Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lyrically Speaking...

Recently, I attended the concert of one of my favorite music artists, Mary J. Blige. It was held at Foxwoods Resort and Casino’s Grand Theater and every seat was occupied. The smell of buttery salted popcorn, freshly sprayed perfume and lung killing cigarette smoke filled the air. The space was live with anticipation, nostalgia and good time vibes. For some, this concert was just something to do on a Saturday night, for others, it was a chance to be entertained by one of the greats and for those like me, it was a night of lyrical testimony being performed by a living legend.
Mary J. Blige emerged on the scene in the summer of 1992 with the single, “You Remind Me” from her debut album, What’s the 411?.  During that time, I was in a relationship that had turned into a threesome of sorts. I had just discovered my boyfriend not only had a girl on the side but was very much in love the other woman. At the time, many young women admired MJB’s style and tried to emulate her look. My man’s side piece was one of those. Thus, MJB herself became a constant reminder of this other woman and her album, What’s the 411?, became the soundtrack to that period of my life. From that album, five singles were released: “You Remind Me,” “Real Love,” “Reminisce,” “Sweet Thing,” and “Love No Limit.”  Each song hit a sweet and sour spot for me but the one that I feel the most is ‘Reminisce.’ It speaks to how, at the time, my boyfriend and I once had it all then, with the development of this new relationship he was sharing with someone else, all was lost (to me). So, when Mary sang,
Iiiiiiiiii cannnnn rememberrrrrr whennnnnn, We haaaaad, We haaaad it aaaaalllllll, Yoooouuuuuu and Iiiiiii, Yoooouuuou and Iiiiiiiii (Reminisce on the love we had)…..yeeeeaaaahhhhhh! I know that we've been here before, The candle light and you walking softly through my door, Come on in my sweet. How have you been?, You’re so nice… but tonight we're gonna be more than just friends, I recall the days and ways of love we made, I still feel the heat when we shared each other…..Don't you feel the magic, the mystery's in the air, Lets go down to lover's lane with the love we shared…. ”
 I felt every word, every syllable and every vibration of this plea to reminisce.
Since then, MJB released several albums but there are two, My Life and The Breakthrough plus the single, “Not Gon’ Cry” (off of the soundtrack to the movie, Waiting to Exhale) that resonate with me as deeply as her debut.
When My Life was released, in November 1994, I was away at college. As those of you who have had the college experience know, being away from your friends, family and significant other can be difficult at times. Even more so at a time when there were no beepers, cell phones or social media outlets to keep you connected on a regular basis. If you called home and people weren’t available, you had to hope they would be the next time you made that call. Having telephones in our individual dorm rooms, as opposed to a common area, was as good as it got, in those days. I started my second year of college when My Life was released. I was able to get what was known as a ‘single’ room so I didn’t have to share my private space with anyone else. I thought it would be perfect for the times my daughter and her father/my man would come to visit. However, that was not to be since he would become incarcerated soon after I returned to my college campus. In addition to him being incarcerated, he was also expecting a child by another woman at the time.
Dealing with that situation and the feelings that came along with it, songs from MJB’s My Life served as sources of inspiration, strength and courage. My friends and I would play this CD and sing the words of every song, no matter what we were doing. My personal testimonial performances were often of “You Gotta Believe,”

I told you once before, That I love you and I need you, But let me tell you once again, You were my closest friend, I'll never leave you, So hold me tight all through the night, Caress me with your tender care, Anytime or anywhere… I will go with you anywhere. (Please won't you trust me babe), Won't you trust in me baby, Stay with me (stay til death do us part), Till death do us part, You'll always be (oh, oh) right in my heart, Won't you please stay with me, Baby please believe in me (please believe in me)
and “Mary’s Joint,”

I know that you're just a man, But you're all the man I need and I know that you care and you'll never leave, No, you'll never leeeeaaaave…..I love you so, I can't let go, You know it's real, the way I feel, I want to stay, I'll try to wait on you my dear, my love's sincere….”
As we played spades together, the whole room would join Mary as she sang the words to “My Life,”

Life can be only what you make it, when you're feelin down you should never fake it, Say what's on your mind and you'll find in time, that all the negative energy, it would all cease…. And you'll be at peace with yourself, You won't really need no one else, Except for the man up above, Because He'll give you love…..If you looked in my life and see what I've seen...”
and “Be Happy,”

How can I love somebody else, If I can't love myself enough, To know when it's time, time to let go, Sing….All I really want Is to be happy and to find a love that's mine, It would be so sweet, All I really want Is to be happy and to find a love that's mine, It would be so sweet, I just wanna sign, from the sweet Lord above, I know the answer is in front of me but when you think you're in love, you only see what you wanna see, and all I see is me for you and yooooouuuuu for meeeee….”

 I won’t quote the lyrics of every single from that album but, you get my drift. When Mary J. could be heard, her voice, her words, her songs brought people together, if only until the last melody drifted away.

