December 16, 2013

What I Am Here For

I just had the best sex of my life Saturday night after watching the entire new Beyoncé album with my husband. 

And it was a political act.

We laid in bed and talked all night, restless, sleepless, eager, alive. We talked until 5 in the morning. We woke to each other's beautiful smiles, and embraced. We touched each other gently. We were delicate with one another's love. We knew we could go deep. This knowledge has been growing in our marriage. But this is a moment of togetherness that is also about the embrace of ideas, concepts, beliefs, and values inspired by the way music can touch your soul and deliver you, through its poetry, into a higher realm of understanding. We got taught new things by Beyoncé. We loved the learning. And it brought us closer in love.

I asked my husband the next gorgeous morning, if, having gone through the full spectrum emotional experience the night before -- including tears shed for our struggles with lost family members (lost to greed, selfishness, personal insecurity, and fear, which causes them to treat us poorly) -- if he gained a deeper respect for women through Beyoncé. He had.


Beyoncé just gave the world a new treasure. It is the highest art, because it gives to humanity a piece of the human spirit. It renews faith in what is good and what is right. It is all we hope art to be, and to do. (And I would know, I have a degree in studying art.)

It's important that we recognize that some people have more authority than others. For instance, I do not have any time for people who don't understand that what we grown folks are talking about is a work of high art. And that it is the art that we should be discussing. Its transcendent qualities, what it does for our era, how it reflects and enhances the time in which we are living.

I know Picasso was a dick. But I can stand in front of a Picasso sculpture or sketch in Paris and know intuitively at the core of my being that Picasso was after the higher truth. And his personal life choices, what he said when he was young or drunk or tired or angry or just lost and confused and hurting, or who he fucks, or what he wears, or what he borrowed/stole/appropriated from Africa to make his best art (notice the patterns) or WHAT HE DOES WITH HIS RICHES, that HE got because HE is an ARTIST, a FACT that no one with half a brain would ever THINK TO QUESTION... that none of that has anything to do with my experience of the sculpture, really.

However, it is relevant to talk about the personal life, as it comes to bear on the Art Itself. As it helps us understand the material conditions of creation.

Which, in the case of Beyoncé, only serves to enhance the Flawlessness of it all.

The material conditions. Of her newest, and best, creation. Of art. Are what I am here to talk about, because they resonate with my understanding and experience of the world and All That Is Right.

I should not need to tell anyone that Beyoncé is filled with the highest level of performance art. That the dancers she puts on are the best in the world. That she deeply respects the dance and performance art traditions, which course through her being, having been passed down to her from her dance ancestors, elders, teachers and spirit guides to help her advance in her artistic expression.

I should not need to tell anyone that she writes poetry in her songs, when she bares her soul, and calls on us to see the world in new, better ways.

Beyoncé is poetry that shows us a better way to live. She asks us to enter into social life from a place of profound love, beauty, and grace.

I need you to understand that this is Art before we can move on. So I will trust that by this point you've watched and listened to and watched and watched and studied and read and listened to and danced to and cried to and laughed to and danced some more (so much dancing) and smiled with and searched for your own humanity with Beyoncé.


Now, let us get into it!

The internet is where we now have our most important conversations. When it comes to popular culture, it seems that people tend to forget their manners. People are so deeply conditioned, already on the internet, to expect a kind of half-serious viciousness. People also seem to think that their keyboard somehow imbues them with the power to sit in judgment of other human beings who they do not know personally. Or even, to sit in judgment of people who share their most deeply personal values and ideas and fantasies and visions with us, as a generosity to us.

This is actually not how art criticism works. The important kinds of questions are those that talk about the place the work of art has in the world, based on a deep understanding of the contents of the artwork. We ask what this thing does. What does it put into motion in the world? What bodies does it move, and in what ways? What forces does it flow into and out of, and what worlds does it draw together? What connections does it make amongst concepts, histories, stories, memories, myths, dreams, desires, and everyday reality? How does it ask us to imagine differently? How does it renegotiate the terms of our difficult time? How does it renegotiate the terms with which we confront our own self-image? Our soul?

These are the kinds of questions I am interested in, in general, in my own life's work.

The reason I'm going in so hard for Beyoncé is that it gifted to us, in the most generous gesture of our time, the unique opportunity to hold together and better understand so much at once. 

