It was in one of my previous post that I randomly said “art is pain.” I declared that I would do an entire post with that quote as the focal point. I will, but that time is not now. Today I refer back to that quote because as I sit in my apartment listening to The Chi-Lites “Have you seen her”, I am reminded that it is that pain, that raw emotion that brings a smile to my face. Oldies warm my heart. They take me from my current situation of observing too many men take too many good women for granted, to a place where men pour their hearts out for them. It’s like they bled on those records. They bleeeeed. They bled in a way that rappers who prematurely say “I’m going to bleed on this track” can’t even fathom. It’s exactly that back in the day “rapping” my mother refers to, when she talks about men knowing how to say exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment. She calls it rapping. I call it begging. And while I’m not fond of men who beg, I am favoring of men strong enough to be desperate for an incredible woman.
I have long established that I am generationally misplaced in a way that leaves me feeling like my old soul is being compromised by this modern age. I often wonder how I would have been “courted” if I dated men blessed enough to have the “oldies” as their generation’s music. Oldies, the kind of music that gave men a reference point on how to appreciate and treat women. Plainly, this music had an effect on how those men regarded women. I would even be willing to bet, if this kind of emotionally charged music was blaring from men’s radios today their hearts would reflect it. Life would imitate art. They would be better men for it.
The only genre of music I label, hesitantly, as comparable to old school soul is Rhythm and Blues* (R&B). Actually, this was the blanket label that all Black music received in the twentieth century. Sadly, even contemporary R&B is being phased out on mainstream radio. In its place, rap is monopolizing. To make matters worse, the pop like songs that fill the nominal place of R&B do not remotely scratch the surface of what soul sounds like. Erykah Badu, whose music I have recently discovered an appreciation for, I heard took to twitter recently to verbalize her disgust with the current state of the soul in music. I share similar sentiments. Where is the soul? Even when I hear songs that express feelings of love it seems so artificial and contrived when you place it alongside oldies from men like Marvin Gaye.
For several months I have contemplated the difference in the quality of emotion showcased in R&B compared to the oldies. It doesn’t make sense that these male artists seemingly pour their hearts out, and the end result is still-- flat. I listen to a Brian McKnight cover of Marvin Gaye’s Distant Lover and I literally laugh at his poor rendition of it. The fact that he would even try to cover a classic like Distant Lover is laughable, but more-so the way that he thought he could cover it without committing to the song was what really tickled me. His cover though, is a perfect indication of the current state of what use to be soul music—these men are trying to be cute with it. These male singers are putting artificial sweetener in the tea, and like artificial sweetener it taste bitter. There is nothing pretty about soul. An attempt to make it cute is going to be a failure on its face. Soul is a combination of desperation, pain, and bliss. An emotion intensified is what it is. This kind of exaggeration is not pretty. It’s ugly. You don’t smile through soul.
I watch people regard Trey Songz like a modern-day Marvin Gaye and it’s funny to me. Instead, I see him as an overgrown boy. He sings about sex often but the way he sings about it reminds me of an inexperienced boy mimicking what his older brother said on the subject. I’m not saying Trey Songz is a virgin, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m just saying that his attempt at trying to sound passionate and sexy comes off hoaxy. To be sexy and passionate when you sing about sex, I would think you would need to intimately know the soul of the thing. He obviously doesn’t know the soul of sex.
And this is what I have come to believe is the problem with male artists today. I don’t think they sing with any soul because they haven’t found it yet. It is my belief that soul is created through hardships. I think soul becomes visible through the evolution of that adversity. On both points, I think modern day men are lacking. Further, I don’t think you hear the soul in these men’s voices when they sing about losing a woman because they don’t know the pain associated with losing one. In order to feel that kind of pain he would have had to place a lot of value in her in the first place. I think that goes to the deeper reason for the absence of soul—men’s decreased value in a sole woman.
A friend of mine, who will smile as he reads this, is one of the best quality men I know. If I have a daughter one day I would feel comfortable with her loving a man like him. I asked this great quality man what he thought on the issue of modern music compared to the oldies. He told me that songs are different now because women have made men different. He thinks that the value of women overall has diminished in men’s minds because there are so many bad quality ones that allow men to run amuck. Although we go through different avenues we both arrive at the same dead-end road. The songs sound different because men feel differently about women. And again I say, this comes from one of the best quality men I know.
I try to do at least two miles of cardio a day. What takes me to three or four miles is when Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes I Miss You randomly pops up from my shuffled play-list. It gives me just the burst of energy I need to go another thirty or forty minutes. Its takes me to a whole different level. It excites me, inspires me. (Full disclosure: it sometimes makes me teary eyed, leaving me trying to camouflage the tears as sweat). And if the incredibly beautiful pitches and perfect harmonic tones are not enough, towards the end of the song he stops singing and just talks to her. He talks for five minutes of the song. At one point he begs“If I could just/If I could just see you/Can’t really say what you mean or what you want over the phone/I swear I miss you/You’ve done heard it ten times or more but/I swear I done changed/I swear I done changed.”
Listen to those words. It’s not the validity in what he’s saying that is so on point for me. Has he changed? Probably not. This man is saying whatever he can to get back into his woman’s good graces. He goes from “I’ve changed”, to” I’ve got a gig” to “I won the lottery”. Nothing in what he is saying logically flows. The point is, his words don’t have to necessarily be perfect. With perfection though he completely humbles himself for her. He puts his pride aside. I swear on this blog, if a man that I remotely still had feelings for just played this song for me because he was unable to find words of his own, without a second thought he’d be forgiven. I make this promise, so freely, because I know that men of my generation will never call my bluff. Men of my generation wouldn’t think to do this for a sole woman. Even if she is a soul woman.
* Neo-Soul definitely came to mind but it does not have the historical implication that R&B does.
**Please if you don’t know the songs I am referring to listen to them here, here and here. Even if you do, just go for the reminder.
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