                After completing my first two years of college, I transferred to a university in my hometown. I continued working hard to pursue my degree, mother my child, maintain connections to my friends and relatives and fight for my relationship. I shed some weight, gained some self-esteem and began to stand up for myself. I rarely accompanied my crew when they went out on the town but after being able to put on a body-hugging dress and turning heads, I was ready to go! I was feeling myself and feeling the fact that others were feeling me, too. Unfortunately, my man at the time wasn’t so enthused. He would destroy my clothing, say things to put me down and try to sabotage my efforts to enjoy my life. During this era, MJB came out with the album, “Share My World.” The single, “Everything,” said everything I wanted to feel and say to my man because it had been true at one time.

“It's all because of you, I'm never sad and blue, You've brightened up my days In your own special way, Whenever you're around, I'm never feeling down, You are my trusted friend, On you I can depend, You take me away from the pain and you bring me paradise, And when there were cloudy days you brought sunshine in my life, It never occurred, To me the first time I saw your face, I would fall so deep in love that your love can't be replaced…. You are my everything (you are my everything), love so good, so good only you can bring, You are my everything, You are everything and everything is you”
But, while I was finally beginning to feel good about myself, my relationship was on a downward spiral. I found myself living the lyrics to “I Can Love You.”  

Sitting here, wondering why you don't love me the way that I love you
And baby have no fear, 'Cause I would never ever hurt you, and you know my love is real, boy I can….I can love you, (I can love you), I can love you, (I can love you), I can love you better than she can, I know some times can get rough but we'll make it, We'll make it through the storm and I know I will try to make sure that you can trust me and you know the reason why that I say…. I can love you, (I can love you), I can love you, (I can love you), I can love you better than she can”
In spite of the fact I believed I could love him better than any other ‘she’ could, my boyfriend and I parted ways. Thus, a whole new era of love found, shared and lost began. During my 10-year relationship, I went through almost every phase of love and hate that a couple could go through. I was determined to not duplicate many of those situations….especially the ones that involved high drama. When MJB dropped “No More Drama,”im 2001, I, along with millions of other seeking emotional relief and release, was on board with her as she sang……
“Broken heart again, Another lesson learned, Better know your friends
or else you will get burned, Gotta count on me, Cause I can guarantee
That I'll be fine, No more pain (no more pain), No more pain (no more pain), No drama (no more drama in my life), No one's gonna make me hurt again
Unfortunately, there was still drama to be had in my love life. When the single, “Be without you” from MJB’s album, The Breakthrough was released in September 2005, I was deeply in love with somebody else’s guy. Despite the fact that he clearly belonged to someone else, I dedicated the words of that song to my forbidden lover. The first time I heard it, I thought to myself, “She clearly wrote this song for us!” I felt so strongly about it that I immediately set it as the ringtone on my cell for my special guy. The lyrics spoke to our relationship exactly…….
“Chemistry was crazy from the get-go, Neither one of us knew why, We didn't build nothing overnight, Cuz a love like this takes some time, People swore it off as a phase, Said we can’t see that, Now from top to bottom, They see that we did that (yes), It’s so true that (yes), We’ve been through it (yes), We got real sh** (yes), See baby we been...Too strong for too long (and I can’t be without you baby), And I’ll be waiting up until you get home (cuz I can’t sleep without you baby), Anybody who’s ever loved, ya know just what I feel, Too hard to fake it, nothing can replace it, Call the radio if you just can’t be without your baby……”
Eventually, I got out of that situation. Yet, that song (like the others from their respective eras) takes me back to those days, the feelings I felt and even certain smells, sounds and sights.

So it was, on the night of the concert. I know I wasn’t the only person who had this kind of experience because people all around me were singing their hearts out, dancing, punctuating certain words and lyrics with their arms and feet. It truly was a revival-type of experience, listening to and watching Mary J. Blige do her thing. Unfortunately, she is now going through a divorce so the strong emotions she brought up in herself were evident. Of course, with her catalog being so extensive, she could not perform every song each of us yearned to hear. I heard a man, who was sitting in the row behind me, say, “All I wanna hear is “What’s the 411!” But, she did not perform that song. I wanted to hear the entire “My Life” album but, of course, that was not to be. She gave us an hour and a half filled with the songs and messages she wanted to relay. She spoke about love of self, love for another, love unrequited, love shattered and love that stands the test of time.  Through her words, sang and spoken, MJB took us on a journey that spanned over two decades. She brought us to tears, made us laugh and kept us dancing, on the floor and in our seats. Her performance was so strong and her aura so real that she made us feel empowered, courageous and like family. My friends and I left the concert feeling energized and wanting more.

Upon leaving the concert, that ended too fast, my friends and I reflected on the show. It was noted by two of my girlfriends that MJB didn’t mention anything about the upcoming election nor did she address the Black Lives Matters movement. While those things didn’t cross my mind once, my friends found it to be a bit disappointing. I guess MJB thought it best to just stick to the music and the messages of love, life and good times. I don’t blame her. In spite of wanting more and feeling like the show only lasted 5 minutes, we thoroughly enjoyed the 90 minute MJB experience. It was obvious that she truly appreciates the love, loyalty and support of her fans. Twenty four years after her debut album, everyone still loves Mary and she remains hailed the Queen of Hip Hop Soul.