-Jan. 30th, 2011
“I have nothing for you,” said my doctor. “I’m not going to put you on addictive drugs at this point, and you’re already wired.” Last week, I finally admitted to myself that I have ADHD. When I told my doctor, I could tell she wanted to say something quippy but then considered my feelings. Of course you have ADHD, she seemed to say. Do you think everyone is like this?
I was about 20 when the medical establishment first started discussing ADHD. I always assumed it was a pretext for public schools to drug the children of Mexican immigrants. My ADHD was initially masked by the basic idiocy of being a young adult, and then I was a school teacher in Newark for 9 years. There, my ADHD was like a superpower, like Wolverine. Because of the constant crisis and chaos, I was the best functioner. My rapid fire brain synapses were my friends, not my foes. Once my life assumed a semblance of normalcy, however, I realized I couldn’t think. I mean, I had to stop thinking so I could think.
Whatever you grow up with, you think is normal. Child abuse, ADHD, Intellivision. Until someone you trust tells you differently. It is not ok for someone to hit you. It is not normal to stop what you’re doing every 5 minutes. Intellivision sucks. ColecoVision has Ms. PacMan. Sometimes you are ready to hear these things when you are 12, sometimes you are ready to listen when you are 37 years old.
On Tuesday, January 18th, the greatest Tuesday ever of my whole life, I heard? saw? experienced? Prince live in concert.
Prince is responsible, not in a feminist text booky or predictable GQ kind of way, but in the coolest way, for revolutionary sex of my generation. The New Power Generation. The midwestern high heel wearing Puerto Rican do whatever you want generation.
How much of our sexuality is our humanity and how much of it is linked up to our personal struggles, our political struggles, and why in 2011 am I still writing it like a question?
THE SHOW: Glory god be whatever kind of church-tent-pop-up-praise-Jesus testimonial whose parishioners are 35 year old bitches in spandex from Long Island. God Bless you Prince. You bless you.
My accomplice Diana and I really did party like it was 1999 as I was wearing clothes my mother bought me, on sale, from TJ Max. A purple coat with ruffles, a matching Candie’s purse, a zebra-striped dress. People on the train on a rainy January night looked at me like, “Where the fuck are you going?” To which I looked back: “Prince,” pause, “clearly.”
THE SHOW: Cheap red wine, nose bleed seats. Sharon Jones was on stage relaying messages from her ancestors. “But, first, let me take off these heels,” she said.
I am putting my pen down momentarily and placing my palms up to the sky, closing my eyes. But first, let me take off these heels.
Ms. Jones proceeds to tell the story of America, which like all of mankind, has many beginnings in Africa. Dance. Drum. And the sax got something to say too. Dap Kings got something to say too. Sharon Jones dancing dances that got signals, warnings, messages, directions. Somebody’s holding onto something. Somebody’s remembering something. Telling us to remember.
Of course she brought up the Cherokee.
Welcome to America. Welcome to this story.
Sometimes when I am editing “They Will Be Heard” (THWB), I have to stop. I am working on a sequence and then I think about everything in the whole world at once for 45 seconds and I need to take a nap. Recently, I started taking 30 minute breaks. Recently my breaks included “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” starring Danielle Day Lewis.
I didn’t pick this movie on purpose. I remembered always, I mean always, seeing this book on a table at The Strand in New York City. And I remember always reading the back and thinking, “Aha! Bourgeois propaganda!”
THE SCENE: the Russian delegation is at the bar and there is a band playing rock music. One of the Czechs at the table with the Russians approaches the band and tells them to play an anthem. The audience grows despondent, and leaves the dance floor, moaning and groaning.
The band returns to rock and roll, and the people rejoice. Grinding, dancing, drinking. It struck me in a way I wouldn’t have understood before making TWBH. How salsa does not replace rock and roll. How rock and roll doesn’t belong to any region. How the roots of rock and roll come from the Blues and we all know where and why that started.
