Wednesday, December 1, 2010

moth's powder (12.firsttuesday.04)


dear moth's powder,

remember that show Out All Night that starred Patti Labelle a few years ago? the show was about a woman named Chelsea - played by Ms. Labelle herself - owner of a nightclub "Club Chelsea." in the show, Chelsea was a singer with a former career in "the industry" and, as such, the nightclub would feature various live performances. (really, the show was merely an excuse for Ms. Labelle to sing on television weekly; i am not complaining!) there was one episode i remember in particular: she sang the song you are my friend and the song is some such inspirational, secular (then, i would've said, non-gospel and thus, worldly) tune about being friends and having love and sharing it with the world. the song slipped into words that were almost familiar to any gospel ear, so much so that my father was excited and possibly on the verge of saying that Ms. Labelle was not only showing that she'd grown up in the church but that - and he'd say this with a bit of enthusiasm right in the bottom of his voice, restrained a bit - you know she knows the lord, right? the words in the song i've been looking around and you were here all the time resonated with him but it was also the appearance of Ann Nesby - famed for singing with the gospel-esque (but certainly, not gospel) group Sounds of Blackness. well. Ms. Nesby and Ms. Labelle screaming and wailing and walking the floor and waving hands and stomping feet was as reminiscent of "church" as it could get for my father, so he was pleased and because he was pleased i was happy. something happened right there after the song ended when Ms. Nesby threw her hand up and almost said - almost but restrained herself from saying - hallelujah!

and i've always tried to figure out that moment, that break when things transition from one mode to another. it's like when a gospel singer or group - think the Clara Ward Singers or Shirley Caesar or even Ricky Dillard - is performing at a decidedly non-gospel awards ceremony and they say something at the beginning like let's take it to church which means you're gonna hear someone wail in the microphone, there will be an organ filling the air with sustained and minor chords and arpeggios and there might be a tambourine struck here and there, now and again. pretty much, taking it to church indexes some sort of building of tension sonically in order to be released after a break. you also hear this when people are dancing and shouting at church. at first, folks may be a bit polite with their dancing or may just stand and clap. but the music builds and swells and builds and swells and then - pop! - snare drum struck and the organist grinds, sliding up or down the keys, breaking: and the people fill the instrumental gap with the sounds of their feet and their voices and their clapping. the break is the moment of encounter, the moment of the ever so faintly after the tension built exceeds and overflows occurs.

or it can be much simpler. like when singing congregational songs during the testimony portion of a church service, when we go from one tune to the next because they have the same form, the same chord structure. going from this is the day to in the name of jesus (we have the victory) to victory is mine to bless that wonderful name of jesus to there is power, power, wonder working power in the blooooood of the laaaaamb... well. you get the point.

the point? at least in the social world and social life of the curious churches in which i've been a member or which i've been a musician, there is a much more general disposition toward transition and disposition seems to be bound up with dispossession. in the transition - after breaks, or from song to song - one descends and ascends simultaneously, one gets down by going higher. that is, one creates centripetal and centrifugal space in which to inhabit in the tiniest cracks and crevices, easily discounted when one isn't given to nuance. getting down, going higher, descending and ascending in small space wears and abolishes the limits of location itself, lays bare the ruse of boundaries. and this social world teaches, if anything, self-critical nuance and attention to detail. to have a disposition towards transition is, to me at least, the realization that transition is the relinquishment of position and location, it is movement on the move that is constantly moving and never arriving. it is the present participle (to get all linguistic on you, apologies) that makes real philosophic contemplation of temporality and being. i mean, what was most intriguing about the transition from song to song was the aspect of and ability to be - especially as kids, particularly as kids - surprised, to be inspired and struck with awe and wonder.

it's like that time i heard someone leading praise and worship sing

we worship christ our lord / we worship christ our lord

we lift our hands to him today / we worship christ our lord

and transitioned to

we worship christ our lord / who is worthy to be praised and adored

so we lift up holy hands with one accord / we worship christ our lord

well. not just a surprise but also the pure joy and beauty of mixing the second song - blessed be the name of the lord - with the first to create something new from something old at the point of transition. something i read recently said something like: the great thing about black church musicians is that they had to simultaneously fulfill a role normally thought only reserved for "composers" in western classical music. one must be adept with a range of sonic ideas, chord structures and progressions in order to cohere with singers. but one must be able to do this while learning and creating at the moment of performance. well. this is not just a musician thing. this singer created a new song from splicing two old songs. and the congregation, as was i, pleased. and he was pleased we were pleased. and we all emerged from the situation differently.

of course, you're wondering what this has to do with anything and why i'm writing to you. this is connected, i think at least in the way i've been thinking lately, to how i've stopped calling you a "friend." at this point, as i've written you already, my family knows we are no longer together so they've stopped referencing you - god bless their hearts - as my "friend" (of couse, they meant "partner" but had not the language for it and probably would've obscured it had i insisted otherwise; but they didn't know how Foucaultian they were really being, you know, friendship as a way of life and whatnot). but i had still been saying to people - new people i've been meeting that i'd love to replace the space in my heart you still have (and i am not afraid to admit this) - but i've been saying to them oh, i have a friend who lives... well, you know where you live, so that's not of import. what i finally heard myself say one day without realizing was the surprise in my voice when i transitioned to some such other idea, some otherwise than friend for you: my former partner lives... and i startled myself, to say the least. then i realized. i do not and never did i want you to be my friend. if i really do think Foucault was right, it was in that he said that we should work at becoming and not being some such thing called friends. there is a world of difference in that present participle and that thing as (already and only) present.

and if this is the demonstration of the tendency of the disposition toward transition it is by way of dispossession: i never owned you, you were not my possession and my love for you could never hold you down, nor should it have. dispossession is a concept of relationality, it is not what someone is, it is what we do. but we let things go only in order to receive. we, as my friend Fred reminded me today, exhale in order to inhale, we are poor in spirit in order to disperse that which is in us so that we may constantly receive more. if we do not engage in dispossession, we will never have anything, we will cease to be. try holding your breath. it won't work. gotta give up that shit that we want the most. but giving it up, relinquishment allows for renewedness and renewal, for refreshment and is this not the chorus, the refrain? dispossession and breathing, it seems to me at least, are bound together. well? well, indeed.

breathe easy,


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