Image, "monte & his music"
photograph by Emile Benjamin
thas the way the equation is for me....
This is how I've learned, or remembered (depending on your school of thought about the process of life) most of the things there have been to know about love.
music has schooled, comforted, nursed, and held me through all of loves twists and turns. its had many colors, textures, and layers.
When I think of what february represents aside from black history month, I automatically think of love. I do so largely because of the way that valentine's day is commercialized, packaged, glorified and shoved down all of our throats during this wintry second month of each year. I know now that none of this has been by accident.
Secret: I've never had a 'valentine' on valentines day, or in any part of February.
For as long as I can recall, february has either been marked by mere 'me' time, or dark, dismal, rough patches during which I had to rebuild myself from the bottom up as a result of what I may have 'thought' was love which had subsequently gone awry.
Even for me, (someone who likes to think he's beyond celebrating something so trivial simply because the world does so on that day) valentines day and this time of year tend to make me a love scrooge.
Just beneath the surface:
one thing I pride myself on is the fact that over the last 10-12 years of my life, I've put in work. Even when I didn't know I was workin on me and my shit, I was workin. Especially when I didnt know. being without a valentine on 'that day' has forced me to work on me and my own stuff. to get to the core...
DEEP DOWN INSIDE:
As that day approaches this year, I move into it with a sense of accomplishment in knowing that i've finally started to tap into what LOVE really means TO me and FOR me...and what that is...is rarely tied to anyone but myself.
As I sit here offering up this piece, I take in the energy and inspiration from 7 specific songs that have marked different, significant and meaningful times/places in my life thus far. Some of them are from my childhood, some are from more recent times, but one thing is for sure with all 7 of these songs. They've all come from god at different points on my journey to guide me along my way, and to remind me......so here goes....
"What I Did For Love"- Mary J. Blige
(from the 2004 Tony Awards)
Click Here to Watch
...kiss today goodbye...
...the sweetness & the sorrow...
...wish me love the same to you...
...but I won't regret what I did for love...
...what I did for love....
Although this song is from the musical A Chorus Line, the very first time I heard this song was when Mary J Blige served up a heartfelt rendition of the song at the 2004 Tony Awards. Looking back at that year and all that happened for me, it makes perfect sense that a song which had to be almost as old as I am (being that the original song was written and recorded in 1975-shortly after my birth in late 1974) was introduced to me some 30 years later by someone whose music has always inspired me.
Love is never gone.
As we travel on,
Love's what we'll remember...
...Kiss today goodbye,
And point me toward tomorrow.
We did what we had to do.
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love..."
There was something about the way I was feeling in June of 2004 when I saw this performance, after having lost a dear friend in January of that year, and also after having to nurse myself back to wellness after one of the biggest heartbreaks of my life during that same time that made the words in this song resonate with me. It didn't hurt that Mary was fighting with the song (as I call it when I see her really going through the emotions as she performs) the way she did. When she belted out at the end, "I DID IT ALL FOR LOVE, I DID IT ALL FOR LOVE" I felt it.
There have been MANY a song that Mary has sang that I felt, but this was one that personifies for me what love means:
Go in, love hard, and whatever happens....No regrets.
"The Greatest Love of All"- Whitney Houston
(Whitney Houston 1985)
"Everybody's searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who
fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me..."
My first memory of this song was from 1985 when the album first came out of course. But I remember it distinctly more than any other Whitney song because my mother was always going on and on about how she wanted me to sing this song one day. I remember being 12 years old, preparing for talent shows, learning and singing songs and my mother would never let an opportunity pass to remind me of how much she wanted to hear me sing this song one day. I couldn't understand at the time why it was so important to her even though I thought the song was nice and had a good message even at 12 years old...
"I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail if I succeed at least
I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity...
Because the greatest love of all
is happening to me
I've found the greatest love of all
inside of me
The greatest love of all
is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all"
Now at 32, I totally get it. I understand completely why my mother stressed the importance of the message in this song. So much infact that now as I listen to it, I get emotional because everything she was trying to tell me back then I've seen and lived through and now I get it. Learning, or remembering to love myself has indeed been the greatest kind of love there is. I know this now, i feel this mainly because I know that love is connected to, and always comes from god. In those times when I've felt as if I was truly alone, weak, powerless, unloved, etc, the kind of love I always received from god whether it be in the form of a song, a person, a book, a movie, a dream, take your pick...it has never ever steered me wrong..Being able to say I love myself now is my truth.
"Nothing Stronger Than Love"- Natalie Cole
"...There ain't nothin stronger than love
There ain't no word greater than love
And once you feel that
Your whole life will change, yeah
You'll never wanna hurt again, no one
Never wanna hurt again..."
I remember this album from my childhood, as one of many soul drenched albums that I grew up listening to however this song didn't really hit me and resonate until about 8 years ago when I really started going back and listening to alot of the albums I grew up hearing when I was younger, but with a real ear for the lyrics.
"...And when all forsake you
They seem to see wrong in what you say, yeah
(Nobody holds the key) Nobody holds the key to the answer
I know that love will show the way, yeah
Love will show the way (there ain't nothin stronger than love)
(There ain't nothin stronger than love)
(No love!) Now you can live on my friend but you'll never, never find
(No love!) The word I'm talkin 'bout can give you peace of mind
(Love is!) The answer to the burden that you have in your heart
I know it can give a lonely person a brand new start..."
There's not really much more I can say about this one except that it speaks volumes about love: nothing-not fear, not hatred nothin is stronger than the energy of love.
