Please enjoy some short stories and feel free to leave feedback!
Warning: These writings contain adult language and adult themes. If you are at all offended by four letter words, the real or any aspect of black womanhood, this is not for you!
You can get a free copy of The Inda Lauryn Sampler at Smashwords. The eBook format is compatible with a number of ereaders and devices.
Be sure to check out fantasy work at Kismet Fantasy and catch up with the new series The Walrus Chronicles. Also, don't forget your free copy of The Final Resistance at Smashwords.
All rights reserved. eBooks are not transferable and can not be given away, sold or shared. No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, faxing, forwarded by email, recording or by any information retrieval and storage system without permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law, as this is an infringement on the copyright of this work. Brief quotations within reviews or articles are acceptable.
Black Girl Confessions
Fun Random Fact for the Day: Pandora Radio figured out I liked Tool before I did.
Tweet Author: Inda Lauryn – Author and Intellectual. Buy my books and prepare to be astounded. Range is wide, so be prepared for something different. (In her own mind, a great writer who simply has not yet found an audience due to fiduciary constraints.)
In reality, forever the odd girl out.
1984 – First memories of coming home from school, heading to parents’ bedroom and watching MTV for the rest of the day waiting to see Michael Jackson videos.
Because even then at the ripe old age of five going on six, I know I am black. I cannot recall a time in my life in which I was not aware of my blackness. I have no one epiphany-like memory with the world letting me know once and for all that I am and always will be only a black girl. Being a black girl has always been part of an existence I took for granted until then. My feelings have not been caught up in it yet. For now, I am content to lie on my mother’s bed and wait for the love of my life to appear.
The wait is not always unpleasant. Duran Duran videos are not so unpleasant to wait through. I’m fascinated to see Simon le Bon wrestle with a tall, leggy black woman in the jungle. I don’t see too many more of those until the ultimate black girl has the chance to strut her famous legs through the city. Until then, I wait for Michael.
Van Halen videos are slightly uncomfortable even though I can still sing the words to “Hot for Teacher” to this day. Along with David Lee Roth and company, I get to know Phil Collins and Genesis. I adopt a blank expression and sway from side to side as Robert Palmer lip syncs in front of identically clad models. I don’t know what “West End Girls” are, but I love Pet Shop Boys. Some of these videos become favorites. Who can imagine that time without Peter Gabriel in primitive but yet still oddly beautiful stop motion animation? Did anyone else see that he’s got black girls singing in the background with him?
As I wait for Michael, I get my first taste of gender confusion as I wonder why a girl is named Boy George and why she is singing the line “I’m a man.” I see a girl with very short orange/red hair in a video that kind of scares me yet I still watch because it fascinates me. At the time, I have no idea that Annie Lennox and her wonderfully haunting voice will come to mean more to me than a childhood memory.
Those are not the only Brits I get to know while I wait to see my man. Wham! must have had me in mind with an oddly colourful video and yet another black girl singing in the background. If she can jitterbug with George Michael and Andrew Ridgely, anything is possible.
Apparently, it is Michael Jackson’s fault I have such diverse taste in music. Perhaps if I had not spent so many hours watching MTV as a child waiting to see him, I would not know Billy Idol or the Go Gos. Perhaps if I had not been able to watch those videos within the privacy of my parents’ room, I would have never developed the need to hide the fact that I like “white folks’ music.”
1992 – Adolescent hell made even more so by the fact that being a black nerd is less than cool – it renders one white.
Maybe that’s why I’m happy that suddenly all the black kids are rapping along with Anthony Kiedis name dropping Bob Marley in “Give It Away” and rendering him the cool white boy of the moment. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are practically the only band I began listening to in my adolescence that is still around today, barring U2 who have been around all my life. Anthony Kiedis is my grown man crush since I never really got along with boys my own age. While I also love Mary J. Blige and Boyz II Men along with everyone else who is hot in R&B at the time, I find myself contemplating with Kiedis as he forlornly sings about his hometown of L.A. and get excited when I recognize Flea in movies like My Own Private Idaho and Son in Law.
Still, I know that RHCP may be an exception among black folk. Just because it’s cool to like a group that successfully blends a whole array of black music styles does not mean they will not still call me a white girl if I confess to liking Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Then again, he gets cool by high school when he raps instead of sings “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Oh my my, oh hell yes indeed.
As junior high becomes high school, I regularly find my disposable income go to cassettes then CDs. I buy black music. My collection is full of Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD since I dare not buy the music that contributes to my unwanted label of white girl. I sometimes wear a tie both because I am such a huge Boyz II Men fan and because I think it’s cool I know how to tie it.
