Songs with male/female parts annoy me. Even when they start out well, they often descend into facile reiterations of hackneyed heteronorms while laying claim to their own universality. Like Chrisette Michelle declaring “I am woman”, or when Calvin says ‘What makes me a man? / Any fool could see, you’re more than a woman to me’.
An exception: Jay-Z and Foxy Brown’s ‘Ain’t No’. It’s not interested in making statements about Man and Woman, just on how the pair feel and behave. Jay adds an emphatic “I try” to his “Promise to stay monogamous,” and Foxy, for all her bluster, confesses that she doesn’t really mind about the other women because: ‘I swear you be killin me playin inside my pubic hairs.’ I like Tricky’s ‘Suffocated Love’ for the same reason, its specificity: ‘I keep her warm but we never kiss.’
The song starts out with the image of the songwriter as the (willing) victim of someone he probably loves but is more comfortable denying intense feelings for. Between ‘She says she’s mine, I know she lies’ and ‘You beckon, I bleed’ I chalk her up as a femme fatale, and relinquish hope of the writer finding any fault with himself in this dissection of their love, not when there’s a stock feminine character primed to absorb blame.
But the narrative dissipates with the plea, ‘You understand? / I can’t expand.’ Does he mean expound, or is he already alluding to the strictures of love implied in the song’s title? Both probably, which is what makes it good.
From then on there are fragments that muddle any sense of who is speaking, who is being addressed and who is in control. She’s the aggressor but: ‘I slap her back, she mostly hates me’ and just as suddenly - ‘She cuts my slender wrists’ - he’s vulnerable. Then arrives this perfectly realised image of mutual supplication: ”She’s on her knees, I say please.” Even when it’s about fellatio, it works.
I’m listening and my brain threads scenes from Wong Kar Wai’s film Happy Together through Tricky’s bars. Vertiginous elation at each other’s presence; wanting without finding the words; topping; bottoming; dancing. Stealing his passport to make him stay; baiting; getting the rise you wanted and laughing a laugh ugly enough to rot the cage you’ve built; starting over and looking down to find yourself riding the same wave; being stomach-sick. It’s Tricky: ‘I know why the caged bird sings, I know why’.
- Martina’s not asking ‘are you going to stifle me in this relationship?’, making a qualification, requiring him to sign a pre-nupt. She’s just noting that stifling and being stifled is part of their being together - to have and to hold and all that. Is this pessimism, fatalism or just keeping it trill?
Both the film and the song are about form, the forms that have carved their contours into our bodies, that complete and deplete us, that give us rhythm and shape. The church I grew up in used to talk about ‘soul ties’ and instruct us in how to break them. Nobody I’d loved (like that) had loved me, so I had little need of the sessions. Still, I loved listening, and I longed for a soul tie, even as women cried out to their Lord for release. Locking and unlocking, binding and loosing of bodies.
I think ahead of you, I think instead of you / Would you spend your life with me / And stifle me?
I’m obsessed with the song and I know it wants me to be given the refrain and all the repetitions, which are the spokes on which it turns itself over and over: “It’s too good, It’s too nice” “Take a second of me / Take a second of me” “I know why…I know why.” The song is rushing up around me like water. Do I want to float on it because it threatens to drown me or despite that threat? Both probably, which is what makes it good.
- Does a rhythm - a way of being with someone - always have to hold, to bind, to tie? And it’s not just capital that makes us like this, is it?
“What could interrupt the translation of all social relations into propertied ones? What other kinds of infrastructure for proximity can develop that will bind us to the world in which we find each other; or bind us to each other and, in such binding, make a world? It’s hard even to lasso the right phrases together to get the rhythms of sociality in sufficient sync to render a habitable material present, or world.”
- Lauren Berlant ‘A Properly Political Concept of Love: Three Approaches in Ten Pages’, Cultural Anthropology 26:4
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- ahnka said: my heart just got weak for maxinquaye.
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- randomberlinchick said: I guess this isn’t the place to discuss the wonderful Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong collaborations ;-)
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