Thinking About the Past, Forever
Blonde, Nostalgia, and the Passage of Time.
While the relationship between driving and music is obvious and does not need to be conceptualized, Drake refreshingly expressed the link between the two, in an interview last fall with The Fader.
While most would equate the connection between driving and music as simply the entertainment value it presents in a car stereo system, Drake took it one step further, articulating the frame of mind of the listener.
“That ride was my favorite thing in the world, you know?” he told the magazine. “And before that ride, it wasn’t going to the studio, it was going to my girl’s house, or going wherever. Driving was just one of the most pivotal things in my writing life.”
Driving was how Drake put himself in the mindset of the people he imagined listening to him. When he was trying to figure out if a song was working, he would picture someone playing it in their car. “Sometimes those drives are heavy, man, depending on what happened where you came from and what’s about to happen where you’re going.”
As opposed to car listening, I prefer music in the air. It wasn’t always that way, but over the last year I have spent an inconceivable amount of time in the air while visiting my long-distance girlfriend before making the move to her, and now when going back home to visit family and friends.
More so than routine car trips, regardless of where you came from and where you are going, trips in the air are more significant. Even routine flights, like the ones in my life from Michigan to New York and vice versa, represent a time for reflection and reminiscing. Most of the time in the air, it’s just you and your thoughts; you don’t have the companionship of pedestrians passing by out the window, or the portrait of your particular setting.
I listened to Blonde for the first time on my 24th birthday while 35,000 feet in the air. It may be irrelevant to you that the first time I heard one of the most anticipated albums in recent memory, happened to be on my birthday, while on a return flight from my hometown in Michigan to my new home in New York, but if you have listened to, digested, and analyzed Blonde, then you most likely understand the profound memories that it had me re-visiting.
Twenty or so minutes into Blonde, exactly when “Self-Control” transforms from an acoustic campfire ballad to a vocoder-ized Frank singing, “I, I, I, know you gotta leave, leave, leave, take down some summertime,” Frank immediately transported me to the inside of my high school friend’s car, when the first feelings of independence and infinite freedom flow, while the sun sets on an unforgettable, worry-less day. This is the exact moment when I realized this was bigger than just another critically acclaimed album.
The fact he put me in this state of mind while in the claustrophobic setting of a jetliner carrying hundreds of other humans, in too close of a proximity with one another, speaks to how lucid his sound is. He brought me back to childhood summers that seemed to go on forever; the endless feelings of nostalgia, of a not so distant past that is preferred to the present.
Blonde is the sonic version of the sunset poster in Scarface. It’s the perfect mix of 80’s Miami combined with the backdrop of the mountains and coastal freeways in metropolis Los Angeles. The first 35 seconds of “Godspeed” are right out of the end sequence of a coming of age movie, as the camera follows a car speeding down a highway as the sun reflects against the ocean, on an unforgettable journey into the unknown.
His ability to juxtapose the feelings of nostalgia and the future is never more evident than on the four minute trip of “White Ferrari,” which feels like it has three songs within it. As a guitar strums right before the last verse, it reminded me of the acoustic laden, sun-splashed sounds of Dashboard Confessional and Yellowcard, mid ’00s SoCal-bred bands of my youth, ones that first introduced me to the sound of teenage summers in California.
It isn’t a coincident that the album’s major theme of nostalgia corresponded with the undeviating reference of ‘summer’ in his lyrics. Since his first album, the appropriately titled, Nostalgia, Ultra, Frank has mastered the art of longing. It’s hard to understand the actuality of what he is alluding to, but the overwhelming existence of summer conceptualizes that he is a creature of the past. He sings “summer is not as long as it used to be,” on Skyline To; while Andre 3000 raps, “watching the summer come close to an end,” on Solo (Reprise).
Hearing one of the founding fathers of rap contemplate the passage of time, eloquently reiterated the themes of the past. Whereas Frank comes across as a late 20s adult going through a quarter life crisis due to the realization of his mortality, Andre comes from a place of memory. He exemplifies the awareness of a mid 40s adult who knows his time has come and gone. His yearning desire to return to the beginning of summer is more than literal, rather illustrates pondering the ticking away of life’s clock.
Nostalgic feelings, when created by music, are all relative. Every one has their own preference when it comes to music that causes past memories to flood back. Usually though, these feelings of nostalgia are because of memories that were made with the music serving as the backdrop, not by way of new music transporting you back to those memories.
For instance, Nothing was the Same and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, remind me of my last two years of college, which in of itself, serve as the most nostalgic music I can listen to, by taking me back to the countless tailgates, pregames, and drunken nights when these albums were playing in the background.
And so, this is where Frank has tapped into a whole other realm of artistry and feelings. His ability to bring you back to memories of the past with new music serving as the vehicle, is more than an accomplishment, it’s a gift. There is really no way to articulate the way his lyrics, beats, sounds, sequencing, etc., constitute the feeling of nostalgia, because it’s all relative. But it happened with me. The four years of waiting for the follow up to Channel Orange, more than paid off.
My plane’s touch down in New York coincided with the beat change in “Godspeed.” It enters a dreamlike state as Frank’s voice turns into a chipmunk in the background as you can faintly hear, “godspeed, glory” before it’s pushed aside by a baby’s lullaby chord, while a gospel chorus barely makes it’s way through the clouds, as a god-like voice strains, “this love will keep us through blinding of the eyes/silence of the ears, darkness of the mind/until it’s time…”
It was the most beautiful, eerie, incomprehensible minute of music I’ve heard in a long time, yet it was unapologetically, Frank Ocean. Was what I just heard, real? Was it a dream? Had I slept through most of the album? How much time had passed? And there again, the world time. The passage of time, so artistically, genuinely, eloquently, has been, once again, examined by Frank. What does it mean? And like Frank questions on “White Ferrari,” “clearly this isn’t all there is…”
The next few hours, I kept trying to pinpoint what the album meant. Is Frank just the most famous recluse of his generation, and is weirder than we realize? Or does this man have a bigger grasp on the question of life than we would ever want to admit?
I kept coming back to this quote. A wise man once said, “Time is the best currency so spend it wisely.” Yet, you wouldn’t have to tell Frank. As if it wasn’t already conspicuous by the four years that passed between albums, the sonic painting of Blonde drove it home: Frank is still thinking about forever.