Yet, somewhere around this time, I become more comfortable with myself. As I age through the years, I am sometimes the only black person in my class, especially the advanced levels of English and math. While my white classmates want to impress me with their knowledge of Tamia and Whitney Houston, they’re in awe that I know Crash Test Dummies and Green Jelly. A teacher once makes sure she calls out in front of the entire class that she didn’t know I liked KISS. I feel the need to explain myself to the only other black girl in the class that they have a slow song I like. On a rare Friday night when I am not alone eating rice with the chopsticks my aunt sent me directly from Japan, I watch MTV’s Friday night block party. I sing The B-52s’ “Love Shack” with some of my sister’s friends. My sister is not sure what is going on.
This could be why I feel a little less like a freak when I discover just how much I like classic rock. The Moody Blues’ Days of Future’s Past finds its way next to Jodeci’s Forever My Lady and D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar. Then I fall in love with the guitar. My first love: Eric Clapton. I have a copy of Unplugged since I love “Tears in Heaven” so much. Hearing a riff of “White Room” once too often takes me to The Cream of Clapton. Of course, none of my black friends know about this or the copy of Oasis’ What’s the Story (Morning Glory) that sits in my ever growing collection of music.
I leave home for college. Amidst strange looks from the cashier and my sister who has to announce that the cashier is “looking” at my CD, I openly buy a copy of The Monkees Greatest Hits before I leave.
2000 – College years filled with self-discovery and a sense of not being alone in the world.
The only thing I regret about college is not seeing more of New Orleans while I was there. Although there are new friends sometimes, I spend most of my time on campus working at the newspaper and later at the Writing Center where I tutor English. I sometimes spend Fridays at Wherehouse Music browsing through used CDs and Saturday nights looking forward to Sessions as West 54th where I discover Ben Harper.
Falling in love with Jimi Hendrix amplifies my love of guitars. He is my favorite, but Clapton, Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughn also catch my ear. I spend my time in the newspaper office listening to the Crossroads box set and Janis Joplin when I am alone. A few times, the professor advisor wanders in and makes a small comment: “Janis Joplin?” He is not the only white professor surprised to find that their black students proudly attending an HBCU are just as well versed in The Beatles and the Rolling Stones as they are Erykah Badu and D’Angelo.
The summer I spend in State College, PA, brings old memories and more classic rock. I find another used music shop and buy a used CD of The Doors’ greatest hits. I surreptitiously listen to the white boys behind the counter express their disappointment with Jimmy Page for helping Puff Daddy ruin his song. I wholeheartedly but silently agree.
While my neighbor plays Angie Stone with the door open, I listen to Living Colour behind closed doors while I am alone without my roommate. One day I decide to open my door because I have nothing to hide. A brother at one of the programs we attend begins his karaoke performance of RHCP’s “Scar Tissue” with a disclaimer for his choice of song. I sing along with the sister who performs Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” While a new friend turns me on the Dave Matthews Band, I introduce her to my intellectual crush at the time, Ben Harper. A black friend whispers to another that I don’t listen to the same things they do. I tell her she doesn’t have to whisper it. She is the one who snaps my picture as I sing to Fiona Apple.
Yet, I am reminded of the previous summer in Chicago after a small shopping excursion. One “friend” ridicules me for buying a Paul McCartney CD and another blatantly turns her nose up at some of my other purchases that include Eric Clapton, Santana and Eagle Eye Cherry. This does not stop me from waking up at six in the morning on Sundays to listen to a local DJ named Kitty Lowie play three hours of The Beatles and tells stories about their lives and that fabled era of the late 1960s. I even shower early in the evening so I can listen to the two-hour commercial-free show from seven to nine. This is the time my roommate finds me listening to the program and only comments that I went way back – until the next night when she is the subject of teasing and finds a way to deflect it by mentioning how the night before I was listening to The Damn Beatles.
I buy the entire Beatles catalogue when I finally return home including The Yellow Submarine Songtrack.
2006 – Graduate school brought more misdirection and disappointment.
I enjoy living on my own. I have an unsteady income that sometimes leaves me with a few disposable dollars. Usually those funds make their way to Borders where I tend to buy more CDs and DVDs than books. No, I never buy books at Borders unless they are clearance. Yet, I can smell CD deals with no problem.
A rock essentials sale puts Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass into my collection. It also brings me to the man I have come to love and admire more than most others.
Highway 61 Revisited and Nashville Skyline are my introductions to Bob Dylan. This iconic figure is familiar to my expansive music vocabulary even if I had not before listened to him. With tastes in music as varied as mine, his name inevitably comes up as legend, particularly Highway 61 Revisited in which he abandons the acoustic folk sound that lionized him early in his career. Yet, it is a favorite of mine with the ominous piano opening of “Ballad of the Thin Man.” I can understand why Rolling Stone magazine would proclaim the opening track “Like a Rolling Stone” the greatest song in rock despite the obvious connection.
Yet, this is not why Dylan holds such a special place in my heart. As I often do, I look for other CDs to get more music and find out if they are as good as Highway 61 Revisited. I eventually come across Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks. I immediately get caught up in the good time feel of “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35,” a track I eventually add to one of my warm weather mixes. Yet, Blonde on Blonde misses something that Blood on the Tracks does not.
