listening to Blond continues to be an intense physical pleasure, even as I consistently cry during the first verse of my favorite song, "Ivy," when Ocean sings, "I ain't a kid no more. We'll never be those kids again."
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