I am not doing so well lately.
I am not doing so well lately.
I remember a minute, some time in the summer of 2004, when somebody was talking to me about the Usher/Lil Jon superjam “Yeah!” and said something like, yeah, huh, I guess Atlanta has some hip-hop credibility now.
Uh, are you serious?
While New York and LA were fighting it out (with each other and inside themselves), Atlanta has always had this shit on lockdown. Hip hop and in the other cities was racial and tense and dangerous, and hip hop here has always been a different flavor. We aren’t New York. We aren’t LA. We are ourselves, and we gotta keep this shit together. The city too busy to hate. The Phoenix, rising from the ashes, literally and figuratively.
Last night, sweaty and screamed out and surrounded by 20,000 other ATLiens, Andre Benjamin yelled to us: We take the name Outkast seriously. We don’t do this for black people. We don’t do this for white people. … We do this for everybody.
At the 1995 Source Awards, Outkast was named Best New Artist. The east coast/west coast rap feuds were strong. Biggie and Tupac would both be dead within two years. Snoop Dogg dissed the east coast. Suge Knight called out Puff Daddy. Outkast and some of the Goodie Mob crew turned up to accept their award and were booed. Two 19-20 year old kids from some city y’all think is still second-rate (or worse), on your stage getting your best new artist award? Andre, who somehow looks young always, but looked like an actual child on that stage, looked hurt for about a second, took that award and just said “The south got something to say.”
And we did.
Those New York and LA people didn’t like Outkast, but people are always afraid of what they don’t understand. And I see how people wouldn’t understand Outkast. It’s weird. It didn’t sound like Death Row Records and it didn’t sound like Bad Boy Records and in 1995 that’s all there was. Outkast was hip hop, rap, soul, electro, funk, jazz, spoken word, unflinchingly honest and vulnerable long before Kanye and Drake made that a thing. Andre and Big Boi themselves were so different from each other you couldn’t imagine them even talking, let alone signing a record deal together at 17. But if they could do this together, we would do it with them.
Say what you want about the south, but loyalty isn’t our problem. You fight one of us, you fight the whole crew. You say something bad, the whole team will come after you. There is a zero tolerance policy. So when people started going after Outkast, we had our marching orders: Protect and defend southern artists and rappers at all costs. You boo our kids on stage like that and we’re coming after you.
And since this is not New York or LA that doesn’t mean we’re going to send some guys to shoot you in a car, that means we’re going to play the long game. We’re going to work twice as hard as you and make better records than you and have better fans than you and this is going to be a movement and y’all better watch out.
And it was a battle, but we put in the work. After those Source awards in 1995, for the past 19 years, the south, dirty and otherwise, have put Atlanta at the tip-top of the world for doing what we do better than anybody. The Outkasts and Goodie Mobs, Jermaine Dupri, TLC, Ciara, T.I., Ludacris and Lil Jon and all those southern superstars solidified the ATL as the place for young creative people who wanted to do something different with music. Hip hop in the south could be political and deep and philosophical AND you could dance to it, all at the same time. And everybody here got it, instantly.
For the first time, there were people on MTV speaking our language, our culture, our realities, and getting respect for it. Our identity was validated to the whole country. How everybody thought of the south as shoeless hillbillies and racist assholes and poverty and stupidity and we showed them that was wrong. Everybody had us wrong. Everybody underestimated us. Well, we sure as shit showed them.
And that’s it. That’s what music is about: bringing people together and having a good time.
So right now, Outkast is on stage about a mile away from my apartment, playing the last show of their 20-year reunion tour. Last night, Big Boi said he felt like he was finally playing a home game for once. And ALL of Atlanta came out. The Outkast crowd was the best crowd I’ve ever been around. The most loving, caring, considerate, fun-having party-time people I’ve ever been around. Last weekend at Music Midtown, multiple times I felt nervous and pushed around by the crowd. Anxious. Like were were just a few seconds away from a fight or a riot. But last night, at Outkast, I felt like we were seconds away from some sort of mass religious experience. I rapped and danced and sang my heart out around 20-year-old white kids, 35-year-old Hispanic rockabilly dudes, 40-year-old black guys, moms, grandmoms, dads and a shirtless guy who knew every word to every Childish Gambino song.
We’re all in this together because that’s what Atlanta is about. The city too busy to hate, except if it’s to hate on someplace else.
A few weeks ago I was feeling worn-out and bad about my general life choices up to this point, and then the reality of life because of those choices. To cheer myself up, I listened to David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College. “This is water,” he says. What the hell is water?
And I was crying and my mom called me, and she asked what I was doing and I told her about the speech and the reminder and the real hopefulness in it, and then how he’s gone now. And he said she worried about me sometimes being around all these sad people. And she didn’t mean actual people I know who are sad. She meant my books and movies and music and singers and writers and artists, and I’m not around them, I’m just around their work.
When I think about people I admire who ended up killing themselves, I think about failing them constantly. I think about how the other seven billion of us didn’t do anything to stop them. Not like, physically pulling the gun out of their hand or whatever, but bigger, realer things, like making the world a place they could stay in and be OK. Would a world David Foster Wallace would choose to stay alive in be better for everyone? Probably. How about a world Alexander McQueen would choose? Or Vincent van Gogh? Or Mark Rothko? Hunter Thompson? Or the world we all would choose to stay in.