“Tangled up in Blue.” As I head off to catch a bus, the opening notes catch my ears before getting to the lyrics. I freak. I seriously freak out because this song is so good. I consciously think of how glad I am I discover Bob Dylan as a 27-year-old grown ass woman because I get it. Bob Dylan becomes the true bard in my vision. My man Jimi may have made “All Along the Watchtower” his own, but Bob is the one who wrote it.
I forgive Bob for using the n-word in “Hurricane.” I applaud Steve Earle for interrupting “Masters of War” to dedicate a crucial line to Dick Cheney and his hunting buddies on his radio show: “And I hope that you die/And I hope you die soon.”
I tell this no one.
2012 – Latest memories of working in the day and spending three days out of the week writing in a small community café, trying to find space in the writing game.
I spend all day in my Wisconsin apartment since I work from home. I spend three nights a week in a café writing. I keep on my headphones to listen to my own music and drown out the noise. I listen to the café’s music only while I wait for my hot chocolate. I once ask the guy serving me what’s playing because the song sounds so familiar. Edward Sharpe and the Magnificent Zeros.
Most of the latest music in my collection is predominantly neo-soul and mostly black women since I am playing catch up on all the music I could not buy during lean times and I still must be selective about what I buy now. Erykah Badu. Jill Scott. Angie Stone. Meshell Ndegeocello. Macy Gray. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Janelle Monáe. The Noisettes. The Memorials. Subject to Change. Maxwell. All within the last few CDs I have in my collection. The latest: Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.
I still plan to add Esperanza Spalding to the mix. I wish I could find the time and resources to collect Sun Ra. Ledisi, N’Dambi, Beverley Knight, V.V. Brown and Conya Doss are among the many artists on my Amazon Wishlist. But so are Pink Floyd, The Mars Volta and T. Rex.
I try to get into groups like TV on the Radio. I have known about groups like Bad Brains and Fishbone for years but have never really gotten into them despite my love of the collaboration Fishbone did with Blackstreet and Slash back in the day, “Fix.” I feel a bit embarrassed that the white hipsters that get to write for magazines like SPIN and Black Book discover them before I do. It reminds me of my white professor mentor in State College who I hate to admit is my introduction to Nina Simone and Oscar Brown, Jr. He is a huge jazz fan who also introduces me to short films from the 1930s and 1940s featuring jazz musicians. I can’t reconcile my ignorance of these things when they are a part of my culture and heritage. It irritates me when some white guy wants to show me how much he knows about Betty Carter because he is just so with it. I am confused when I see Saul Williams speak at Barnes and Nobles in Ann Arbor and looks at me in surprise when I nod when he asks if anyone in the room knows who Betty Davis is as if he is the only black person who really knows her work – as if my knowing who she is as well somehow makes him less exceptional.
I forgive myself for my small Southern town upbringing that did not allow me to become a tastemaker who got to hear everything before everyone else did and predict the next big thing. I forgive myself for discovering Donnie’s The Colored Section because of Fader magazine and staying with his career even after that flawless album was not the commercial success it should have been. I forgive myself for not growing up in a city like Ann Arbor that can afford to import culture when it feels the need therefore those dwellers may know a little more than I do about who’s who in black punk rock. I forgive myself because I discover Janelle Monae from a black female friend from MySpace and give The Noisettes a shot because of the accompanying recommendation from Amazon. I forgive myself when I gave up on rap music long before 1997 and did not give it another chance until I get into the likes of Mos Def, Common, OutKast and pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas. I forgive myself for liking what I like.
February 9, 2012: Shared photo on Facebook meme: When Led Zeppelin is playing, you shut the fuck up.
One Like from a black male friend.
I have always been asked what am I listening to since I am rarely seen without headphones. I find this difficult to answer not because I am embarrassed or ashamed but because The Flaming Lips sits between Espranza Spalding and Green Day while N’Dambi sits between MUSE and N.E.R.D. on my MP3 player. Just because I listen to something one minute does not mean I will be listening to the same thing the next. I have been creating my own mixes since high school. One of my favorites is Romantic Men:
Nick Drake – Pink Moon
Al B. Sure – Killing Me Softly
Beck – Debra
Bob Dylan – Lay Lady Lay
The Delfonics – Hey Love
Exile – Kiss You All Over
The Four Tops – Ain’t No Woman
Hall & Oates – One on One
Howard Jones – No One Is to Blame
Jamiroquai – Falling
Jamiroquai – Spend a Lifetime
Johnny Taylor – Good Love
KISS – Hard Luck Woman
Luther Vandross – Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me
Luther Vandross featuring Gregory Hines – There’s Nothing Better Than Love
Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes
Van Morrison – Crazy Love
Orleans – Dance with Me
I have similar mixes with mostly neo-soul women as well as others that include Keane, Rob Thomas, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Tammany Hall NYC, Guided by Voices and Jeremy Kay. I download every bit of free music I can. Some grows on me like Timber Timbre. I immediately fall in love with others like Active Child.
