Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jazz in the Gardens, feelings, and Lauryn Hill

How sad, how sad, that all things come to an end
but then again, I'm not alone
it was the sweet, sweet, the sweetest thing I've known
-Lauryn Hill, "The Sweetest Thing"

Is this just a silly game
that forces you to act this way?
Forces you to scream my name
and then pretend that you can't stay...
tell me, who I have to be
to get some reciprocity
'cuz no one loves you more than me
and no one ever will
-Lauryn Hill, "Ex-factor"

I wanna love you, and treat you right
I wanna love you, every day and every night
we'll be together with a roof right over our heads
we'll share the shelter of my single bed
we'll share the same room, yeah, for Jah provide the bread
is this love, is this love, is this love, is this love that I'm feeling?
-Bob Marley, "Is This Love?"

Don't even get me started on love and what a terribly confusing and unpredictable commodity that is. Maybe it works for some people, but when you are a person of intense, extreme emotions, it just doesn't seem to work very well. (This being said, neither does attraction, nor infatuation, nor fascination. They all end up feeling like love because they're all so damn intense. Or maybe the few people I'm fascinated by I actually love. I don't know and I don't care.) Love requires something that I really really really dislike, that being needing something from others. Sure, you can love people at a distance, and sure, you can say that you love them for being them and that you don't need anything from them, and sure, you can like people and be fascinated by people and have them not pay any attention to you, sure. You can lie to yourself and say that it's fine, but at the end of the day, at the end of some day, you're finally going to feel the dissatisfaction, and the feeling of rejection, and you're going to realize that you've been lying to yourself, and then you'll be questioning like Lauryn: who really do I have to be, simply to earn some reciprocity?

I'm in some kind of state of emotional dissatisfaction. Just in case you couldn't tell.

That aside, Jazz in the Gardens started last night. In case you're not aware of what Jazz in the Gardens is, it is a two-day concert featuring some really great acts in Miami Gardens, Florida. In the past two years, I've seen Teena Marie (R.I.P.), Frankie Beverly and MAZE, Anthony Hamilton, Common, Erykah Badu, Kenny G, Babyface, Mary J. Blige, etc. So, now that I actually live in Miami (and work a stone's throw from the stadium), I knew I had to go this year, especially since one of the headlining acts was scheduled to be Lauryn Hill, yes, the Lauryn Hill of past fame and recent musical infamy. So, after much financial stress (what else is new), I copped my tickets and yesterday was at the stadium, ready to enjoy myself.

I saw Charlie Wilson (excellent performer, excellent), and Heads of State (Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, and Johnny Gill--all great performers and dancers too!), and was enjoying myself, just vibin. I was a bit perturbed that there were so many audio problems, and the crowd didn't seem as live as they've been in years past, but that could be because of how far back I was sitting. (I told myself that today I'd sit in the liver section.)

Well, the later hours of the night approached, and we were waiting on Lauryn Hill. I found myself anxious--I didn't grow up a Lauryn Hill fan or non-fan. She wasn't really on my radar, considering I wasn't really into music in the same way then as I am now. But she was a part of my childhood. I remember seeing her in magazines and that impressive Grammy run. So, I wasn't anxious as if I was seeing someone whom I absolutely adore, like Prince. (I'd probably cry if I saw Prince live. I really hope to in my lifetime. See him and cry, that is.) I was anxious because I've heard about her recent performances and how they've left a lot to be desired. I was nervous that she'd take forever to come out. (It was already around 11:30 and I was talking to a coworker about how when he saw her a recent homecoming show, she came on two hours late. I was freezing and vowed that if she didn't come out by at least 12:15 I was out.) Well, speak of the devil, right when my coworker told me that story, she came out on stage.

Now, before I even get into her performance, can I tell you a bit about those three songs whose lyrics I posted up there? Can I? Okay, thank you, I shall. In reverse order.

"Is This Love" is a song I actually never knew until my eighteenth year of life. I learned so many things in that year. I learned it--of course--from the college ex, when he told me we could share the space of his single bed. (Yeah, I know. Still makes me a bit tender even today, so imagine my melt-factor when I was eighteen. Contrary to popular belief, I have never been one to have men falling all over themselves to say nice things about me in any sincerely non-platonic way. Because of this, a lot of things that should not be so valuable to me still are, but that's a conversation for another day.) We shared his single bed for a little while and then went our separate ways, but that song will, for me, forever be linked to those memories. So it resonates with me. Plus, the idea of someone saying to me that they want to love me every day, and every night, and that we can take a single space and make it ours? Leaves me yearning every time. Men aren't out here saying things like that these days, let me tell you.