"A Place In My Heart"- The Sounds of Blackness
(Africa To America- The Journey of the Drum 1994)
"...now that you're grown, and on your own
dont feel like you are ever alone
no matter what you're goin through
a mother's love will always comfort you..."
There's rarely a time I listen to this song without crying. It's shown up for me at several pivotal points in my life and reminded me of just how sacred, unconditional and deep my mother's love is for me. My first memory of listening to this song was when I was home from college in 1994 working in my aunts gospel music record store. I thought it was a beautiful song, but I had no idea how or when it would show up for me again. As time continued on and I grappled with suicide, depression, and low self esteem during the mid to late 90's, I would listen to this song and really HEAR what Ann Nesby was saying in this song. That no matter how awful I thought I was at that time, whether I was gay, straight, or downright confused, fat or skinny, talented or not, that my mother loves me. There would be times I would be listening to this song and she'd up and call me....
"...Each day I pray that you're ok
in every way...being all you can be...
cause there's so much to learn....
and there's so little time before your life slips away...
but there's one place you can be safe
yes you have a place in my heart
no matter where you go , its never too far
yes you have a place in my heart
even if you go astray all you have to do is come back home
you know...you have a place in my heart..."
Then several times during First Sunday services I attended, this song would come up during meditation-namely on or around Mother's Day. The time I remember most vividly, I can just recall sitting there before the meditation began thinking to myself that I didn't know what songs would be played, but whatever was played would hit home for me. Without fail, during a time when I was terrified about how and when to break the news to my mother about my HIV status, there in the presence of my spiritual advisors (two women who are just like mothers to me)..this song was played. If I had any question prior to this about what to do...they were gone at that point. Months later, after I finally had that fateful discussion with my mother, I told her about the song (which I know she was already familiar with) and told her about how god had at numerous points laid the song in my path to remind me when I forgot... I knew then that no matter what, my mama LOVES me....if nobody else in this world loves me...my mama loves me.
"Love"- Musiq Soulchild
"...Many days I've longed for you, wanting you
Hoping for the chance to get to know you
Longing for your kiss For your kiss, for your touch, for your essence (your beautiful essence)
Many nights I've cried from the things you do
Felt like I could die from the thought of losing you
I know that you're real, with no doubt or no fears
Or no questions
so many people use your name in vain
those who have faith in you sometimes go astray
thru all the ups and downs the joys and hurts
for better or worse i still will choose you first..."
This song is one that spoke to me from the first time I heard it mainly because of the approach. Never before had I heard a song sang TO love itself about all of its emotions, side effects, causes, etc. The music, the lyrics, Musiq's soulful delivery all joined together to make this a song that will forever inspire and move things inside of me.
"Love's Still Alright"- Chante Moore
"In the game of love there's bitter and its sweet
and you wonder how somethin so beautiful can bring such agony
let me tell you how...it happened to me...."
From the first time I heard this song, it struck a chord with me. Looking back at what was going on with me during that time, it makes sense. It was something about the resolve in what Chante was saying that I was drawn to from the first time I heard this song. Its one of those rare, unique instances in which it makes all the sense in the world and no sense at all, in the same breath. It makes sense to have that kinda resolve, but in most cases when in the thick of something like heartbreak, lovesick love (as I call it) or unrequited love, its easier said than done.
"We're supposed to love unselfishly...
but somehow I find I cried myself to sleep...
tell me who's supposed to take good care of me...
its me, myself, and my heart and I ...
somehow we find a way to try to love again...
you win you lose you try but still you play the game...
just win you learn the rules, you learn the rules have changed
I never worry cause i know just who I am,
you live you learn to be the same even without that man..
and if somebody said...it would ever happen to me...
after I realized...I still could be happy...
so if the one I loved never gave me love in return,
LOVE'S STILL ALRIGHT....STILL ALRIGHT WITH ME."
Even still at the time when the song came along, it provided a kind of comfort, something for me to look forward to feeling all over, even if i wasn't totally feeling that way at that point. It was gently, lovingly reminding me that no matter what happens or shows up, disguised as love...LOVE really is all there is..
"and if the sun dont shine...
there's still a lil love in my heart...
and if the rain falls down, I can still look up...
and if the one I loved never never loved me...still alright..
LOVE IS STILL ALRIGHT WITH ME..."
"All About Love"-Earth, Wind & Fire
(That's The Way of The World 1975)
"Paint a pretty smile, each day
lovin is a blessing, never let it fade away
It's all about love"
This is another song (and album) I remember from childhood...from 1975 infact, but it didn't hit home...until February of last year, when I was at that fateful First Sunday service where I got the inspiration for Brave Soul Collective itself. This was that one song that played as I sat there in meditation when the words, the name, the idea for BSC all came to me. It was something that felt familiar (because it was...having been from my childhood) and it also felt new and exciting. There was something about the way Maurice simply stated....
"...you gotta love you.
And learn all the beautiful things around you...trees & birds...
And if there ain't no beauty, you got to make some beauty.
...and so...I listened...kept my heart and mind open...and thas how Brave Soul Collective came to light just one year ago, while I attended First Sunday, where the topic that month was love.
So with that, as I think on what love really means to me and for me...
I just move forward, trying intently to keep my heart and mind open...
even when life and its experiences don't make an ounce of sense to me...
trusting that as evidenced by the stories I've shared through the inspirations from these songs....God don't make mistakes and NOTHIN...happens by accident.
That's what I know about love.