Monday, June 28, 2010

Afraid of the Sea

Corine Bailey Rae is a singer-songwriter who had a couple of modest hits from her eponymous debut record that came out in 2006. The first was a simple acoustic "Like a Star" that she performed at the 2007 Grammys in an elegant cocktail dress and no shoes, perched on a stool with only a guitar for accompaniment. The second was a old-school R&B-inspired "Put Your Records On" that ended up in the background of a lot of films and television episodes that year.

So I've been a fan.

When I heard she was releasing a follow-up disc entitled The Sea, I was rightfully excited. Until I learned it was heavily influenced by the recent death of her husband, who had died of an accidental drug overdose. Whoa, I thought. That's certainly not going to be light and playful like the others. I was intrigued, but not ready.

A few weeks passed and I was gearing up for a road trip and in need of some new, unfamiliar music. I browsed iTunes and came across The Sea. I downloaded it. In my car, I listened to the first few bars of the first track, got impatient because it didn't sound like the other, and moved on to something else. Truth is, I was scared of subject matter. I thought to myself, do I really want to risk interrupting my emotionally-neutral driving jag absorbing the artistic fallout of someone else's grief. The answer was no. And so I opted for the other music I'd recently downloaded - the Kinks, Kelly Clarkson, John Mayer, and the Black Keys. Talented folk, but nothing seemingly pre-loaded about listening.

Which got me thinking about my own manuscript.

I'll admit, as proud as I am of my progress, and as much as I feel mine is an important tale to tell, I constantly feel like I dance around uncomfortably when someone who doesn't know me asks (usually prompted by my open laptop at a bar or coffee shop) "So what's your manuscript about?" Explaining that my brother died and that it is an exploration into, not only that, but my family's response to the untimely or unusual illness in our family, usually grinds the once-light conversation to a frosty halt. It doesn't help when I over compensate by attempting to explain that it is also about the bonds of family and friendship and love, and also contains a fair amount of humor and pop culture references.

Which it does, but really, the light (or enlightening) exchange they may have been looking for is gone. Not quite like chatting it up with the person behind you in line at the grocery store, only to have them tell you they've had an abortion (this revealed before you've placed the last items of your cart onto the conveyor), but there is a considerable, immediate weight to the exchange that I cannot escape.

Getting back to the Corinne Bailey Rae, I was out pulling weeds in my yard the other day, listening to my iPod on shuffle, when an unfamiliar song came up. Usually when this happens, it means the song is one of those "duds" from an album download and causes me to bump it to the next offering. But this song, from the very beginning was this sultry tune undercut with a funky beat, and heavy on the B12 organ. A perfect new-but-sounds-old song.

I put down my trimmers, pulled off my gloves and checked to see how something so good could have gotten onto my iPod without my knowledge. It was "The Blackest Lily" by Rae, a track from "The Sea." It was then that I had done the same thing to her piece of art that I pre-accuse potential readers of doing to mine, assuming it will be too raw or heartbreaking to take. And perhaps it is. Perhaps my whole effort will end up being little more than an extended therapeutic exercise.

But I hope not.

In the meantime, I've openly re-examined Rae's "The Sea." I'm still not a fan of the opening track, and I don't love it in the same way I did her debut. But I'm no longer scared of entering into it based on my pre-conceived notions of how I think someone who has lost a spouse to drug abuse might approach a piece of art.

And I've been jamming out constantly to "The Blackest Lily" despite the fact that I have no idea what it means...


  1. And yet, on some level, you *do* know what it means. For you, at this particular point.

    Good to read your words.

  2. Tru dat, Dylan...

    Thanks for the insight.