Beyoncé transcends representation and critique. She gave us her all, and that is unfuckwithable, especially when it looks and sounds like this. When it DOES all of THIS. When it IS a MOVEMENT - a physical swelling up inside our bellies that changes our brains and our behaviors. It redirects the thrust of our time. When we are empowered, we can do everything. Our dreams suddenly become attainable. They had faded and slipped out of the light, and we had struggled. But our hustle won't stop. Can't stop. We are renewed in our resolve. We will, because we can. There is so much soul in this album that any review is irrelevant. Either you experienced it as a profound shift of consciousness or your didn't, but if you didn't no one really cares what you have to say, Okay? Go somewhere else. This is our space now. You're on our time.


I have no place trying to judge or analyze the content of the art, I just feel it and know it is real. But what I do for a living is to try to tease out the connections, across space and time, and put them more plainly so that we can really get together about our deepest feelings and understandings of just how serious and important this shit is. Beyoncé just gave us a new text that tore through the social fabric so that we can all find each other and continue to grow together. Here are some of my thoughts!

On Materialism and Economics 

People hate on Bey because she gets paid for working as hard as she does. It seems to bother some people that she and her husband enjoy going to the beach, after working very hard at their jobs. I've seen people talk shade about her dressing in the nicest clothes, as if the biggest superstar in the world should shop exclusively at Savers and refuse nice gifts from the world's most talented designers - people who tirelessly work to advance their craft based on new understandings of the relationship between bodies and movement, materials and society, how women feel.

As if the clothing and adornments, or lack thereof, aren't also a part of the art of Beyoncé.

I know that people, when they talk shade about Bey based on this deeply flawed read of her place in a capitalist consumer society, love to lump her together with her husband. Ok, sure, it is both their yacht.

I've been raging internally at the p fork review of Jay Z's latest, because, um, racism. The diss happens right away. They give it a 5 something. Because music can be measured to the tenth of a point, right? And so I read this thing, god knows why. And I find that in a very convoluted way, the dude is basically taking up valuable internet real estate to make the point that Jay Z is silly because he makes a lot of money at his job. I heard about foolishness like this before. People like to shit on Lil Wayne and Jay for creating new businesses from scratch, with their own labor, employing many, growing into new markets, investing, and then going on vacations. This is called "bad values" by white men. The same kinds of white men that would have me believe that Bill and Melinda Gates or Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet are "oracles" or "visionaries" who have done a Lot for Humanity. With their work, and their pity-guilt charity. These guys are Very Historically Important! Job creators, money makers, successful, smart, hard working men!

I'm sorry, but I could name at least 20 Jay Z bars that, with his delivery, mean more to me, Historically Speaking, than a thousand charities to save dirty brown kids of the world that are poor in the first place because white men took all their resources. Or charities which, in the case of the Gates Foundation, are funded by the private prison industry.

To read online music "criticism," as if this is even in these college white boys' realm of authority, is to see Jay's latest work, his performance with Marina Abramović, his art collecting, his interest in good design, his lyrics, his art, all written off as but a farcical tale of someone who will never be more than "hood rich" - a buffoon of a man who doesn't know what's best for him. Which, um, where have I heard shit like this before? Oh, right, everywhere. Because, the American tradition of racism.

This review literally concludes that they don't think this album is worthwhile because Jay Z has strong business management skills. Nevermind the song with Frank Ocean that is about sailing across the Atlantic and feeling the weight of the slave trade on the waters, on their shoulders. The same Frank Ocean that harmonizes with Beyoncé on "Superpower" about the racist and classist conditions of the world, and the fact that the people of the world are rightfully smashing shit because of ongoing marginalization and oppression across the borders. (And I can't be the only one that lives for Jay shitting on white heroes when, in reference to the colonization of the Americas by columbus, says, "The only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace. I don't even like washingtons in my pocket.")