"Ex-factor" is... well, what woman anywhere near my age bracket doesn't know all the words to this song? Doesn't sing along whenever it comes on, wherever it comes on? What woman doesn't understand the fuck out of this song? The line of this song that always resonates with me the most, seemingly no matter what age I am, is: tell me, who I have to be, to get some reciprocity? 'cuz no one loves you more than me, and no one ever will. Even now, I feel like I never get any reciprocity. Never. No one is ever on the same page with me, no one can ever emote as deeply as I can, no one feels and I mean really feels the way I do. I feel like whether I play the games or don't play the games, I still end up with the same result (nothing). Sometimes I wonder who I have to be in order to get what I want, but I don't feel like I have the energy. When I say that, people always think I'm being melodramatic, but if they knew that I've been in some sort of emotional turmoil having to do with men that I care about/love/have had sex with/want to have sex with/am infatuated with/are fascinated by since age 14 to now (almost 24), then maybe they would understand when I say I'm tired as fuck. Tired. I honestly am inching ever closer to not caring. Not playing any more games, not trying to bait and fish and reel, not doing any of it anymore and just being by my damn self. For ten gotdamn years I feel like I have been loving/liking/wanting the fuck out of people and receiving nothing in return. Nothing. It was a hard lesson to enter into when I was so young, and it's still not easy to swallow. Thus: tell me who I have to be, to get some reciprocity....

"The Sweetest Thing" is one of those songs that just works. The melody, the tempo, the keys, the words... it all works for me. It's the type of chill song that I can really vibe to. Plus, I really connect with the idea of the innate sweetness in ordinary things. (Again, when you lack ordinary things in your life, when you do get them, you attach to them an extraordinary high level of value.) Forehead kisses, someone putting their arm around you and pulling you closer into them, locking fingers, lying with your faces touching--extraordinarily simple, ridiculously valuable. Another song with sentiments that resonate with me: how sad, that all things must come to an end... a line like that is hauntingly austere and reminds me that at the end of the day, all sweet things that we experience will, at some point, become sweet memories that we relive through daydreams. Not a nice feeling for a romantic like me, but it is a truth of life. And what does she mean when she says but I'm not alone? Does she mean that she has God? That she has herself? Her memories? Regardless, if any of these songs comes on, and I'm around you, please don't speak. Just let me vibe and sing.

Now that I've waxed poetic about these three songs, I can explain why I picked them.

I picked these three songs in particular because Lauryn Hill killed them last night at Jazz in the Gardens, and by killed, I don't mean she sung the fuck out of them, I mean she stabbed them in the back with an ice-pick.

She came out on stage dressed very strangely (long puffy black skirt, black shirt, red jacket, lots of makeup, a weird haircut/wig covered by a Yankees cap), and she came out singing some song I didn't know. She never really connected with the audience, didn't stop to talk or chat us up, just started singing. Or, well, talking, because it wasn't quite singing. She sounded out of breath the whole time, and she sang completely out of key/register... which is where our songs come in.

She performed the songs in the order I posted lyrics, so of course when I heard the melody to "The Sweetest Thing" I got so excited. I'd just been vibing to the song earlier in the day when they played it on the radio, and there's nothing that makes me happier than being able to hear an artist's live take on a song that I love. (When I heard Raheem DeVaughn perform "Mo' Better" I could have floated away, and it remains one of my favorite songs.) Well, she sang it in a completely different register and essentially plowed through it. Her live performance had none of the easy reminiscence of the actual song. In fact, I don't even think she was singing all the words. I gave up trying to sing with her because I was the only one on melody.

After a couple of other songs that she seemed to run through (the whole time she was performing, she never stood still and she continually motioned to her band and the sound people to fix audio things and keys, etc.), I heard the melody of "Ex-factor." At this point, I wasn't necessarily excited, because I was still talking to my coworker, and coincidentally, we were talking about the song right when she started to perform it. He told me that I'd cry when she performed it, because of how bad it would sound, and he was wrong. I didn't cry. But I was immensely disappointed. That is a song where you grab a stool, sit down, get close to the audience, show us your vulnerability. Cry. Sing the fuck out of it. I'm not a performer, but I've seen enough excellent performances to understand what you do at what time. I'm not a singer, but I know I'd sing the fuck out of that song. A few bars into the song, and I told the person I was with I was ready to go. I never leave performances early, but her performance of that song pissed me off. She sang it with zero emotion. She continued moving around, singing half of the lyrics, breathing/talking over them instead of really singing them. She didn't seem like she was appealing to me, asking me how she could gain reciprocity. She seemed like she was rolling through a song she's no longer attached to. She might not be looking for reciprocity anymore, but I still am.

When we were walking out, she started "Is This Love?" and I started walking faster. I in no way wanted her version connected to any memories I may have of that song. She plowed through that one too.

I'd heard that her performances had not been great, but I wasn't prepared for how much it was going to feel like a train wreck. Considering that I didn't even grow up with Lauryn like that, I can't imagine how someone who did felt if they witnessed that last night. I needed, I needed her to plaintively ask, just ask who I have to be, I needed her to, for me, for everything I'm feeling; I needed her to ask because I have too much pride to. But, she didn't, and my pride stood intact, while the question remains in me, swirling around but never uttered.

it ain't workin... it ain't workin...

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