Frank Ocean Enlightenment – Curtis Eggleston
August 6, 2021
Forty-hour bus ride, Rondônia to São Paulo, attuned to the no-need of quick highs or company. Sole interest in elevation permanence.
No greater pleasure than music. And while many lionize music as the drug with no hangover, I maintain this pleasurable distraction prevents humanity from living presently, and experiencing our Earthly inheritance to how we were meant, that is, sans stimulation. I believed, though, I had found a fix, allowing music not as, but ablutions for, the sin of escapism, the responsibility dodging of needed-for-ascendance pain concomitant with existence.
With a charged iPod and freshly released Frank Ocean´s Blond, fastened headphones and closed eyes convened a spirit from sound. I clicked play.
Now there are many ways one listens to music. All but one will earn your rank in Hell, or alternatively, prevent you from Hell´s foil, for the singular passable method to indulge in recorded melody depends on your treatment of the auditory spells, and each type of treatment coincides with how any listener may approach, and some nights even reach, God.
We can begin by addressing the musical atheist, who, though may occasionally hear music, whether accidentally via radio, skyscraper elevator, airport tarrying, or movie montage soundtracking, never listens, thinking without effort what they hear is simply “not music,” and never tries or considers it possible to acquire a taste for organized sound. Whether pop structure or grating death metal electro rap, spiritual ambience or patriotic hums, it does not matter, the musical atheist hears tinny noise, and denies the existence of music altogether. I have known musical atheists to attend live shows for the same reason blind men accompany their spouses to silent films. I pray for them, though wary of their chances of salvation.
The lowest form of music listener, the first-class priority-mail Hellbound partaker in melody, perfumed in casuality, tangentially acknowledges music, but treats euphonic art as less than escape, instead as distraction. These types are known to spout phrases like “I love this song, who is this again?” in reference to superhits that have inundated radio stations for seasons. These same types, on a cold clear night alone, miles from humanity and free of light pollution, look up to the white-lit galore of stars´ gazes and feel nothing. Another sad aspect all too common within the cursory listener subdivision: their parents raised them toward avid faith in sound, Mozart´s operatic textures intend to tend genius through headphones straddling Mom´s distended linea negra as hopeful mushrooms in womb, Townes Van Zandt´s subtle poetry’s decoded on father-son road trips through southwest melancholy desert as context for his crooning, walkman birthday, iPod Christmas, concerts for well-done-straight-A´s surprise, and yet, the casual listener, overly exposed and inherently anarchical to parents´ loves bestowed, rejects their progenitor´s reverence for song, will never know a lyric beyond a chorus, or may acknowledge a verse is “deep,” three years after its acclaimed release, similarly to how a twenty-something just now pipping out the eggshell of their apathy enters church saintly of themself, saying you know, the architecture really is quite chic, I can see now why in the old days the poor were so easily duped into “God´s” power, simply touristically, this genre of musical dipshit notes zero variance listening to Bach or Miley Cyrus, white noise or Bieber while studying for their BCOR1010 final exam.
Upon the next rungs of holy-music treatment stand three subgenres of pharisaic listeners, the first of whom we refer to as the self-proclaimed musician. Descriptor key: “self-proclaimed,” as ninety-nine point many-nined percent of all “musicians” lie. To utter a phrase so bold as “I am a musician” claims musical quintessence outweighs the base substance of what they actually are. To hail yourself musician without constantly, in the exact denotation of the word, that is ceaselessly, music-making, transgresses beyond the boundaries demarcating honesty and falsehood – to call oneself musician without making music every second of your existence is to blaspheme our Creator, who endowed within you an honor much greater than your ability to goose your clarinet, and that is to be human.
Through my travels I have reveled in and suffered the company of many, but only once did lonely trek, fate-led confluence deliver a true musician whose melodic emanations surpassed profession, suffused her essence, inscribed her DNA. Her name was Iracema, her name meant lips of honey, I never heard her speak, only play.
Lost in northern Argentina, battered by heat and dehydration, seeking oasis while perched upon the spine of my flagging alpaca, I spied below my headdress´s drape a vale so deep and distant from next city that I thought it first as pure hallucination. Stone strewn switchbacks lowered us to a secluded desert monastery, Iruya. One-roomed homes, crucifixes, a river, elderly women instructing grandchildren to skin, clean a guanaco, some barefooted, others sandaled, all humbly attired in fawn-colored gowns. In Iruya, I never saw a man.
The eldest woman led us to one of the river´s calms, offered alpaca steak and a graze for my ride, a pad and wool blanket for rest, and by the fire preceding, I inquired to my benefactor as to the source of the beat that never lulled between the valley walls, the pattered drum I´d heard but filed away as lower concern until we were hydrated, fed. It was agreed I could be brought to Iracema.
I matched the patient, dusted shuffle of one of the elders. She tucked each hand in its opposite sleeve, her robe concealed her sandals, she never stepped unbalanced, upright shambling up rock fragments too steep for me to climb without my hands. As we ascended, I tried to predict the rhythms Iracema dribbled off the walls, couldn´t, the beats would double, pace would settle, before they´d halve, the mountain trembled, a universal heartbeat with no plan but for random, unsense said echoed, intertwined mountainsides rose instead from belowground as if to urge the range to rise to pierce.
We topped the final hairpin. Iracema sat upon a rock bench carved to suit her, her drums of wood and animal hide at varied heights before her. She called forth a dozen rhythms as if she had six hands, laying fingertip, wrist, palm and knuckle to the stretched-skin, laced of ligament instruments from which she drew life. She had the eyes of a blind woman, opaquely curling moonlight like nebulous, magnified jewels. Behind her arms´ blurs, her body kept still, no rise of chest or shoulder betrayed breathly hints. She never noticed us. I listened. The elder waited for me, to try to understand. We left.