The difference now is I no longer question why Beck may speak to me on a deeper level than Beyoncé of whom I must admit I am not a fan. I do not feel it necessary to be a fan in order to belong. Instead, I question why my other sister feels it necessary to completely turn her head from the road to give me an incredulous look when listening to Janelle Monáe’s “Suite II Overture” in the car because it’s classical music.
Incidents such as these remind me that black girls who listen to anything other than black girls and boys are subject to question. However, events such as those I encounter at my nephew’s 2010 graduation continue to be an exception. The black salutatorian (a title I also held) chooses to base the theme of her speech on a Tim McGraw song and no one blinks for the moment. The white male student before her with the third highest grade point average chooses The Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun,” so I sing the opening line only to find another black girl behind me doing the same thing with her friend pointing to me and reassuring, “See she’s singing, too.”
Black girls like me are not the exception. Rather we are an underground that has slowly begun to emerge and celebrate our heroes in the likes of Betty Davis, Skunk Anansie’s Skin, The Noisette’s Shingai Shoniwa, The Memorial’s Viveca Hawkins, Imani Coppola in all her incarnations and Rebekah (now Rebecca) Jordan. We are not unfamiliar with the genres outside R&B and rap because we are inundated with white performers from birth and we become familiar with them; we grow to love some of them. Calaix gives us a voice with the exceptional and eclectic mixes she presents on Kinda Black Radio. I get a bit ecstatic to see Erykah Badu perform with Re:Generation, a side project with Mark Ronson, members of the Dap Kings, Trombone Shorty and Zigaboo Modeliste on David Letterman. I wonder if Mary J. Blige knows she has done some of her finest work with collaborations with Elton John and U2.
We also find out that we have been a huge part of this history from the beginning. I am not the only one who listens to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” wondering who is the sister in the background taking over the song (which Merry Clayton did the next year when she recorded the song solo). I can tell you that taking out Beverley Knight’s soul screaming from Jamiroquai’s “Main Vein” changes the entire song and not for the better. I believe making Minnie Riperton a vocalist for a white psychedelic rock band was an absolute stroke of genius. And, yes, Tina Turner is still the ultimate rock chick in my book.
I think about how Robert Palmer could combine two irrelevant Marvin Gaye songs into one medley and make it sound good.
I think about how much Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years” has meant so much to me practically my whole life.
I think about how Jamiroquai’s Jason Kay and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine get so many props for sounding so much like Stevie Wonder.
I think about how I might call British guys like Steve Winwood honorary black men because there is no denying the soul in their voices.
I think about how much black woman credibility I would lose if I admit that I believe Remy Shand’s The Way I Feel should have won those Grammys over India.Arie’s Voyage to India.
I think about some days I would just much rather listen to Bob Dylan for the umpteenth time rather than my beloved Curtis Mayfield.
I think about how The Weepies’ “Gotta Have You” makes me feel longing and pining much more effectively than whatever 20-year-old flavor of the month black chanteuse is supposed to emote.
I think about how much I love Keane and Coldplay even though most white British hipsters would strongly disapprove.
I think about how glad I am that my now 18-year-old niece likes Green Day and that I would much rather she sing “Know Your Enemy” than about 90% of the rap music she also knows and enjoys.
I think about how the white girls who brought Gangsta Pat on band trips were cheered and how black girls who felt Alanis Morrisette were ridiculed.
I think about how a duet between Janelle Monáe and The Noisettes would be so awesome that heads would actually explode.
I also think about how Eric Benet obviously listened to Toto and Kansas to remake both “Georgie Porgie” and “Dust in the Wind.”
I also think about how Ike and Tina Turner consciously took back black music traditions when they covered “Come Together,” “Proud Mary” and “Whole Lotta Love.”
I also think about Minnie Riperton making a masterpiece like Come to My Garden only to have it fail commercially.
I also think about Rissi Palmer trying to find her beautiful voice in the world of country music.
I also think about women like Betty Davis giving a metaphorical finger to the music industry when they give us something brilliant for a while then decide it’s not worth it.
I also think about The Rolling Stones, The Bee Gees, Simply Red and Jamiroquai who say they respect the black music traditions from which they reaped the greatest rewards.
I also think about black women like Lamya who covered Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” on her one and only album Learning from Falling because she indirectly tells me that she, too, is familiar with something to which we are not supposed to lay claim.
I also think about black women like Debra Killings whose name I used to read as the background vocalist for all the artists on the LaFace label yet she never becomes a star in her own right even though she is multi-talented.
I also think about Macy Gray and how much her mere presence does so much to complicate notions of genre and audience.
I also think about all the black women and girls like me who dared not limit ourselves to other’s expectations of what we should and should not like.
