‘I play pure emotion..In music, the only thang that matters is whether you feel it or not..Chords are just the name for sounds, which really need no names at all, as names are sometimes confusing..Blow what you feel – anything. Play the thought, the idea in your mind – Break away from the convention and stagnation – escape! [Musicians] have more room to express themselves with me…They should be free to play things as they feel it, the way it’s comfortable for them to play it. You can use any note and rhythm pattern that makes good sense for you. You just hear it – like beautiful thoughts – you don’t listen to people telling you how to play…My music doesn’t have any real time, no metric time. It has time, but not in the sense that you can time it. It’s more like breathing – a natural, freer time. People have forgotten how beautiful it is to be natural. Even in love…’
-ornette coleman, from The Harmolodic Manifesto [a musical application of socialism]
Even in love…the words settle softly but firmly within my mental. Of course the people are disconnected from any real feelings of what love in its natural state could look like. Feel like. We live within capitalism, which birthed racism and exploits patriarchy. It structures everything and socializes us in a culture that supports such structures; none of which are founded on love. In the states we are taught false bourgeois understandings of it. We are conditioned through bourgeois holidays to celebrate love and togetherness a few days out of the year, where we are assaulted with advertising pressure to consume and show love through our wallets and things. Things replace love and feelings. Natural does not occur, because we do not live within the settings of anything natural. We are so far removed from our own wants and desires; alienated from our bodies and spirits and each other. Alienated from the earth. The type of freedom ornette coleman speaks to in his manifesto above transcends the makings of music. For me, it means the necessity of revolution. Music, like all culture, is regulated through society. Music therefore represents the same rigidity and oppressive ideas that rule all realms of society, incarcerating us in a patriarchal/capitalist mental and physical slavery. Musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane chose to break jazz free from the western linear structure. They wanted collective/individual free expression; the connection of feelings and body with music; with sound. This type of connection is real freedom, but freedom does not exist under capitalism. Therefore our art is not completely free either. But we can use it to express these critical ideas. We can use it to express alternative visions in practice. John Coltrane expresses this idea musically here,
“I think the majority of musicians are interested in truth, you know—they’ve got to be because a musical thing is a truth. If you play and make a statement, a musical statement, and it’s a valid statement, that’s a truth right there in itself, you know. If you play something phony you know that’s phony. All musicians are striving to get as near perfection as they can get. That’s truth there, you know. So in order to play those kind of things, to play truth, you’ve got to live with as much truth as you possibly can, you know.”
I believe that revolutionaries feel very similarly. There is an understanding that our struggle is grounded in a righteous truth, liberation. All of our actions are being guided by that truth; the righteous revolutionary strives to embody truth as much as possible, despite the challenges of capitalism. This is what we must do if we stand a chance of moving towards a new age of freedom. This type of revolutionary thinking can be applied to the music and thought of musicians, such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltran. Coleman tried to develop his ideas around free jazz into a loose document called The Harmolodics Manifesto. It is underdeveloped theoretically, and some may argue that it is a joke that Coleman created to amuse himself. Either way, I see the potential in the ideas presented; there is a conscious analysis of music that can be applied to the overall structures of society and revolution. Coleman’s music and ideas are revolutionary, because they are dialectical. Dialectics is the understanding that society is developed and propelled forward through the relationship of contradictions, leading to ruptures and transformation. This was a fundamental change in western methods of consciousness, which relied on formal logic. Formal logic did not account for the real movement that makes up society, because it did not understand contradictions. Karl marx grounded dialectics within class struggle asserting that the fundamental contradiction of society is between the oppressed and the oppressors. It is the results of these struggles, which has catapulted us into new historical epochs, capitalism being our current one. Dialectics therefore is inherently revolutionary, because it is the conscious actions of people provide the basis for destroying and rebuilding society. The makings of history.
