Of time, memory, music, hope, despair… and the path through the fog, via OutKast’s Aquemini and the wise words of Michael Scott Moore.
Music can connect you to feeling, emotion and memory like nothing else. Music can provide the perfect soundtrack to a pivotal moment in life. More often than not through sheer coincidence. The mind forms a permanent bond with that piece of music. Years later, it can take just a bar or two, just one note, and you can be fully back in that pivotal moment. Time travel. A clear path back and forth through the fog that is life. Liberation from the now.
Last Saturday, Big Boi from OutKast tweeted a short clip of a recent live rendition of Liberation. The memories flooded back.
Liberation moves me like few other pieces of music. Liberation is the penultimate song on OutKast’s stunning Aquemini album, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary right about now
Twenty years ago to right about now, I moved to London. The future was a fog. I was uncertain, naive, overly trusting. But I knew I wanted to change my life completely, do something better, leap into the unknown. Stride into the fog. Hearing Liberation now, in December 2018, I can clearly remember every moment, every emotion of those days of profound change and transformation.
Aquemini was and is magical*. In those first few days and weeks of my London life, I played it constantly. That makes Aquemini the closest thing I have to a soundtrack of that time, the moment that I feel like my adult life truly started to move in the right direction.
Liberation is an extraordinary piece of music, a song like no other. It talks about and embodies more than a century of the African-American experience. The music and the vocals take in so many styles, channelling jazz, blues, funk, spirituals and hip hop, Liberation summons such a profound power that I almost feel that I risk cheapening it by relating it to my own life in any way. In a recent blog post on PassionWeiss, Steven Louis describes this power better than I could ever hope to. Louis says Liberation is “a song of cosmic liberation.” He writes:
“It’s a very, very powerful song about Black life and death, African diaspora and the monstrous ghosts of the American South that still haunt from Port Arthur to College Park. […] There’s a big difference between idealized freedom and feeling free. Liberation is a proudly-Black hymn for that tortuously human dilemma.”
The flipside of hope is despair
By chance, this week I happened across some words about the difference between the idealisation of freedom and truly feeling free that stopped me in my tracks.
“Hope is like heroin for hostages.” This is journalist Michael Scott Moore, talking about his years as a captive of Somali pirates on Adam Buxton’s podcast (an experience which also makes him “maybe the first westerner to teach yoga to Somali pirates”). Moore describes how he had to find a way to live in the moment and leave both hope and despair behind, while he waited for liberation:
“The flipside of hope is despair. And both of them are just emotional ways of living for the future. So they’re both forms of uncertainty. So despair is uncertainty, too. You may think it’s more realistic. It is not. It’s just as unrealistic as hope, because you’re living in the future and not in the present. So getting yourself away from that cycle, from those particular emotions, was the way to live in the present without that terrible swing of emotions.”
I listened to Moore’s words about his path to liberation this week while I was on the train to a work event in London from where I now reside in Sussex. Fog enshrouded London on this dank, late November day. As I walked along the south bank of the Thames from London Bridge, I was stunned by the sight of Tower Bridge almost consumed by the fog.
For me, London never seems to feel more “London” than in the failing light and damp chill of November and December. London’s endless promise of everything concealed by threatening gloom. It felt that way to me when I moved to the capital twenty years ago. It feels like that right now.
There is a clear path through the fog that is life.
Stride into the fog.
* I love this description of the magical, masterful rapping on Aquemini from David Dennis, Jr’s recent piece on the album:
“Andre 3000’s flow tumbles across the beats like a rock skipping over a pond. Big Boi’s flow is as smooth and natural as the ripple left behind.”
- Detail of OutKast live, via Wikimedia Commons.
- Aquemini cover art, via Wikipedia.