And so this expression, to say that rock and roll is a western influence, like it’s bad, like it promotes mindless consumption and pillaging and raping, to deny people access to something that flows from our breath. To condemn it is suffocating. Is smothering. Because the people who created this music were not bourgeois capitalists even if Elvis was a hero to most.
I can’t imagine not growing up with rock and roll. Without heavy metal. And what does it mean when you ban it? And here I am talking about right wing forces in the United States. About the PMRC. About Bible thumpers. Do they have anything in common with left wing forces abroad?
And now I am thinking of my friend who told me this story about her mother growing up in Argentina. Her mother was abducted in the Dirty War, and disappeared for three years. When she returned, my friend, her daughter, screamed when her mother returned. She was three, and wanted to stay with her grandmother. She didn’t know her mother, because her mother had been disappeared.
I have a Cuban friend who told me almost the same exact story when her mother returned from prison. Her mother was arrested for having dollars in Cuba.
I taught students who grew up in whole communities of families being ripped apart for unnecessary and unjust imprisonment.
When is it democratic to rip apart families?
When is it revolutionary?
THE SHOW: Diana and I drink overpriced red ripple wine waiting for Prince which is the best thing you can be doing at 8:45 pm on a Tuesday in January. Screens hung from the ceiling portray Tina and Ike cast in that awesome 70’s orange and green, dancing and singing and making some kind of revolution happen. Diana and I are trying to figure out if that’s Tina’s nipple. Is she just wearing a mesh shirt? It is. It’s just her nipple. When that was kind of revolutionary and cool. Part of some whole revolutionary free love thing people were trying to figure out. The body is beautiful. Black is beautiful. Tina is up there, is fierce. Lips pursed, shaking our heads. Tina! Welcome to America.
Prince is arriving. There is smoke. There is apprehension and screaming. Purple lights. There is a melange of songs beginning, flowing in and out of each other…You don’t have to be beautiful… and the night begins. To turn me on.
I am remembering being 12 at the Flanders roller rink. I am a little girl. A little tomboygirl. Visionary for my time, as in 7 years, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam will be dressing like me. My father has left. And now we are poor. Safe, but poor. He is gone, we aren’t forced to go to church anymore. Our prayers have been answered.
I am at the roller rink being 12, I want to skate around in a circle, over and over again. To look like I am not scared, that I know what I am doing. I will not look foolish.
The DJ calls everyone out for the Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Derby is when the rink is divided in half, with boys on one wall and girls on the other. The skating referees, they have whistles and black and white striped shirts, skate around on a diagonal very quickly and whistle at attractive young men and women, selecting 2 boys or 2 girls to start out the natural selection, weeding out all the unattractive people.
According to Derby regulations, you select a partner to skate with until the whistle blows where upon you choose someone else. The point of the game is to confirm who belongs and leave out those who do not. You stand on the wall, waiting. After a while, you can all belong when the DJ announces that the Kentucky Derby is over and it’s a free skate once again.
I am twelve. America is not ready for Prince, but we all are. It has been 2 years since 1999 was released, but Prince has figured himself out and he is able to say what he was born to say very clearly so we can all understand. In 1984 “When Doves Cry” is released.
In 1985, when I am skating, relieved from my duty of standing, unpicked, in the Kentucky Derby, after being told, you don’t belong, we don’t want you, the couple’s skate is announced.
I have mastered skating backwards. There is a middle rink for practicing. I have taught myself to skate very fast, jump and turn. I always participate in backwards skate.
Now that couple’s skate is announced, I have made plans to wait on line for Ms. PacMan or buy a soda. Or look through my belongings in my locker. A boy approaches me. Do you want to skate he says. It is Purple Rain. During couple’s skate, the lights are dim, and people skate slowly. Although I am a master at backwards skating, it is our first time so we just hold hands. I am too young and my mother and her church won’t let me see Purple Rain. But here I am. Skating, occasionally slipping away from a boy since our hands are sweaty and our arms are outstretched. We do not look at each other. We do not speak. I am relieved. I belong.
Welcome to America.