Ornette Coleman and John Coltranes development of free jazz is a musical application of dialectics in many ways. They used jazz to challenge the limitations of jazz giving birth to a new sound, and therefore a new idea. This is music, but it is all very social. That is why Coleman and Coltrane speak to the human feeling involved. They’re making musical emotion; providing sounds to the thoughts and feelings. They do not see a disconnection between them. This is a new concept that challenge’s the limitations imposed upon our collective consciousness through living in this capitalist system and learning exploitation on the job, within classrooms, and our communities. We have to consciously break free from this conditioning and strive for the truth behind the socialization. This is don through living, studying, creating and struggling. It is what has helped me stay awake in this system with hope and inspiration for my people. But the truth is we aren’t socialized to feel; to express our feelings naturally. We do not live naturally. We have no idea what that really means even. We buy meat in plastic and styrafoam, and frozen vegetables shipped from across the world. We live in little boxes removed from one other, laid down on pavement, which has been laid down on the beautiful earth. This keeps us spiritually weak so that we are more equipped to accept the misery of this absurd and abusive system. A people who are awake and in touch with their beautiful hearts and desires together is a powerful force; it stands oppose to the makings of the system. If we all begin to understand this truth and come together on the basis of this truth, then we can rebel against the system with the goal of taking it back and running it for ourselves. Then we will have revolution unfolding around us; materially and culturally, uplifting our spirits because of the strength of our spirits. Therefore, the most important revolutionary work we must be doing during and in between struggles is stimulating the conscious/spirits of the people. Inspiring them and supporting what they already know; what we all know birthed within us.
And art, like struggle, is, and has always been, an important vehicle for inspiring and transforming the people’s consciousness. Arts revolutionary effect on the people is twofold: it is both the production of revolutionary art, as well as consumption of it, which inspires and effects the people. Revolutionary art can deliver messages that inspire the people and make them move. It is also the act of making art and participating with others in the production of art, which can transform someone’s consciousness. There will be many a revolutionary who will diss art and its importance. Part of that is coming from a righteous feeling of seeing art fetishized in liberal ways that lose sight of the importance of revolution and taking power back. That said, art will save you. Capitalism is designed for so many to fail and suffer. It can be hard to find reasons for living, but art offers connection. Connection to ourselves and each other. Often people find art before they have been exposed to the idea of revolution. As a kid It was through art that I found emotional strength to survive my family trauma, and my ancestral trauma, the system being the ultimate source of it all. The more we value art in the revolutionary left the more we can guide people to a total understanding of the world. Our art can cast visions for action and that is what it must do.
I have never known the experience of having a grandfather in your life to learn from and spend time with. My father did not know his father and my mother was estranged from hers. However, my father’s grandfather, my great grandfather, has always carried such importance in my life. His name is Herman Walder, but we call him Daddy Herman. I never knew him but I know many things about him. He was a well-known and talented jazz musician in Kansas City, a family man, and a sharp dresser. His daughter, my grandmother, says that he used to say ‘sharp like a Harlem sissy’ in regards to his fashion. A lover of womyn and an ally to the queers. The truth is my grandfather was always down for a good time, and during the prohibition days good times were to be had at the underground jazz clubs, where musicians, queers, prostitutes, jazz lovers, and anyone looking for a party could be found. He was a charismatic person and an artist. Even though I never knew him I have been connected to him all my life. I guess it’s just something in the intuition; I feel his spirit in my own.
He has been gone for 28 years now. I’ve been thinking about him a lot today and it has felt good to meditate on his spirit, as well as my own. Been feeling preoccupied all weekend with thoughts…thoughts for my brothers who are so alienated in this world. Dehumanized as ‘criminals’. Disconnected from feelings. The legacy of our continual slavery. I think about the challenges I have experienced with trying to love my brothers. The disappointment and violence that sometimes greets this love. I think about humanizing them as I humanize myself, so that we can really embrace each other in our many selves. In honor of those feelings and my grandfather I wanted to include a poem by the fierce and important poet Wanda Coleman. Also known as the ‘LA blues woman’. Her words always radiate with truth and power.
Much love for the ancestors.
Holding the Sidewalk Down by wanda coleman
it is an american universal peculiar to certain black men
who hang out on street corners no matter where
making signals to one another
some mysterious juju/communication
worshipping the passing of a life
that excludes them
There are moments when lovers reveal parts of themselves
never revealed before
and you are hit with the sudden realization
that things aren’t always as sweet as they seem
and those late night giggles that lead to late morning kisses
are replaced with long silences
and awkward goodbyes
There are times when lovers reveal parts of themselves
never revealed before
that release you from old habits
daydreams where security is found
and pedestals that don’t really exist
and the hard feelings of disappointment
are gently unpacked from the truth gained from the release
and truth is sweet
as love first felt
it is the first hour
of my fathers birthday
and familiar feelings of disappointment
clutch at my heart.
attempts to burden me with smallness
that is so gendered in nature.
the body and spirit weighed down
by another man
filling up too much space.
i release such doings
fighting off the triggers
of what once was.
feelings i have outgrown.
