Vince Staples, Frank Ocean & the Eternal Summer
“But thy eternal summer shall not fade/Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st…So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” — William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18
Imagine yourself on the beach. Waves crashing into each other. Seagulls flying right above you. Sand slipping through your fingers while the love of your life tearfully says goodbye.
“I was talking to [a] homie — he’s known me for 17 years. He said, ‘Niggas always thinking you’re making some gangbanging shit, but your whole album was about girls,’…He’s right, too. That whole fucking CD is about girls.” — Vince Staples’ interview with LA Weekly
The story begins on “Lemme Know.” After a couple of false starts on “Norf Norf” and “Loca,” Vince finally finds love in the shape of an unnamed woman voiced by Jhené Aiko. Vince’s love for this woman coincides with his love for the streets. His attempt to juggle the two comes to a head on “Jump off the Roof” before it all comes crashing down on “Summertime.”
As fellow DJBooth writer Dylan Green pointed out last year, “the love lost on ‘Summertime’ is the jump-off point for every bad deed carried out on Summertime ’06 and [Vince’s] sense of atonement lingers throughout Big Fish Theory.” This sense of atonement is heard on “Like It Is” when Vince promises “to do it like nobody has ever done.” It’s heard on “Smile” when Vince admits that he turned his back on his family and friends “to chase the yellow brick road.” It’s heard on “Alyssa Interlude” when Vince realizes that “the girl has found another and gone away.”
Despite his fame, despite his success, Vince Staples is unable to shake away the memories of that fateful summer. Instead, his feelings continually ebb and flow, like the water surrounding his city.
“Summer of 2006, the beginning of the end of everything I though[t] I knew. Youth was stolen from my city that Summer and [I’m] left alone to tell the story. This might not make sense but that’s because none of it does, we’re stuck. Love tore us all apart.” — Vince Staples’ deleted Instagram post (2015)
Imagine yourself at the dock. Staring at a green light. Reminiscing about a past love. Waiting for the moment to rekindle a dying flame.
For Gatsby, the summer of 1922 was a chance to reclaim a love abandoned. Over the course of five years, Gatsby accumulated a mass amount of wealth and put his plans in motion to win back the one that got away.
Gatsby threw lavish parties to draw Daisy’s attention. He gave her cousin a place to stay so that she would have an excuse to visit. He fashioned himself into a person that she could fall in love with again.
But Gatsby’s downfall was that he wanted too much. He wanted to repeat the past. By clinging onto the pleasures of the past, Gatsby ignored the perils of the present and, in doing so, the eternal flame that he kept alive for so long eventually burned everything he loved, including himself.
“He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Imagine yourself in a taxi. The open windows providing no air for your cries. The leather seats providing no comfort for your soul. The poems and prayers laid at the altar of unrequited love finally coming to light.
On Channel ORANGE, Frank Ocean sings about a love that continues to burn years after the initial spark. He sings about his unsuccessful attempts to douse this flame with drugs and sex. He sings about the all-consuming fire of this love and his struggle to find his way through the ashes.
Frank’s catharsis became our salvation. His songs became our soundtrack to the universal beauty and naivety of youth. With Channel ORANGE, Frank conquered his eternal summer and found some semblance of peace.
“To my first love, I’m grateful for you. Grateful that even though it wasn’t what I hoped for and even though it was never enough, it was…I won’t forget you. I won’t forget the summer…I’ve never had more respect for life and living than I have right now. Maybe it takes a near death experience to feel alive.” — Frank Ocean’s Open Letter (2012)
Compare the anguish of “Bad Religion” with the serenity of “Godspeed.” Both songs navigate through the deadly minefield of heartbreak, but only the latter makes it sound like Frank survived the ordeal.
While Channel ORANGE approaches love from a place of confusion and hurt, Blonde approaches it with a sense of acceptance and maturity. Blonde is the candle born from the flame of a first love, the afterglow that exists in twilight — it might not shine as brightly as its source but its warmth is deeply felt in the darkness of the night.
“Growing up teaches you that love isn’t just beautiful romance and overpowering heartache…In life and in love, no matter the dire circumstances, pleasure can be found, if only for a moment.” — Yoh, “In Hell There’s Heaven: One Year of Living Life Blonde”
Imagine yourself walking down the street. Leaves decorating the pavement. Pumpkin coating the atmosphere. Memories of summer still spinning in your head. How will you choose to remember it? As a gift or a curse? Something you embrace or something you run from? If you choose the former then accept all of it: the good and the bad, the sublime and the mundane, the ephemeral and the eternal.
Originally published at djbooth.net on October 24, 2018.