While living with my father, I have access to satellite television and VH1 Classic by default. I watch an incredible British documentary called The Seven Ages of Rock. In seven hours, I see the progression of rock music as the British see it from the early 1960s to the turn of the century. In almost fifty years, the only non-white males acknowledged as having an impact on rock music are the black American blues men like Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker and white women like Patti Smith and Kim Deal of The Pixies. No wonder girls like me are made to feel so out of place in this world.
These days my existence is mostly solitary. I frequently use music in my writings to tell something about my characters that only their taste in music can say. I am recreating some mixes I made during my graduate school years since I no longer have the cassettes I originally used. Of course, these mixes will be updated with the music I have purchased since then. I still do not trust cloud storage and am reluctant to by online MP3s without storing them on a CD afterward. I also still prefer album-oriented music rather than the plethora of singles and feel that maybe I am not alone since I once read that 75% of the music on iTunes is unpurchased.
In the meanwhile, with no cable, I am left to discover new music with The Cool TV, one of my free digital channels, and find free downloads through sources such as Facebook and Twitter. I don’t do too many downloads from Afro-Punk because I don’t want to be put on a mailing list. I occasionally find links through Soul Music’s Finest. I enjoy podcasts from Radio Nowhere and for a while listened to music podcasts from CBC’s Radio 3 featuring all kinds of Canadian music. I also get to see a few local musicians play live at free events occasionally since I am now back in a college town where everyone aspires to be in a band. All of this is to say that I no longer know what’s going on in the current music scene from R&B to alternative rock. I hesitate now to say that I am into some 20-year-old musician because as a woman in her 30s it may seem weird. I do not engage in conversations about rap artists, whoever they are now, and the new breed of R&B stars is foreign to me.
I prefer to revisit the past and congratulate myself when I can actually see how Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the beginning of album-oriented rock even though Rubber Soul and Revolver are superior albums. I wish I had made the VH1 documentary NYC ’77: The Coolest Year in Hell because it is awesome that someone can trace a rise in lots of now familiar music traditions and creativity in one place within the span of a few months. I still envy those who have managed to get a dream job listening to and writing about music all day knowing that I would never get the chance to cover anything other the “black” acts because that is supposed to be my milieu.
The MTV and VH1 that existed during my development are no more, only distant memories of my childhood and adolescence. Black girls still declare their love for music outside the “black” genres and continue to have their blackness questioned. I let a black female Facebook friend know that I am a black Southern woman and I also listen to a couple of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs because they happen to be good. We find each other through social networks and reassure each other that we are not alone. While I still rock The Damned and The Stranglers in my headphones, I preach the gospel of multi-genre artists like Imani Coppola and Rebecca Jordan for having the audacity to make their music their way and for reminding me that rock, folk, country, rap and easy listening are indeed our turf and territory.
In my solitary existence, I am closer than ever to the other black girls and women like me. I Like when they announce they get to see Martin Scorsese’s documentary on George Harrison and when they avow their love for sci-fi and fantasy films. I find kinship with them since I understand. I am not the only black girl who became a black woman who loves “white folks’ music.”
© 2012 Conceding to Kismet
Ma Jeunesse Fout Le Camp
Possibly the defining “post” of our generation is post-Internet. The world is forever changed with so much so accessible to so few in terms of the world’s entire population, but those who have been able to capitalize on all the Internet’s possibilities typically find no limits. However, like many cultures that have overtaken the world from the last century, Internet culture quickly became the realm of the young. Those born into the world before it went wireless are constantly told in whose world we live and that we had better adapt to it. Even those of us who remember the primitive days of the World Wide Web are quickly finding that what we thought we knew becomes obsolete sometimes within a matter of days.
It is this world in which I have found myself to be old and insignificant. It is this world that promises opportunities not before available but still designed for those who are still young and not yet afraid of what might happen should the bottom fall out from under them. I both love and fear this world. Without it, I may have found myself without any resources to support myself and get out into the world to live as adults should with responsibilities and a steady routine. I have even rediscovered a long lost passion and have a chance to explore this passion even after the symbolic clock continues to run down on when I am allowed to pursue it as a vocation.
As much as I love this new post world, I also have many fears about it. The clock is always winding down and the world has begun to move so fast that there is no time to sit and embrace the very moments in which we live as they happen. The point is to live them solely for the purpose of broadcasting them later for the rest of the world to admire and remember. I find that I have become less aware of living through history as it is made even though I can see it unfolding before my eyes from millions of different points of view. It becomes ever more difficult to find ways to slow down while speeding ahead.
I am at an age when I am seeing more and more of my childhood icons die. I ask myself what they really meant as they are immediately canonized by those of us who loved them and consider a life that no longer exists in this new post world. I find myself looking for that moment when I first realized that I no longer loved some of the things I had once lived and died for in my youth. I wondered when rap music became the bane of my existence rather than my window to a world outside my small town Southern upbringing.
