As is the case with many people around the world, music is extremely therapeutic to me. Of course that has its positive and negative aspects as well. The right kind of music for a person can inspire great feats of humanity within. On the other hand the wrong kind of music for a person could completely deform them psychologically. Funk was of course the music that of course had the most inspirational quality to me. Mainly the side of it that allowed the combination of melody,rhythm and instrumental professionalism to exist side by side in a groove of complete musical harmony. Janelle Monae’ is the best example I can give of a contemporary artist who is having that sort of effect on me. She is someone that I consistently referred to on this blog when referencing modern day music that reaches that part of my heart and soul. Her personal history plays an enormous part of that.
Miss Monae is presented before us as a Millennial generation lady who grow up,in her own words amid the “chaos and confusion” surrounding her in late 80’s/early 90’s home town of Kansas City. With a love of movie musicals,in particular The Wizard Of Oz she developed an imaginary world in her consciousness as a coping mechanism to survive her surroundings. On that level I obviously relate completely as I had a very similar experience. That self inspiration led her to New York to study performance art and eventually to form the Wondaland Music Group with OutKast’s Antwon “Big Boi” Patton as a means to fulfill her vision musically. After a failed limited edition release of her debut The Audition she began recording a series of conceptually linked albums from 2008’s Metropolis to her latest full length release of The Electric Lady.
Within this she is telling the complex tale of Cindy Mayweather,a sentient android version of herself dealing with a de-evolved future world. This concept is used implicitly to reflect social matters around us such as prejudice,intolerance,ignorance and cultural entropy. When I saw her perform live in the University of Maine’s Center For The Performing Art’s in October of 2011 it was the musical equivalent of a temporal paradox. James Brown,Nina Simone,George Clinton,Stevie Wonder and Sammy Davis Jr were there in one quick footed,amazingly talented and imaginative young woman. Highly anticipating the release of her second full length album The Electric Lady, the album enthralled me more than any other new music I’d ever anticipated. As it turns out,there has been a much more exciting event associated with this album than merely the lack of disappointment in what I’d heard.
A couple of nights after hearing this album I was sitting down to finish my latest painting and listen to music,two creative acts I always merge together. This time the album of choice was Mutiny’s Funk Road. Mutiny is a P-Funk spin off band formed by drummer Jerome Brailey. This comeback album after eighteen years in the wilderness surprised me more than Janelle Monae’s and I was looking forward to hearing it. When I got to the sixth song in called “Thee Funky Prez”,which sampled my favorite James Brown song “Let Yourself Go” a rapper came into the record suddenly. I’ve heard this before. Never bothered me. Part pf the game plan with modern P-Funk right? Well that night the metaphorical water of the music went down the wrong tube of my brain and I had a severe mind cough.
Instead of just hearing the music,I began seeing ghosts. The ghosts of people like Kurt Cobain,Tupac Shakur,Biggie Smalls and of course Michael Jackson. The first three were anti heroes who lived and died too fast. And after a decade of complete ruination MJ,the man who I once greatly admired for his selfless caring for children around the world until his tragic passing in 2009 as a drug addled and ruined man. I had to turn the Mutiny CD off. I managed to finish the painting I was doing,sort of a “creative act-as-a-cool down” exercise to put myself back into order before I cleaned up and backed away from this. I was shaken the rest of that evening. As I write this,that even only occurred three days ago. Why would unrelated events from between 1994 and 2009 come into my head and interfere with my enjoyment of music?
Interesting thing is,I am writing this blog mainly as a means of expression while also avoiding the painting and music listening I would normally be doing. I haven’t actually done that since. And there has been a noticeable lowering of my mood and confidence level since that incident three days ago today. Some of the less empathetic people I know might apply the term “drama” to this entire dialog. However what fascinates me is how the only music I have wanted to listen to in these days has been to go to my personal stereo system,put on my headphones and play both “Ghetto Woman” and “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes”,both from this current Janelle Monae’ album, several times during the day. Although part of a clear concept,I hear these songs-musically and poetically relatable to my thought process and began to create my own musical/lyrical stories in my mind from them.
Truth me told,I would describe the events of my life lately as being more than a little bit challenging. But this effect that Janelle Monae’s new music has had on me is a reminder of the profound effect that music has. All of my life I’ve heard stories about people recovering from injuries of all sorts and even saved from suicide by a single song. I was disturbed by this. But only disturbed by the reaction of others,especially some in my age group to this. Such discussions of music saving lives was often laughed off as corny and cliched. At the risk of unwarranted self diagnosis,such attitudes were far more commonplace during the 1990’s than they would today. The revelation of the lack of empathy towards others in the midst of ones own discouragement-which perhaps I see occasionally even within myself,likely resulted in that awkward musical flashback to that time. A time where negativity ran so rampant. And I was in fact utterly powerless to stop the tide.
Janelle Monae’s music,especially the two songs mentioned from The Electric Lady album,have done a great deal in helping me to realize that the yearning and emotionally positive guidance beyond even the most paranoid of 70’s era funk/soul/R&B songs-which are the qualities that attracted me to the music in the first place are alive,well and in fact thriving in the musical expressions of artists like Janelle Monae’. Until absorbing her music I was starting to feel that I had no freedom or business to create anything. That an active fantasy life was a waste of my time,my families time and societies as well. That cynicism I resisted so deeply was all ready to set in and forever take hold. This music I heard reminded me of how important hope and futurism really was to me. And actually would be advised to be important to anyone. And to Janelle Monae herself,should by some change this article would ever have an audience with her eyes to read it, I thank her very much for making music that (to paraphrase George Clinton) has not only moved but helped to remove.