dear moth's powder,
i think i might be one of the few people i know who uses a phonograph often. i decided to pull out Michael Jackson's 1972 "I Wanna Be Where You Are" but before gently placing the needle on the spinning black disc, i brushed my finger lightly on the needle's point, listening to that low, atonal blss-blss sound it'd make, listening to see and seeing to listen for if the stereo was turned up high enough. blss-blss again until, finally, i was pleased with the volume. of course, this is a saturday morning thing to do. it was bright yesterday, the white cumulus clouds were making all sorts of shapes - unicorns, acorns, ears of corn; i am hungry right now, if you cannot tell and haven't had cornbread in a while, not since the last time i was in boston, actually, sitting across the table from my brother eating bar-b-que - and i had a cup of tea with lemon, the windows open, no lights on, save the sunlight shining through the half-opened blinds so that a cool shadow was cast all over the furniture. i sat on the red leather couch, reclined, listening to all sorts of oldies music that i didn't know i had until i realized i had it in the office that i do not use nearly as much as i should.
well. i sat in the living room having gorged on some James Cleveland and Dr. Charles Hayes and the Cosmopolitan House of Prayer choir when i began thinking of you. and of course. Michael Jackson's song reminded me of you but i had to go search the office again for that album. and i found it. Michael, back then i suppose, was cute. of course, i wasn't born yet - 1980 loomed around corners of which not even my parents were yet aware - but they gave me a set of albums they thought were clean enough for a not-yet-saved but soon-to-be-saved teenager and since they were saved, sanctified and filled with the gift of the precious holy ghost, listening to Michael sing about being where anyone was who wasn't the lord was simply too much for them to bear. but. of course. they didn't and couldn't and - thankfully knew they shouldn't - simply throw them albums away. they wanted my brother and i to have some sense of connection to who they were before they knew the lord in the pardon of their sins, so to speak, they wanted us to experience how they were unsaved so we could feel a deeper connection to them. this, of course, did not happen. instead, i began to question the impulse that would make them turn off an album like this in the first place. was Jesus really against this kind of singing, i'd often ponder and i think they knew that that wasn't the case, that Jesus would likely shake his ass to the beat too. i mean, who could ever listen to "I Wanna Be Where You Are" in 1972 or 1982 or 1992 or even 2002 and not be moved? had they ever felt that way? i'm sure they did, which is why they married in the first place.
so of course i was too young to know all of this when they gave me the albums - a lot of Marvin Gaye and Jackson 5 and Aretha Franklin. oh me, oh my. but me being me, i just viewed them shrewdly, lightly and politely laughing at the fact that they could never understand my world and that we were separated by miles deep Jesus joy that i just didn't have...and didn't want. but i know now that they simply wanted to connect but couldn't find religiously appropriate language to make that claim, so they used song.
well. i hope you're used to my rambles by now. the album cover had Michael looking cuter than i had ever imagined and since by 1995 had began a not-so-subtle phenotypic, epidermal transition that affected his hair texture too, i didn't even really know who i was looking at until my parents told me that it was the same man who made the song "Scream" with his sister Janet. i stared at the two images, the one on the album - 1972 Michael with the brightest, straightest smile ever, kind eyes (Baldwin might even say they were world-absorbing or that he saw something in the bottom of his eyes or some such phrase; Baldwin loved to talk about the eyes and what they could and what could be seen in them); a chocolate corduroy jacket that i'm sure is back in style; a great gray hat - not sure what kind, a tam? a fedora? sort of like a gatsby, i think; dark turtleneck; the bushiest afro puff stealing out from that hat; and the smoothest brown skin that i ever did think hershey's could create, he must've been sweet - and 1995 Michael who, well, did not look much like that at all.
that's not to make a judgment about either year or Michael. he still made great music that haunts me even today. so after the blss-blss sound, i put the needle down on the disc, laid back on the couch, feet dangling over the arm, left arm behind my head, right hand on my stomach. the wind blew a quiet breeze into the house and then was the momentary break. the scratches of the needle on the disc that i could hear literally in that infinitesimal space between songs - the song that makes me think of you is right after another song ("Ain't No Sunshine" i think it is) that makes me think of you but that i don't want to relate to you but is because it is more intensely you than the wishes i had for the song to come - came as some sort of warning but also as a faded memory, broken dream, captured soul. desire.
long before CD quality music was created through digitizing, it was this scratchiness of surface sounding out through touch. needle caresses of blackness occasion the songs that we'd hear back then. i remember when i got my first album ever on my first kiddy phonograph ever and the songs were age-appropriate. london bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down / london bridge is falling down, my fair lady the song would play in a "modern" kid version, jazzy, i suppose. there was a breakdown that i remember but cannot write for you. it was maybe 10 seconds of the descent of sound, trumpets and keyboards playing, repetitious delight for someone who was maybe six or seven years old (let's hope six, though; seven would be too old to be so delighted with such vain repetition). anyway. after the breakdown - it was christmas day and i was able to stay up much later than normal - because i was standing, tapping my foot throughout the song and the album player was on the floor, i would bang my foot on the wooden floor of the not-so-great first floor apartment of a two-family house. the record would scratch a bit, skip backward a bit. i created science. i knew when to bang the foot, where on the floor and how hard to apply pressure so the song would skip right back to the beginning of the breakdown and not one hair of a second too soon...or too late. at least, that's how my memory records it.
intriguing how record and record are spelled the same, written the same but pronounced differently. there's a relationship between how we record and how we play a record, stress in the word's pronunciation is placed differently. we place the needle on the record of that which was once prone to be record. the sound from the record, the sound organized moment by moment to record share - i think - an ontic relationship. buried within the word record are two concepts and they sound out from one another. the relationship between record (played) and record(ing) is the movement from one state to another, scratching the black disc, taking it from its potential to kinesthesia. maybe 1972 to 1995 and beyond. maybe Michael in 1972 was the set of capacities to emerge as he had in 1995, with all of the force and sonic power, with all that had been written on and in him being played back for us all to hear, to see enacted publicly.
of course you know that the album Got To Be There was Michael's debut as a solo artist, the break from the sociality from which he emerged. that break, i think, haunts each and every sonic break, from song to song, scratch to scratch, 1972 to 1995, from my writing to your reading. all i'm trying to say is this: i wanna place my finger on you gentle, brush past your neck - blss-blss - place my needle down on you and play you, listen to the sound made when we touch. of course, Michael said it best: i wanna be where you are. oh!