Then I find myself marveling at the connections I have forged in ways impossible just 30 years ago around the time I was born. I think of the times during my childhood and adolescence that were wrought with confusion and alienation because there was no one around I could relate to with my ideas and beliefs. I found more likeminded individuals in college, but once those connections were lost, it was technology that helped me find another sense of community. It was this community that allowed my rebirth and allowed me to find my voice as an artist. It was this community that helped me see that some change is not only inevitable but also useful and quite blissful.
Yet, it is sometimes disheartening to see how youth culture is given so much credence. Youth is king. Youth is god. Youth is the one thing we should also strive for even after we have reached those years in which youth can fairly be said to be long gone. Such worship of youth is what makes change scary and dangerous. Youth fades away and we are somehow not as valuable to the societal fabric as we once were. If what we do not have to offer does not appeal to that coveted youth demographic, there is no place for it. Never mind that not all youth are monolithic and are not driven by the consumer culture in which we all live. However, it is very difficult to find those who are not as affected by it through all the clutter and noise that continues to pervade our lives.
Growing older is practically the only natural process that affects every person and thing on the planet. When did growing older or, heaven forbid, getting old become a sin? An inevitable byproduct of life has become the source of fear and anxiety made all the more worrisome because of the time in which we live. Time no longer simply slips into the future. It slips into a void and becomes lost forever in a cyberspace among so much other meaninglessness. It only means something if it means something to someone else in some distant unknown location who may or may not be what he or she claims to be.
In the meantime, everything continues to change. There is no bigger change in life than aging because it happens so gradually that it just appears to come from nowhere, sneaking up on us when we least expect it. I am only aware of my own change because I can examine myself and see a gray hair where there was none the day before. I can feel where my waistline is a bit tighter than it was last week. These are things I can accept. But in this new post world, the challenge is making someone else care about the changes in my life as well as their own. I have to scratch my name into the intangible frontier that accepts any and every one of us that has access to its void.
As long as we exist, not only do we get older but we also change. Not one of us can stop or reverse the process. Some of us will embrace it as long as we know that spring will always follow winter and realize how precious that really is. Youth may be fading away, but that does not mean that we are less irrelevant or insignificant. Perhaps I will finally study meditation as I have intended all these years and find my few moments of quiet solitude and not worry about the changes that continue to surround me or the rapid pace at which they seem to occur. Perhaps taking the least logical approach will be just the thing I need to find my way into the youth-driven catalyst that seems to run our lives whether or not we want it to.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. Let go. Turn out. Tune in. Focus. Sit. Contemplate.
Youth is fading away, but I am not. I am still here. I am changing as beautifully as the seasons and turning with the world around me. I am reborn with each new thing I learn and with each new experience that reminds me that I am indeed still alive. I love myself a little more with each new person I meet and learn to love because we share space on planet home. I am the change that I wish to see, so there is no reason to fear what it may bring.
This is my mantra. This is the constant reminder that change is good because I control it and make sure it happens. No matter what goes on around me, I do not have to let it rule me. This post world belongs to me also and I will keep my place no matter how much it changes in my always increasing age.
© 2012 Conceding to Kismet
“Pack My Bag and Mount My Horse: A Feminist Critique of Imani Coppola’s 'Legend of a Cowgirl'"
by TaKeshia Brooks
Although various artists pioneered it during the 1960s, music video did not become a staple of our culture until 1981 when MTV debuted with The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio". It has influenced television commercial advertising as well as regular television programming (i.e., Miami Vice). Even though some music videos remain true to their base purpose of selling a song, some have been conceived as a true artistic statement (i.e., Don Henley's "Boys of the Summer," which is considered a milestone in music video as an art form) and may even tell a story. Now in 1999, it is unfathomable for an artist to release a song without an accompanying video. The challenge is making it interesting enough to stand out above the clutter and noise.
It is in this context that we find Imani Coppola. Like many of her generation, the 21-year-old has probably been exposed to not only television but also music video for as long as she can remember. In 1997, she made her first video to accompany her debut single, "Legend of a Cowgirl." Although it was a mild hit, it was not a hugely popular and successful song. Several factors such as Coppola's eccentricity or the inability to categorize her sound could be at hand here. However, a large part of why the song failed to gain a huge public following is probably because of the feminist theme that the American audience is not used to. This paper argues that "Legend of a Cowgirl" departs from the misogynist images usually embedded in music video and makes a bold feminist statement about women's sexual freedom.
Just as in any genre of television, music videos can be read in both denotative and connotative terms. Asa Berger (I 995) defines denotation as the "literal meaning of a term, figure, text, or so on" (p. 84). He defines connotation as a "term used to describe the cultural meanings attached to a term - and, by extension, an image, a figure in a text, or even a text" (p. 84). A denotative reading tells the "reader" what is happening on the surface of a particular image. A connotative reading of the same image tells the "reader" its significance as applied to the context of the work as a whole. Stuart Hall (I 980) uses the terms "preferred" and "negotiated" reading in this context. He would argue that the "preferred" reading of a music video would be to bring attention to a song and its artist. However, a "negotiated" reading finds cultural significance with the video and possibly tells a story about our culture.
