“… art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living… – that work is received by us as a gift is received.” Lewis Hyde, from The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property [Introduction, xii]
To stay sane and inspired, to energize my community-building, to remember and believe, I give myself regular R&B Transfusions!
To cultivate my ecstatic insights, my ability to see beyond even the ugliest social moment, I keep myself on a time-released drip of classic anthems of love and hope and encouragement and unity and service and dedication to themes, principles, and causes bigger than my own short-term hungers, vexations, and political overload.
Rolling up my sleeve, I’m jolted to attention by, say, the democratic question asked by the group War in Get Down:
“Tell me people/what would you do/if the running of the world/was all left up to you?”
Well, I’d always leave room for joining forces in ethical cross-cultural collaborations. Brave the work of building coalitions. Align myself with those in the crosshairs of unjust power.
I’d duet with Al Green in my quest for Love & Happiness.
I’d shoulder-to-shoulder with The Isleys to help grow a Harvest for the World.
I’d holler giddy-up love riding the rhythm of Smile Happy.
But hold up, before you accuse me of pimping nostalgia, check out these next two quotes to get at the sacred social DNA of what I’m grappling to say.
“… the way the voice is used, the way instruments are held and played, the way instruments sound when played, the way an audience responds in a contemporary concert, the way in which a performer has dialogue with audience, all can be traced to the African American worship tradition created within the Black church…. Its expressions are drawn from a culture whose music operates as a phenomenon far beyond entertainment categories….” – Bernice Johnson Reagon, We’ll Understand It Better By and By: Pioneering African American Gospel Composers (The Wade in the Water Series) [pages 3-4]
“…The danced rituals of rebellious colonized peoples would probably not, after all, have seemed so strange to a medieval European carnival rebel or, for that matter, to one of the sixteenth-century German Anabaptists who danced triumphantly through the streets of Munster until more orthodox Protestants subdued them.” Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy [page 175]
So no, I’m not saying that we’ll be saved by actual songs, but I am absolutely claiming that we can benefit from the necessary renewal, the definite uplift, unleashed by the impulse driving the creation of songs that have become ‘gifts’ sung across generations.
Yes sometimes songs crafted to storm the charts and make money. But yes yes yes songs crafted by musical genius to help us wade in the waters of beautiful struggle; yes yes yes to the danceable reverb such songs have provided for thousands of citizens who risk lives and treasure for democratic ideals.
Wade with me in memory infused with a robust through-line of creative and strategic grappling with inhumanity, or illuminated by a vital through-line of community-making.
A periodic R&B Transfusion opens me to my most honest emotions. Shows me power eyes inflamed w/doubt can witness. Dresses morning sky in crimson when I pray. Spreads moss under my feet when I dance after sunset’s call. Grants me 3 wishes, and promises one million more when blood washes up on shore!
How to stay on the front lines of this life without the infusion of ecstatic insights welling from the well-wrought phrases and passionate singing of an R&B Classic? The deep pocket of the virtuoso band? The fabulous dedication to perfect harmonies behind a lead singer praising love in falsetto testimony?
My R&B Transfusions help me risk the inspirational, work the inspirational, without being naive.
Keep me alert for contemporary examples of community. A Black Joy Parade?
Keep me open to human possibilities. To Live In Love?
BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right’: “… A happy Black man, given our American journey, is the last laugh of American history. Given our American journey, he’s the very embodiment of the most pristine ideals of free thought and free speech, if he claims his inner ‘conceptual space….’ Originality makes me happy. Stylishness makes me happy. Boldness makes me happy. Distinctiveness makes me happy. Virtuosity makes me happy. Honesty makes me happy. Ceremonies make me happy. Laughter makes me happy. Peaceful conversation, testimony that sounds like music, trash talking suspenseful as classic literature, storytelling so mesmerizing it evokes and invokes ritual, dancing across a traffic-clogged avenue, gesturing and pontificating during a game of bid whist, theatrically sending off a loved one after a well-lived life, standing when sitting’s easier, insisting, believing, refusing, shouting, surviving, realizing that I can draw on an amazing cultural capacity to keep my head to the sky … all that energizes me, sets the devotional standards for me, keeps me plugged into the resilience that snakes up and down our historical spines … rooted in my whole human self, my whole emotional self, from grief to genuine rage, from awe to unexpected ingenuity….” www.blackmanofhappiness.com/shop