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This Bittersweet New Light

I was just about to head upstairs to post about tonight’s new moon/year when I heard of Michael K. Williams’ death. Now I am writing this on my stoop–in the same neighborhood where he lived and died– with huge tears running down my face.

I saw the brilliant actor, activist, dancer, and choreographer around a lot–sometimes at film events, sometimes just drinking coffee in the park–and he was always unwaveringly gracious and kind. That such a radiant light only got 54 years is beyond painful. As Roy Wood Jr tweeted today: “All I want is for black entertainers to be able to grow old.”

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Share Your Love With Me (Aretha, Forever)

Did you know that Aretha’s version of “Share Your Love With Me”–first recorded by Bobby Band, but no one covered a track like the Queen–has made me cry ever since I was a kid? The loneliness and longing of the lyrics are perfectly matched by Aretha’s musicalit; she always produced her albums when the studios boys didn’t credit her. Just listen to the first chords of her piano; that Atlantic Records horn section; her glorious, churchified sisters thrilling and trilling; and then Lady A swooping us all up–generously, joyfully–in her big beautiful voice, making all of the human condition OK. Yes, even our pain. Especially our pain.

This song. I can’t tell you how many times my heart has been so broken that I’ve barely been able to feed myself, let alone feel myself, but could still listen to this song. Over and over, numbly at first, then with big tears streaming, until I was shored enough to face the world with spine and lipstick straight. This song is my church, and Aretha is forever my minister.

I’d say I miss her and of course that’s true. But it’s also true that she lives on in every one of my scratchy vinyls. The ones I’ve been listening to since I was that kid in dirty braids who saved up to buy them at Skippy White’s in Cambridge’s Central Square. I’m so grateful Aretha Franklin helped raise me even if she didn’t know she was doing it. Raising people up is what she did and she always will. She shares her love with all of us.

‘It’s a Sin’: AIDS as Generation Black Hole

I inhaled the HBO Max/Channel 4 AIDS dramatic mini-series It’s a Sin in one day and am still thinking about it.

As someone active in ACT UP in college, who moved to the West Village in the early 90s, AIDS is never off my radar. I’ll never forget my beautiful young friends who seemed like ghosts even before they died. I’ll never forget equating sex with death even before I lost my virginity.

The London-set series has charisma to spare–hip-strutting, head-strong boys; head-spinning montages; spot-on 80s and 90s set and costume design; catchphrases, for heaven’s sake! Far worse than the spare-no-cliche soundtrack, though, is how it perpetuate 90s-era toxicity: more nuance and internal workings for the white characters; the sole female protagonist has no sex life and exists solely to caretake the men.

But I resist the critique that It’s a Sin fast-forwards too quickly, especially over problems like workplace harassment. While I was still in my teens, the transition from carefree club life to hospitals, funerals, and activism took place in the blink of an eye. Gender/sexual harassment/trauma was so widespread it was background noise–something you white-knuckled through if you wanted an apartment, job, not to get beat to a pulp. Believe me. As someone who often called out aberrant behavior—who confronted the landlord who stuck his tongue down my throat, who refused to work for the newspaper editor asked if I had a boyfriend while licking his lips–my career and livelihood suffered mightily.

Gen X is too hard on Z/millennials but we resent the assumption of younger people that we were oblivious to trauma. My generation of queers just was swamped with too much macro-aggression–mass extinction and existential horror–to tackle micro. Oh how this show captures that giddy ghastly time.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy