As I sent light to Aretha Franklin in this morning’s meditation practice, my phone randomly began playing her cover of “My Way”; a second later her death hit the wires. I chalk that synchronicity up to Aretha’s magic, not mine, because she was the most powerful musical conveyer belt of our time and always always sang everything, and I do mean everything, the best. She wrote and performed amazing songs, and she improved on everyone else’s by giving them the most soulful, the most heartfelt, and the most empowering interpretations. Hell, even Otis admitted her take on “Respect” eclipsed his, though he recorded it first. Whether she was producing, performing, or stepping up with sisters like Angela Davis, Aretha always did do everything “her way”– probably even decided when it was her time to go. But I will sit shivah this week anyway. Formal mourning is required when someone in your family passes over, and though I never met her in person, readers of this blog are well aware that Aretha Franklin raised me through her shining example and songs. I’m crying as I type this, and “99 Tears” doesn’t begin to cover how many more I will shed in her honor.
I woke thinking about how, when I was a kid, you’d still encounter elders with numbers tattooed on their arms. If you were a Jewish child in the 1970s, you knew those numbers were not like other tattoos. You knew they were from the Camps. And even if you didn’t entirely understand what the Camps were, you knew they were the worst places imaginable, that they haunted your grownups more than dark closets and spiders could ever haunt you. I woke thinking about all this, and it made me dive immediately into my writing rather than succumb to the hour of lollygaggging and whining that usually precedes my book production. Because I am free to do what I think I’m meant to do, and I cannot take that for granted, especially in Trump’s America. My line did not survive so that I could merely sit on my ass. None of our lines did.
I wake before the sun and shuffle into the kitchen to fix Gracie her breakfast and brew my coffee. I sit by the window, watch the doves bicker gently as they set up a new nest on my fire escape. Babies coming, I think, and pour coffee and heated cream into my biggest mug and shuffle back into the bedroom with a sated Gracie nipping at my heels.
I do not turn on a film. This is momentous.
When anything ominous looms on my horizon, I watch a film before beginning the day. I can rationalize the viewing by nodding to my ostensible profession of the last two decades–muppet critic, at your service–but lately I’ve come to wonder if the profession itself developed as the ultimate rationalization.
As dissociation devices go, a chosen profession is not so bad.
Lately, I have been watching an awful lot of early-morning movies. Yesterday, I watched Singin’ in the Rain. It’s a wonderful film. Certainly the best metamusical ever made–the best metamovie, period. I chose it in honor of the nation’s birthday–Debbie Reynolds in gold and pink spangles, popping out of a cake while my man Gene Kelly beams broadly and drawls: “Well, if it isn’t Ethel Barrymore.” Continue Reading →