and i thank myself for this movement closer
we must remind ourselves that we are more than enough
The system has been in our wombs since the beginning of European colonization of the world and the development of capitalism, where the rape and the breeding of African womyn was a dominant feature of the political economy of the United States. And continues to be. The recent fascist patriarchal perspectives on womyns bodies and abortion expressed by Mitt Romney and the Neo conservatives have sparked more discussion within the bourgeois press as well as the left, invoking the ongoing prolife/prochoice debate. Prolife/prochoice movement has often been grounded in reforming the system, and advocating for roe v wade. This is largely due to bourgeois ‘feminists’, such as Feminist Majority and NOW, and nonprofits, such as Planned Parenthood, having the privilege to define the movement. This is not helpful for working class womyn and revolutionary feminist, who understand that real body liberation comes from the collective liberation of all people from patriarchy and capitalism. Womyn must understand that Romney and Obama are not going to do anything for the general wellness of womyn, because they represent a system that has raped, harmed, exploited and murdered womyn for centuries. That is not going to change. Therefore, as long as Patriarchal capitalism exists womyn will never have freedom over their bodies and the support they need to make the choices that are right for them. What is more useful to me is for the people to understand the totality of the system, and the ways that the regulation of gender and sexuality are necessary for its survival, and continual colonization over our lives and bodies. Understanding these truths will hopefully lead the people to do something about it, and hopefully that something is bolder than voting.
On the eve of this election, where people will be going to the voting booths tomorrow with the intention that they have freedom and power in the system, I want to share some thoughts about what this system and democracy is all about. I do not put energy towards electoral politics anymore, and I think there are good arguments by other revolutionaries who are down with electoralism. I, of course, see the benefit in engaging in electoral politics as a way of meeting people where they are at, and beginning conversations around the contradictions of the system and what real democracy (AKA revolution) might look like. That said, I have also seen the limitations of those politics in practice by other leftists, who are too afraid to push struggle out of reformism. Reforms are important, but it is also important to see the potential in struggle and sharpening things in revolutionary directions. Elections and voting are distractions to the people and help maintain the system. For those reasons I stay away preferring to speak the truth about why smashing, as opposed to maintaining, capitalism is a better strategy, as well as to share some revolutionary feminist analysis about all this womyn rights talk that has been activated throughout the election and debates.
For centuries, prior to capitalism and ‘democracy’, Indigenous womyn all around the world understood the power of their bodies and its connection to all living things. They understood how to use the earth to heal and to give back. Abortions were not evasive procedures, like they are now, womyn would use herbs, roots, stones, the moon and magic to decide if they wanted to conceive or not. Queer relationships existed too with acceptance, and not harm and regulation. However, these things are threatening to the inner workings of capitalism, which conditions and regulates our social relations. Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalism presents it as an intricate system of relations. The below quote, taken from in Capital, expresses this idea well,
“We thus see that the social relations within which individuals produce, the social relations of production, are altered, transformed, with the change and development of the material means of production, of the forces of production. The relations of production in their totality constitute what is called the social relations, society, and moreover society at a definite stage of historic development, a society with peculiar, distinctive characteristics…Capital also is a social relation of production. It is a bourgeois relation of production, a relation of production of bourgeois society.”
Capitalism is a system that exploits and conquers through force [colonization]. Necessary ingredients: land, people, animals. Capitalist forcefully remove people from their land in order to take it for their own profit making, forcing the people who once lived on that land to work for it or move to other places to work on more stolen land for the profit of the ruling capitalists. This ‘democracy’ is and has always been a puppet government to convince people that they are free, when really everyone is submitting to the dictatorship of the financial markets and profit. Therefore, at its root capital is a system that must control the land and the populations of people on it. The reproduction of the working class generation after generation is necessary for this system to operate. Exploiting workers labor is how profit is extracted. But how do they ensure that there is a consistent generation of workers to exploit year after year? Through the regulation of people’s relationships, bodies, and sexuality.
With the arrival of capitalism historically came the arrival of ‘race’ ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ as social categories to be conditioned through the system. There was a need to condition people in heteronormative social relations, that were also racialized here in the United States. A womyn is defined very differently if she is White, as opposed to Black, for instance. This helps materially and culturally support a racialized and gendered division of labor, which now structures society. These material class divisions combined with harmful social conditioning keep the people in a state of disconnection from ourselves and each other, which helps protect the profit that the ruling class extracts through our exploitation as workers. But the accumulation of capital does not solely rely on the employed worker, it also relies on the unemployed workforce, which make up the surplus populations of people all around the world. A surplus population is a product of capitalism, and is useful to individual capitalists as a mechanism to super exploit their workers. Workers submit, because they know they can be disposed of and replaced by one of the many people, who make up the reserve army of labor (unemployed). Everyone’s lives are precarious. This has always been a part of the structures of capitalism. In chapter 25 of Capital, ‘The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,’ Marx speaks to this relationship between the employed and the unemployed and the social wealth of society,
“The greater the social wealth, the functioning of capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and therefore also the greater the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productivity of its labor, the greater is the industrial reserve army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, also develop the labor-power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army thus increases with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labour-army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to the amount of torture it has to undergo in the form of labor. The more extensive, finally, the pauperized sections of the working class and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation.”