And nevermind that Jay Z is a source of inspiration for young men of color still in the hustle, like my youngest brother who put me onto MCHG riding around in his lowered, candy painted, fake-Versace fabric-lined interior having, car. That he works on in the garage with his big brother (the middle child who reps #paraplegic and whose wheelchair features gold wheels - "like Larry Flint" - he built by hand) as a form of community building, skill development, and artistic expression. To go leisurely ridin around when he gets the chance in between other obligations. (See relatedly: the video for "No Angel") This is the pleasure to counteract the fact that he spends all his hours either at work in customer service for no pay, serving rich people with a running fetish, or paying his way through community college while trying to transfer into a science program at the state college. I saw him getting his life to Jay Z, with the bass turnt up, and so, because I love both my brothers before all else, I needed to know more about that whole album. Because I care for them, and want to know them deeply, I picked up something I otherwise would have slept on, and took it seriously, to try to understand it from my brother's perspective. To know and love him more deeply. To appreciate him as a person. That shit, is more powerful than a white boy with a writing spot on the internet. And that is the way I heard about Beyoncé, too. From my best friend, word of mouth.

Trust and mutual respect among loved ones from marginalized backgrounds led me to both these works.

But yes, don't bother listening to Jay Z anymore, you guys. Because he's rich now. They like it when black men stay poor. Their music is so much more fun when they are still poor, with their cookouts and "ratchet" hoes and whatnot. That's white people's favorite. This man, who was slated for death in the projects, who comes from a margin of our society that was long ago cast off as worthless, and who watched his friends and peers mostly die or go to prison, he doesn't matter. Pay no attention to him. Bring us another new, more recently poor one to consume.

When did it become OK to stop paying attention to someone because they start making money doing what they love for a living? 

Anyway, meanwhile, Jay Z don't care because he's just eating tacos on the beach with Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter, the Most Important Black Woman In The World, who has a goddamn thing or two to say about all this nonsense herself. Herself, also being the CEO of a business. A business that employs some of the world's very best jazz brass players, a drummer that kills it, a guitar player who shreds, a gorgeous pianist, the best dancers, choreographers, video producers, etc etc etc - the vast majority of whom are women and people of color.

Seriously, name me ONE other major american corporation that employs this many black women at the very top tier. 

So yes, Beyoncé gets paid. But not just Beyoncé is getting paid. And that is important. She's worked harder than most people will ever work, to build the world around her that she wanted to see. She manifested a black feminist dream in a material way, not just as a leader and a passionate bearer of The Truth, but as a highly lucrative business. She did this, importantly, after she fired her father as her manager, because he was so overtly focused on money and productivity.

When, after the album and the good sex, my husband and I needed to both wind down, but also continue to live and breathe Bey's art, we decided to put on Life Is But A Dream. (Seriously worth a post-Beyoncé revisit. Actually, that is a necessity.)

And what happened bears note in this extremely tl;dr essay. Within the first ten minutes, as Bey talked from her gut about how hard it was to fire her dad, I could see my husband shook to his core, again, for at least the 7th time in one night, by this beautiful angel of a woman. He clearly saw what he needed to do to take care of his own self in regard to his eerily similar father situation. And from there we talked about fathers who hustled to get a piece and how that has both a beauty, because it taught us the value of hard work, but also, how they risk losing their spirit and true knowledge once all they can think about is the fight, the fighting, for the piece. How this is one way, with so much focus on the individual as the one who must struggle to get ahead, that we lose so many of the people we love. We become divided along the lines of what we truly value.

Beyoncé said, I don't care if I sell one more album. It's about so much more than that. She knows she is assisting in something bigger than herself, and that she needs her people.

At one point in Life, she is expressing frustration with her managerial duties. Her hairdresser tries to help find her words, and says to her that she just needed to do it by herself, right?

Beyonce didn't react well to this. She retracted her face, her body language and her voice spoke. She said, No. That is not the case At All. I can't do this by myself. I need others. I need help.


Beyoncé expresses communal beliefs and the values of post-individuality. Because as we deify her as The One, which she is because she is a beacon of the light, she is also sitting there telling us: SEE these OTHERS, see that I am not alone up here on this stage, that I am not one, that I can't do this by myself, that I need a whole community, of friends and family and lovers and fans and mentors and role models and heroes, to help this voice reach out into the world.

On "Superpower"

A very important thing happened with this track and with this video. Both of them together as an audio-visual expression, and also as a standalone track to be listened to with your eyes closed.

This song is about the marginalization of difference around the world, about the global power structure, and how it presorts and decides "what goes sky" versus "what falls." It's a super power.