With this in mind, one must realize that music videos are not insignificant novelties, and they are not going away anytime soon. As a matter of fact, they bring serious implications. Sut Jhally (I 995) explores one of the more dangerous implications in his work, Dreamworlds. (This work was so powerful that MTV tried to use legal action to stop its distribution.) Jhally's feminist critique argues that the sexual images of women in music videos can influence attitudes about women and rape. He argues that although they do not cause rape, the images within a music video are taken out of context. In a normal situation, the image looks very much like a violent rape. However, out of context, such an image looks harmless and is, therefore, taken less seriously.
Although not specifically about music video, cultural anthropology professor Conrad Kottak (I 998) contends that television has changed cultural behavior in those who were born after the television became a family member to many in the mid- I 950s, a process he calls teleconditioning. He explains, "Televiewing causes people to duplicate inappropriately, in other areas of their lives, behavior styles developed while watching television" (Kottak, 1998, 163). Television has the power to influence us during enculturation-"the process whereby one grows up in a particular society and absorbs its culture" (Kottak, 1998, 168). With this in mind, it is possible to argue that those raised with music video may be less attentive to its implications because they are used to fragmented images racing by at lightning speed. This also gives validity to Jhally's argument that television, specifically music videos, can influence attitudes about women and rape.
Music video is a genre of advertising, therefore, it can be examined as such. Many men and women have examined male and female images in advertising. Carol Moog (I 998) traces the evolution of the Maidenform bra advertising campaign that began in the 1950s. The "I dreamed I was ... in my Maidenform bra" campaign struck a chord with many women and was successful for nearly 20 years. Women were depicted in roles that made them powerful yet feminine. The Maidenform campaign changed along with the social context of the 1970s and 1980s. However, it continued to appeal to women vicariously living out their fantasies. If anything, Moog makes implications of advertising's psychological appeal; whether that appeal is good or bad is always subject to question. Maidenform's approach to appeal to women's fantasies is very similar to Coppola's video, which is one exuberant ode to women's sexual freedom, blissfully detailing the adventures of a libertine who repeatedly loves men and leaves them" (Gardner, 1998, Jan. 25, 4). However, Coppola does insist that the song is "not just about having sex and moving on... It's about being free-being your own person, having no one to answer to. I think that's everybody's fantasy, you know?" (Gardner, 1998, Jan. 25, 4). Such a bold feminist statement is rarely found in popular culture.
"Legend of a Cowgirl" is a fairly simple music video on the surface. It follows a very basic storyline: a waitress fantasizes through a tedious workday. Coppola dreams of three separate personas: a biker, a space princess and a soul singer. Each time she awakens from her fantasy as the waitress.
In her first fantasy, Coppola is a biker accompanied by three male companions as they ride down a deserted street. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker after Coppola makes a blatant advance to him. They then continue on their journey. The dust begins to rise on the scene as a lady blowing cigarette smoke in Coppola's face snaps Coppola from her fantasy. Her mind wanders to her second fantasy as she spots a video game. In this fantasy she becomes a space princess. She is alone for a while but is then picked up by her alien friends. They dance until flames begin to surround them, which turn out to be a fire in the restaurant. Coppola sees the fire, panics, but then proceeds to grab a "microphone" and sing and dance on the counter. This leads her to her third fantasy in which she is a singer. This sequence features Coppola on stage with three band members as she performs the final verse of her song. Unlike the previous two, she is not abruptly awakened from her dreaming but rather comes back to reality on her own. The video ends with Coppola dancing and playing the violin on the countertop in the restaurant.
A connotative reading of this video finds much more than what is presented on the surface. From the first shot, the viewer sees that Coppola is a waitress, not a particularly unusual occupation for a woman. Various camera shots indicate that she is bored when her eyes fixate on a model biker. She then resorts to an escape route often found in women's literature: she creates her own reality. Coppola imagines herself as a renegade biker, which is usually not associated with a woman. All her cohorts are men.
When the bikers find the hitchhiker, Coppola wastes no time in approaching him. After some not-so-subtle flirting, she kisses him and leads him away to her bike. Her actions go right along with the lyrics of her song:
Ain't got no shame
Nobody knows my name
I'm gonna ride on into the next town
(Coppola, Mangini, Leitch, 1997)
Coppola is quite aggressive; she sees what she wants and goes right after it. She makes a bold statement that women can be sexually aggressive without appearing "loose." Even though she explores her boundaries, Coppola does not appear to be, for the lack of a better word, a slut. If she had been male, her actions would be totally acceptable, and no one would give them a second thought. She manages to display her sexual prowess without being submissive to a man or exploited.