Therefore, poverty provides the foundation for this capitalist system of profit accumulation. It is a joke when politicians, such as Obama and Romney, talk about fixing unemployment and creating more jobs, because unemployment is a direct result of capitalism, the system they represent. The real solution to the high unemployment rates is the overthrow of capitalism.
What is left out of Marx’s analysis is the regulation of gender and sexuality as a necessary function within the accumulation of capital. The ruling class has been oppressing womyn and queers for centuries so that we may be completely alienated from our bodies and desires and therefore dependent upon the system for everything. Capitalism is a system of dependency designed so that we must rely on it to live, yet it is slowly or directly killing us everyday. These centuries of trauma and oppression have resulted in people’s ignorance of their own culture and bodies. Our spirits and bodies are disconnected. We are conditioned to have heterosexual relationships, where sex is solely employed for the purpose of procreation. This ensures a steady supply of fresh human labor to fill up the employed and unemployed sectors of society. This is also why homosexuality and abortions are threatening to capitalism. Not because they are immoral. That is how these issues are presented in bourgeois and some left politics, but moralistic arguments are incorrect, and do not offer clarity about the system. Abortions, queers, sex, and birth control reflect people’s free choices, which directly contradict the systems desire to control us, and therefore are threatening.
It is important to have this total understanding of capitalism and its needs to exploit and oppress people, working class womyn and queers of color in particular, and that no president or politician will fix that. I think as revolutionaries it is important that we express these truths; I’ve seen a lot of fear around speaking the truth to the people. There are moments when I have felt it myself, and I understand it is because we are oppressed and repressed. That is real. But what is also real is that we will never stand a chance at truly winning against the system until we completely break from it through struggle. The people in struggle taking back the land and society for themselves is real democracy and freedom, and it will not be waged in voting booths; it will be waged in the streets, in schools, in prisons and detention centers, in workplaces, all over the world. When we release fear and voice these visions we can inspire and find unity with each other in practice.
The people must be free/the people will be free
All power to the people!
Interviewer: what does freedom mean to you?
Nina: Its just a feeling. It’s just a feeling. Its like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love. How are you gonna tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love. You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things but you can’t tell them. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free. Ive had a couple times on stage when I really felt free and that’s something else. That’s really something else!
Ill tell you what freedom is to me NO FEAR! I mean really, no fear.
If I could have that, half of my life – no fear – lots of children have no fear. That’s the closest way, that’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it is something to really, REALLY FEEL! Like a new way of seeing! LIKE A NEW WAY OF SEEING SOMETHING.
When you live chained to a life not of your own making, when you are born into it from a system that permeates even your mothers womb, freedom is a new way of seeing. And one of the most disturbing things is that we have been so inoculated by our oppressors that we have come to accept these chains as freedom, some kind of gift of modernity. Many people, especially here within the United States, have been robbed of an understanding of what has come before and what stands in front of us. The potential of real liberation if we dare to trust ourselves and each other to really live and fight for each other. One of my favorite quotes from Assata Shakur’s biography Assata speaks to the power of consciousness and liberation,
‘the less you think about your oppression the more your tolerance for it grows. After awhile people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free you have to be accutely aware of being a slave.”
And to understand what it means to be a slave in this system you have to be shaken up and opened up as Nina describes in this interview featured below. This is the role of the revolutionary, the dreamer and artist. To open people up from this mental/physical slavery so that they may feel something. It is the feelings that humanize us. Humanizing ourselves is a revolutionary act, which reaches its highest potential when the people are in motion doing this work together through real struggle that can take down capitalism and patriarchy. But before we can reach such critical moments in history, the people need to understand this task and it has always been the militants and creators through out time and space that have inspired the people to do so. Have planted seeds in ones consciousness, emboldening them to act. To conquer fear and self doubt, which stifle our movement. To be free. Womyn like Assata Shakur and Nina Simone are two very important womyn who have done that; and they dedicated their lives to doing that, because they feel. They loved their people enough to want them to wake up. To fight for something greater. I will forever feel close to these womyn, because that is what they did for me.