She sings, "I thought the world would move on, without us, without us, without us." I will admit I cried at this. She felt it too, the doubt of one's own self-worth in a world that tells people that look like us or believe in what we believe in, that we are of less value.

Beyoncé is talking to us about agency, y'all. And she doesn't have the perfect answer either! (No one does!) But she's asking this highly philosophical question, about how power works. Just like, you know, Foucault or whoever.

In beautiful harmony with Frank Ocean, prefaced with a slow throbbing doo wop beat, Beyoncé takes her place at the front line of a global revolution. Her sisters are there, and her people. They look like my people, too.

She emphasizes her need for solidarity in the opening lines and images. She tells us that she feels differently when she holds the hand of another, than when all she has are her own two hands. She's scared, and she knows we are scared, too. She hopes she's "spared."

Because, she knows that there is a lot of Tough Love being dished, globally, in the uprisings to which she is paying attention. And she knows it's righteous, to be smashing this shit up, because it's too much to bear. Revolution is in the air, "even the babies know it's there."

But despite the super power of the world, she knows that we have got plenty super power ourselves. She knows because of who her family is, and where they come from.

So instead of being like "hm, agency! so interesting! such question!" She just comes in with a "YES WE CAN" moment.

And she reps la gente so hard on this album. In "No Angel" and in "Blue," we see Beyoncé's view of the beauty of the world's people. We see her casually playing with the kids of Brazil, or riding around with Houston's finest thugs. She always did say she wanted a soldier. These aesthetics are so beautiful, and respectful, and everything we talk about when we talk about the portrayals of marginalized people in the media, and hope for something that could just show the people of the world how we see them. As beautiful.

On Womanhood In All Its Beautiful Manifestations 

I am not quite sure how much I need to get into the feminism. Surely it's being bantered about in a theater near you. And I'm not an academic feminist. My feminism is of the Ms. Jackson, if you're nasty variety.

So when I saw this shit... BLOW, fucking blow. Fucking Partition. Fucking, Our Beautiful Bodies grindinguptheclub... surfing on this good good. I MEAN.

I just had to dance about it!

I got to feel my flawless self. I blew out this hair. I stomped these streets. I got hollered at and handled it like a grown woman. I got served breakfast and dinner in bed and got that skittle tasted. I'm just saying.

The riddle, it has been solved.

I've never seen my dirtiest thoughts look so clean.

And yes, we will be having a baby.

On Beyoncé, Its Values

We are about...

loving yourself
loving your body
being comfortable in your skin
loving your fatty
loving your family
loving sex
loving oral sex
getting oral sex
loving the long stroke
loving your own ass, literally. taking pleasure in bouncing your fatty around freely.
loving other people who don't look like you or think like you or dance like you or like the same shit as you
embracing what other people love and learning from it
spending your life in a process of growth
analyzing your life, trying always to learn its secrets and lessons
being down for the revolution
knowing the revolution will be best if it's based on love and not anger
knowing the revolution will happen by embracing one another in our shared humanity
understanding the collective consciousness
humbling yourself before powers that exceed the self
taking the time to care for people delicately
taking time to thoughtfully grieve loss and accepting, even embracing, the ensuing pain for the ways you can learn and grow from it
finding peace
seeking to maintain peace
honoring motherhood as the miracle of life that it is
spending your life as a spiritual seeker
finding the truth within and outside of yourself
realizing the fragile nature of your being
allowing others to teach you and hold you up, accepting influence with gratitude
putting others on when they deserve it

and perhaps most importantly for this discussion,
using your WORK as a space to manifest ALL of the above
consciously using your space in the world to make it a better place, working tirelessly, giving all you can when you sit down to do your work, to create new art, because it's so fucking hard to survive.
and we all need love.

Beyonce announced this album by saying "I'm just gonna make my best art, and put it out when it's ready." I, for one, am going to do same.

And then,


Rebecca said...

Hi Susie. Longtime reader, and I think I must have commented somewhere on here before. I just wanted to say that this was awesome and evocative to read. I didn't listen to any of the album before I read this, but I could feel the music/images in your words. Thanks for writing this and leaving it here.

Portia said...

Susie, I truly don't know how to fully express what an impact your essay made on me.

It's beautifully written, so evocative, and gave voice to my own feelings about the album.

All I can say now is "thank you."