The viewer may also notice that the three bikers who accompany Coppola bear a striking resemblance to the rock group, Z. Z. Top. As they pick up the hitchhiker, the men begin to dance in such a way that makes them look rather silly. This could be seen as an effort to satirize Z. Z. Top, which is known for featuring scantily clad women dancers in its music videos. This statement is subtle, yet it is obviously there. Such a statement may come as a surprise, especially from a male director. It shows Coppola as superior not only to the man she approaches but also to her cohorts as she leads them up and down the deserted streets.
Coppola then takes her aggression a step further in her second fantasy. She elevates herself to the status of a princess, royalty. For the first few moments, she is alone, but she is then picked up and carried away by two silver men, presumably aliens. (She is, after all, a space princess.) They carry her to a room with a throne and surround her with several other aliens who are all male. By elevating herself to royal status, Coppola makes herself superior to the aliens. This status is not the only thing that makes her superior to the male aliens: The aliens are nearly naked while Coppola is fully dressed (in a rather suggestive suit). Their nakedness suggests vulnerability as they stand under Coppola. Once again, this image may not seem so unusual had Coppola been male. Not only does she not become submissive, but she also becomes superior and makes the aliens submissive to her by making her sexual prowess her power.
In her third fantasy, Coppola does not rely on her sexuality to prove her superiority. She relies on her lyrics':
Speak my mind anytime
'Cause I got the master plan...
I'm a woman on fire with a huge desire
Gonna be as good as any man
(Coppola, Mangini, Leitch, 1997)
She takes on the persona of a diva, the best of the best. As this diva, she states that she will "claim her land." In other words, she will take what is hers, follow her dreams, and not let anyone stop her. Coppola shows that she does not need to flaunt her sexuality to display her aggressiveness. By becoming a diva, she becomes someone or something that no man could possibly equal (with the exception of some transvestites or drag queens).
Overall, "Legend of a Cowgirl" conveys a powerful message of women's sexual freedom and feminism in general. Whether or not this was done intentionally is irrelevant. Coppola manages to portray an aggressive non-submissive female even under a male director. (It is worth noting that the director, McG, works for MTV and VH I. He has worked with well-known acts such as Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth. McG's works stand out because of his use of "bright, vivid colors" and film techniques [Boehm, 2].) Despite the work of a male director, the music video audience probably did not fully accept this work because it is such a departure from the usual narrow spectrum of music video selection that constantly exploits female sexuality.
Coppola is not simply the object of a male gaze. She says that she is as good as any man if not better. She demands to be seen in such a way that does not demean her. Simon Frith's (1998) analysis of rock and sexuality states, "Male sexuality is no more 'naturally' aggressive, assertive, and urgent than female sexuality is 'naturally' passive, meek, and sensitive" (p. 270). Coppola's video probably best exemplifies this statement as she turns the tables on her male spectators both within the video and outside of it. She defies Frith's observation that "as long as female attraction is defined by the male gaze, girls are under constant pressure too [sic] to keep control of their appearance; they can't afford to let their performance go" (p. 272). She dares to show that she can put her sexuality on the table and still maintain her dignity.
So, the question now is, would the music video industry be willing to find a place for works such as "Legend" that do not portray women in the misogynist gaze? Judging by the audience's (non) reaction to Coppola, it may be a long time before such a chance is taken again. "Legend" shows that women can be portrayed as sexually aggressive without being exploited. However, in the male-dominated music video industry, we may not see too many more works that give women this privilege.
- Berger, A. (1995). Cultural criticism: A primer of key concepts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
- Boehm, M. (1999, March 19). "Behind the McMusic; McG, director of hip videos for MTV and VHI, started rolling credits as a kid back in Newport." The Los Angeles Times, pp. 1-4.
- Frith, S. (1998). "Rock and sexuality." In M. Petracca and M. Sorapure (Eds.), Common Culture: Reading and writing about American popular culture. (2nd Ed.) (265-277) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Gardner, E. (1998, January 25). "Pop music; She's a rainbow; Imani Coppola makes a splash with her sunny pastiche that sends pop, hip-hop and jazz through a psychedelic spinner." The Los Angeles Times, pp. 3-7.
- Hall, S. (1980). "Encoding/decoding." In S. Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe, and P. Wills (Eds.), Culture, media, language. (128-138). London: Hutchinson.
- Jhally, S. (Editor, Narrator, Writer). (1995). Dreamworlds II: Desire/sex/power in music video. [Videotape] Northhampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.
- Kottak, C. (1998). "Television and cultural behavior." In M. Petracca and M. Sorapure (Eds.), Common Culture: Reading and writing about American popular culture. (2nd Ed.) (161-169) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Moog, C. (1998). "Media mirrors." In M. Petracca and M. Sorapure (Eds.), Common Culture. Reading and writing about American popular culture. (2nd Ed.) (97-105). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
I really enjoyed reading Inda Lauryn’s work. I believe she has the potential to be the next Octavia [Butler] and give L.A. Banks and Laurell K a run for their money! It has been a while since I have read good Black fiction. I felt like some of the characters were me! Lauryn exemplifies the fact that we are diverse.