Instead of trying to change them, or make people stay and be miserable, why don’t we fix everything so everyone wants to stay?
So, this is self-indulgent but also honest in a way y’all might not be comfortable with, so it’s cool if you peace out and just wait until my next blorg post where I promise I’ll write about something pithy and uplifting like Kanye West or these amazing new boots I got.
Tonight, I went to see Jack White at the Music Midtown festival in Atlanta. I went alone. I made it into the front-ish of the crowd about an hour before he went on and stayed through the whole show. There was one point I thought about leaving, but I took some deep breaths and closed my eyes for a little bit, and got past it.
This may not seem like a big deal, but for me, it’s a really big deal.
I have dealt with crippling depression and anxiety on and off since I was fourteen years old. I’m 32, so this means more than half of my life. And my entire life as an adult. This means that many days I have to physically force myself out of bed to work in the morning, even though once I get to my office, I love my job, and now that students are back, I’m staying late in the evenings talking with them, getting stuff done for their events and programs, seeing and hearing their work.
This means I lived for two years in D.C. where I had zero friends and only sort-of knew my three co-workers, my landlords and my mentally handicapped neighbor (who felt me up when I hugged him goodbye when I moved). One of my favorite bands came to play a small club there, only about 8 blocks from my apartment, but I didn’t go. Too nervous. Too self-conscious to go alone. To worried about what other people would think. “Look at that poor sad girl alone. She should just stay home so she doesn’t depress the rest of us having to see her here.” I’ll sit in a bar and have a drink alone, especially in like the airport or whatever, but I can’t really eat a meal alone out. Too nervous, and also, too self-indulgent. For my birthday, usually I go eat pancakes alone at this restaurant, but they have a counter upfront so there are always some people eating alone in there. I can justify the indulgence since it’s my birthday.
In D.C., on weekends I would take the train to the Smithsonian and the art museums, and then walk around until the crowds got bad and then go home. I never went to festivals, and I only saw the cherry blossoms once before I had to get a cab home. I didn’t go to the presidential inauguration that was 10 blocks from my apartment because just the thought of the huge crowd made me tense.
In my depression phases, and in the really dark parts of those phases, I get into a mindset that if there’s something I want, I never could possibly deserve it, so I can’t have it. Real logic ceases to apply in these times. “Well, if you think you don’t have time to go get lunch, you probably don’t deserve lunch anyway.” “Well, if you haven’t gotten your work finished, you don’t deserve to go see your friends.” Thursday night I left work at 7:54 p.m. Monday through Wednesday of this week I didn’t leave until after 8 p.m.
Yesterday, I left just after seven, to go park in an office building parking deck near the festival park. I went, got near the front of the huge crowd and enjoyed everything (except for the part when a methed-up shirtless tweaker and a drunk frat guy almost had a fight). There was even rock-and-roll theremin, my favorite White Stripes song and one of my favorite Raconteurs songs.
I did something I wanted to do, for myself, by myself, and I’m real proud I did. It seems like a little thing, but it was an actual accomplishment in feeling like I deserved to do something I wanted, and then doing it.
What is permissible for Jove is not permissible for an ox.
I have this phrase written on a notecard. When I lived and worked in D.C., I kept it in this stack of notecards I carried around as a to-do list. Now, because I mostly use a notebook, I taped the notecard to my computer monitor next to a photo of Charlie Duke at the CAPCOM desk at NASA Mission Control.
These are anchors.
At work, and in life in general, double standards exist. Some people get perks other people don’t get. Some people have to follow rules and other people never do. That’s how the world works. I’m a relatively low-ranking employee, with a relatively un-prestigious job, so I follow a lot of rules. I can’t get angry at other people because they don’t have to follow the same rules, because they don’t have to jump through all the hoops I do. I can’t be envious. I can’t be jealous. I can’t waste time because I can only keep working.
Charlie Duke is the youngest man to walk on the moon. Before that though, he was on the backup crew for Apollo 11. When NASA set up mission control, and developed the systems of how to run itself, some genius systems engineer figured that there should only be one person to talk to the astronauts in space. Instead of a bunch of different people relaying messages, everything would go through one person. And the person who would know best, and be the best capable to relay these messages, would also be an astronaut, and usually be someone on the backup crew for that mission.
So on Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong landed the lunar module on the surface of the moon, the person he told was Charlie Duke.
Charlie Duke was born in North Carolina, and has a distinctive North Carolina accent. When Armstrong said he landed, it’s Duke who answers “Tranquility, we copy you on the ground.”
I’m not the star. I’m not the Neil Armstrong of my world. I’m not “The Guy.” I’m the guy the guy counts on. I’m the person who has your back. That’s who I want to be, who I’m best at being, and there’s no shame in that.
In high school, I served as stage manager for a big musical we put on. A lot of my friends were singing and acting in it, but I knew that wasn’t for me. I was in the wings, wearing a headset, giving lighting cues and pulling the curtain. It was a K-12 school, so sometimes there were little kids around at rehearsal. In the play, there’s a scene set on a TV stage, and there’s a Stage Manager character who places the actors and then walks off. Instead of having another person do it, they just had me do it. One day after rehearsal, a little kid told me that maybe next year they’d let me have a real part. I explained that I did have a real part, and the best thing about my part was that if I did it well, nobody would even notice I did it at all.
I have to be resolute. I am a cow.