I’ve been intending to blog about Nina for quite some time. It is her song ‘in the dark’ off of her 1967 album Nine Simone Sings the Blues, which provided the inspiration for the title of this very blog. I was introduced to Nina Simone at the tender age of 15 by my super cool older sister Elicia, who sent me a care package full of cd’s that she thought I might like: An eclectic bundle of Nina, Louis Armstrong, Bjork and Alice in Chains. Elicia is 11 years older than me and a brilliant and creative person. I did not spend a lot of my adolescence living with her, but I always had interesting books and music and intentional gifts to look forward too via mail. Alice in Chains doesn’t make it into the rotation anymore, but I took to Nina quite instantly. Her music was like nothing I had heard before; it’s blending of gospel, soul, classical, and the blues. I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for the dynamic complexities of her music over the years, but even at 15 when I didn’t always get it, I drew strength from the fact that Nina always did her own thang, despite being a black womyn from North Carolina.
I love the slowness of ‘In the dark’. I love the ways the harmonica fills the spaces between Nina’s vocals, which capture a moment and feeling that pulls you in. Nina wants you to feel the music; there are no formulas or stale emotions expressed through lyrical cliches. Her music is very intentional; cultivated by her spirit with the purpose of touching others. It is a total experience. That is where the power of art lies in the ability to move you; compel you to connect with yourself in ways denied by the system. Any artist must reckon with themselves if they are striving to move people. It is this honesty that appeals to people. Nina understands she is a force and she wants you to reckon with it. This is reflected in the opening track ‘Do I move you?’, written by Nina and sets the tone for whats to come. The back up band brought together many great blues musicians, but the music is pretty tame in comparison to the passion and life that Nina’s performance brings to the songs. Some of the tracks have very stripped down instrumentation to expose the raw emotion of the tracks and the stories they weave. I am a romantic daydreamer type so I gravitate towards art that reflects some of those feelings, which is why the romance of ‘In the dark’ touched me. The whole album is quite good though, and a necessary addition to your music library if you don’t already have it.
Along with the song i have also included this short excerpt from an interview, which was recently shared with me by my dear and talented friend Justin. I have had it on repeat for the past 24 hours. I simply can’t get enough of it: her words, the feelings, the expressions, and the intent. This video feels like medicine to my tired spirit. What I really love about this interview is the poetically direct way she captures the feeling of alienation in our society, and the work she does to transcend it and how it relates to our overall liberation. Beautifully spoken here,
‘Everybody is half dead. Everybody avoids everybody all over the place in most situations, most all the time. I know. I’m one of those everybody’s, and to me its terrible. So all I am trying to do all the time is just open people up so they can feel themselves and let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That is it.’
This work is so humanizing and therefore so radical. Many of us carry our wounds daily from the trauma of living within this system, and it prevents us from opening up and connecting with each other or doing right by each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the ways we are harmed by the system and the retaliation we direct at each other. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the levels of sectarianism that permeate the left; the gossip; the cliquishness; the competitiveness. I wonder about the future and I fear the doubts that creep into my thoughts. But then I watch this video and I feel Nina’s energy and I am reminded of the path I have set for myself and the path that has been set for me before I existed. When I was just an idea. And I find comfort and inspiration in that. I only hope you can too and that we can together. Enjoy.
It is a strange feeling to look into the eyes of someone you love as you break their heart.
’I love you but I cannot be with you the way you want right now. Probably never. I love womyn. This is who I am. I don’t want to complicate your life or my own.’
I see his eyes sink back into his skull like two glass beads swirling in ambers and gray. Gazing into them is like looking into the moon; that emotional center. I am drawn to it but sometimes its light hangs uncomfortably on my vulnerable skin. We sometimes shrink from ourselves when fear gets in the way. I look into his moon eyes and feel the depth of souls he’s held within himself; residue of their own deep fears and emotion. To look into them is to plunge into landscapes vast as the universe. Yet there is something hollow there and the alienation of this living settles in. the world is populated with millions of people yet loneliness seems to be a permanent condition.
He tells me everything will be okay. That he knew already because I told him through the spirit. I nod, because I did, but the emotion was still draining for both of us. I felt the weight of the energy filling the small room. I could barely stand. He sensed my fatigue and wrapped his arms around me for support. We embraced and I felt my limbs crumple in surrender against his trembling body.
‘It’s ok,’ he whispers over and over as if he was convincing himself more than I.
I breathe into his open heart space and felt my own emotions peeling off of my chest. He takes in everything so that I may be free.
So many spirits
And I am overwhelmed by the blessing of this release.