Descending to the valley´s base, to camp, to the fire to sleep, I spoke in broken Spanish with the elder, of Iracema. She told me Iracema never ate, only played, that in Iruya, rain never fell, and yet crops grew, the river flowed, the women bore children without insemination as men were permitted to pass by the town, but never sleep on the populace´s side of the rio. Iracema´s gift is the heart of our earth, she said. Even in her sleep she replenishes what pulses through our world.
Now that is a musician. None of these other posers who brag about their synthesizer app. Important to note, a point moot to Iracema, whose destiny and doom subsumes her human essence, that this mythical drummer who pauses neither to eat nor while she sleeps never listens to music, having already become it herself. The self-labeled musician then, the one whose musical truth falls short of any cantabile drop of Iracema´s urine, will never listen to music as an honest form of connection with any version of virtuous creation, to achieve any permanent form of elevation, because unlike Iracema, who inherited a responsibility to keep the beat of Iruya´s providence, the fake musician has manicured their image, and even though their melodic inclinations may stem from musical fandom, they cannot listen without one detrimental, immersion-slaughtering thought: I could do this better, or at the very least, differently. Once this occurs, they plummet, same as when, for example, a timid boy with the girl he claims to love no matter what, mentions potential of sex, and is relegated deep into the nethers of friend-zonery. Whether ruminations spawned by any given melody are true or false, the self-labeled musician contemplates others´ compositions to improve their own indulgent pursuit, no matter if the end-goal is a charitable one or a fame-drenched stadium stage, they listen with future intention sneaking past their mindset´s frame, and therefore remain as human listener, untranscended, cemented in the pathetic costume of “musician” concealing a critic.
Similar rationale extends to the other subgenre of dedicated auditor: the true critic. One may assume a critic has less chance to abuse musical ventures than does the self-proclaimed musician, incorrectly. While a musician, who opts to use another´s art for inspiration, knowingly or not, adopts the role of thief, the critic spends at least fractional moments listening with no other aim but to enjoy, before proverbially shitting themselves of soul.
See the inner-child, with grown man swollen gut, wielding soundwave expertise and mug of practiced pundit from whom myriad dynamic content suffers his critique, mellisonant or dissonant no matter, stroke his mustache sprouts in laptop camera´s projection of self before he clicks record, adjusts his glasses, prepping to ravage the on-the-rise pop diva Leivra for her poorly mixed, lyrically immature new record, Babbleon – but wait – a sweep-bleep, robot whistles you´ve got mail, inside which glows a coded blue link with a message begging criticism, publicized review, and while normally a viral blogger wag out-famousing the try-hards he dismantles with one video per day would never spend his edit-hours laying public waste to almost certain mediocrity, something like schizo whisper wisps out of the speaker cup and into our exemplary critic´s impeccable ear, and so now visualize this man-child adjust his sponsorship´s headphones snug, don speakers valorous as a colonial officer´s pith helmet, and play the anonymous song submitted through the wraith-inescapable internet: synths begin to layer like sleeps´ worth of snows, a woman´s voice rouses solitary comfort like a cold night walked alone below lamplight and I-was-the-only-one-who-saw-that-shooting-star, our critic flashbacks to the first walk with his childhood puppy Hades, a black poodle mixed with loyal kindness, they trotted through eight fresh inches to a river slithering with baitable rainbow trout crisply bordered by the ice-notched bank they crossed to duck aside gaunt brambles, and he slung Hades underarm to climb a riverside boulder the size of an impregnated cloud, so they may sit quietly there, human breath and puppy pant melting freckles of saddened snowfall, watching tired water balk the winter freeze, a moment long forgotten by our dear critic, shockingly, this random fan submission strung the harp of heart´s fond memory, and here lies the purity of music, an escape forgiven by God, but just as our critic´s eyes reveal the hex to render tears, a witty phrase arrives, and his jotting it down on the yellow legal pad before him evaporates the rites of his emotional baptism, in favor of how he may describe what this unknown band might mean to others, therefore sacrificing the epitome of happiness in life for his career.
I, however, as someone who listens to and loves music with a reverence so absolute that any pope subjected to my charism would kneel, resisted the temptation of subjugating art to my benefit, and instead dissolved into canorous waves of melodies effused through my headphones. Many selfish of my generation cannot listen to a song without pretending they are the ones onstage singing, stare-contesting the DJ tables, dream-binging their image in the fake physical encasements of others. Masculine men are less apt to listen to females, white boys snarl at adversity while listening to rap, but on the bus from Rondônia to São Paulo I thought I´d found my way, as helium rises from a punctured balloon while the latex oval that had held it homed collapsed, I sacrificed my raison of the physical realm, and synthesized myself with the harmonies of Frank Ocean´s Blond. It was not that I became Frank, or pretended to be anything, it´s not that I was myself, or some munificently pedagogic narrator. I, like the creation of a handstitched crucifix depiction filmed and then reversed at speed, was unwoven of self, and what was left was a soul-sound miasma of the seventeen tracks of the magnum opus of Frank´s discography.
For nearly forty hours on that ride, as music, I escaped the prison of I, until, like a tsunami recycling the coastline of India, or like the girl you had a crush on unadvisedly cutting straight bangs, disaster struck, my iPod died, and I suffered the vanishment of feeling unalive´s, self-escapement´s, euphoriant veil of eternity.
But for fuck´s sake, at least we had arrived at Tietê, the largest bus station in São Paulo.