Bruh, I sometimes run on autopilot. The moment “Buggin’ Out” penetrated my eardrums I melted. I remember you saying something about crying during the show, I vaguely recall seeing you removing your glasses to bring a handkerchief to your face, and I may have dismissed your moment as one of joy. From the moment they started performing, as the crowd’s energy and roar enveloped and dissolved me into our collective exhilaration, I was a open.
A Tribe Called Quest’s energy that night recalled the time we saw them twelve years earlier. They were playing Bailey Hall in ’94, and we all went. Basically, my whole incoming freshman cohort went, even the Barreiro brothers rolled with us that night. And we were in the third or fourth row, courtesy of one of our friends sitting on the concert commission. The lights dimmed; jubilant, aggressive, and on time, they exploded on stage. I can’t recall their first song, but I think “Stir it Up (Steve B)” either got it started or kept it going. The Barreiro boys were posted up somewhere next to me like, “Yeah. This is a’ight.” Everyone else around them was stirring the air with Q-Tip as the crew hit the chorus. I don’t even know how he saw them, but he slashed through their bullshit: he pointed right at them, locked eyes, and smiled, whirring his finger around and got them stirring too without missing a beat. On. Fuckin. Time. They turned to each other with a look I never saw appear on their faces again; they were ecstatic. It’s hard to describe the pure joy I assumed they experienced. I feel like no matter what I say, all words lack the precision and accuracy to convey their excitement. The human face does weird contortions with some extreme emotions; we fail to recognize ourselves when we see our angry or orgasmic faces. They wouldn’t recognize themselves if they could see themselves as I saw them then. It’s that moment that never leaves my mind when I listen to A Tribe Called Quest.
That’s as close as I’ll get to compersion. It was an amazing moment they shared. I am envious: I would have loved to have been me. I’m destined to be a Watcher.
You might find this strange, but my mind rarely turns to its own mortality: we’ve met. Our moment came and went, and I know I’ll see Her again. I struggle with living. Or with “to live,” “live”? I hate spending time on figuring out verb forms, but this has some serious semantic significance. A long time ago, a friend of a friend asked me if I “live,” or “lived,” or “Do you know how to live?” or “Do you live?” One or the other. I can’t remember. It was as confusing for me then as it is now, but I led with the rejoinder, a bit of the Tao of Wooderson, a little self-consciousness, and what I perceived to be the right conjugation: “L-I-V-I-N’” And at the time, I was hustling up as much livin’ as a poor boy from Harlem could muster on a Ivy League campus. She pouted her way to the street that night with the difference and distinction in her mind. I’m still not buying it though, but I think I can parse the appropriate connotations for her particular verb phrase. I can do little with the denotation, if ever there was one. I’m still a poor boy. But. Still. I know She is there waiting for me.
My mind is burdened with the regret that I have not made the right choices for X, Y, and Z reasons, or achieved the right outcomes, and I’ll continue to follow the same patterns. It’s burdened with not being anyone of substance. Should I have said something clever to homegirl just for her approval? Who would I have been then? Participating in this endeavor with you is a big step for me too. A big step towards feeling less like a fraud, especially as someone who teaches composition. I’m feeling you when you riffed on your writing anxiety. I didn’t want this to be something I talked about doing, did in private, and never manifested or challenged myself to do. My fuckin’ spirit animal is Goku, and he never accepts his limits. He is defined by overcoming them. I fuckin’ want that too.
How does one go right on living when life becomes far more dull, as the people who help make our lives meaningful die? I don’t want to think about it. As a New Yorkian, I’m supposed to demur to the universal forces that govern the natural forces of the street. As a New Yorkian, I feel like I have to feign some detachment, but Phife repped us in his lyrics and his performances. He lived in New York, in Queens. In all his rhymes, in all their videos, he lived for New York and the people who lived there too. Even though I didn’t know him, I feel like we were crew because we shared a hometown. He lived for those shows. He came into our presence, and he shared his life with us. Needless to say, I think the gist of what I’m saying goes right along with what you’re saying: without Phife, there is no A Tribe Called Quest; without its animus, New York don’t look good. Those two performances,1994 and 2006, are the moments I live (lived in?)in because I was partying with my crew as corny as that sounds. I’ll miss that. And that is now dead and gone.
Bruh, Livin’ is hard. My parents just moved out of my childhood home. That’s 40 something years in Harlem. I’m still trying to take it all in. What does it mean? Where’s my home? It’s kind of sad because they were expelled from the building by the lust for market rent and bad business practices. Internal Controls, man. You gotta have ’em (ask me about that later). With my mom being sick, it’s for the best. Let’s get up soon.