Saturday, July 09, 2005

RIP Luther Vandross:

A Future with Less Making Love in Favor of Meaningless Empty Sex...

The first time I heard Luther Vandross and that smooth voice was in 7th Grade, riding the No. 33 bus home after school, circa May 1991.

The bus rides were harsh. Prince Edward County's school bus fleet was without air conditioning, so one just got used to being soaked in sweat and the eternal stench of unwashed bodies. In the humidity and heat of Virginia's Septembers and Octobers, Mays and Junes, one just accepted that as part of life.

One busride home, I sat next to this girl, Tameka. Tameka was a 6th grader, a skinny, light-skinned girl with a beauty-shop perm and a very pretty smile. Being a 12-year-old, I knew only enough about sex to talk a good game with my friends, to understand the tingling in my groin when I flipped through a copy of Penthouse, and to write obscene graffiti on bathroom stalls.

Normally, I would've sat in theback of the bus, with the troublemakers - the white kids who listened to NWA but were destined to one day wear confederate flags, the black kids destined to be too cool to finish school in favor of a life as somebody's "baby daddy," to drink Colt 45 for breakfast and to keep a Glock 9mm on the bedstand next to their stash of narcotics.

But all the seats were taken. So I sat next to Tameka. I had this weird fluttering in my chest; I felt like my guts were twisting into hard knots. I didn't know this girl, had only seen her in the halls. And, from the Southern, post-Jim Crow culture that was influencing my upbringing, I was confused at having these weird feelings for a -Gasp! - African-American female. Most of my school-boy crushes, up until that time, had been on white girls. I'd never thought about the inherent stupidity in the white guys-are-attracted-to-white-girls model that was somewhere buried in the subconscious of that Southern culture.

Tameka and I just sat there for a while as the bus left the school. I think she had similar thoughts rushing through her head. Or maybe she noticed that I kept stealing glances whenever she turned her head to look out the window.

I had a cheap Walkman that I carried with me everywhere. I was just beginning to understand the art of rebellion; I always had some kind of music on a mix-tape that would upset my parents. I think that day I had a mix-tape from a friend of mine's uber-hip older brother - Public Enemy and Anthrax's Bring Da Noize, Ice-T's Original Gangsta, some tracks by Babes in Toyland and Massive Attack. Some glam-rock like Warrant and Poison. And of course, some music from everybody's favorite hip-hop loverboy, LL Cool J.I put on my orange and black headphones, closed my eyes, and pushed the play button.

No sooner than I'd gotten through the first song, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned my head and opened my eyes. There was a smiling, cute girl.

Tameka asked me what I was listening to. Without waiting for an answer, she reached into her backpack and pulled out her own mix-tape.

"Yo, can we listen to this?" she asked. The "we" part got my attention; I took off one of the earpieces and gave it to her and put in her tape.

There, on the No. 33 bus, Tameka and I sat cheek to cheek, grooving to the sounds of Percy Sledge, Marvin Gaye, Kool and the Gang, Keith Sweat, Johnny Gill, Bobby Brown, Sam Cooke, and, of course, Luther Vandross. The song I remember from that afternoon was "If Only for One Night," probably one of the most achingly beautiful R&B songs ever recorded. Even to this day, with the amount of hardcore punk and hip-hop my ears consume, the amount of indie-rock artists I've followed, this song remains one of my favorites.

I can't remember ever talking to Tameka Jackson (no relation) ever again; as we moved into high school, she went her route and I went mine. I think she ended up having a kid or something like that. I was too drunk and stoned to have really noticed. But for that moment, maybe a 45 minute moment, I felt I was in the middle of something greater than myself, the sheer electricity of sensuality, the tantric seduction of soulful music. The entire world disappeared; the troublemakers disappeared into their own chaos, the disapproving looks from both white and black students, and the frequent shouts to "shut the hell up!" from the busdriver.

When I saw Luther Vandross had died at age 54, Tameka was the first person I thought about.

I also thought about the "Macks" in my hometown from that time period - these older black guys who simply bled pure sensuality, cruising around town in big Delta 88s, always dressed impeccably, the scent of a woman's perfume always around them. These guys could make sistas melt simply by looking at them, in Roses Department Store, in Pinos Pizza, in Fever's Dance Club. They never talked about women as "bitches" or "hos;" they would talk about "ladies" and "brown sugars" and "sweet things."

While sex is the blunt object of today's society, the "Macks" understood that soul made sexuality meaningful and special, an art as delicate and sincere as John Keats and Langston Hughes.

If Tameka and I had been older and had been caught inside the sphere of meaningless, empty sex that engulfs all teenagers and adults eventually, we wouldn't have been able to sway innocently, to bring our bodies closer together in moving to the sound of human voices over music. But by being kids and simply listening to music, we were able to share something more precious and wondrous than a million one-night-stands with no sex involved.

It took me forever to realize that sensuality and the electricity of those kinds of moments is much more important that the sheer physical mechanics of sex. Any person can hook up with another person, rub their bodies together, have an orgasm, and go their separate ways. Me? I'd rather feel that electricity, live in the sphere of passion that involves a sensuality so powerful that time stops and the universe sings like Vandross, D'Angelo, Marvin Gaye, Percy Sledge, and Donna Summer.

Rest in Peace, Luther. You will be missed.

For selected news coverage, click below:

Luther Vandross Obit from the New York Blade Online


Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this on the Troll Potty Reader this morning (what a wonderful idea!)

I just wanted to let you know that I plan on seducing my husband this afternoon when he gets off work. He and I used to make love, but lately our sex life has been pretty non-existent. Sent the kids to my Mom's for the weekend. Got out the vinyl of Luther and Keith and Marvin.

I plan on making it near impossible for my old hubby to walk into work tomorrow. He's my baby, even after 13 years of marriage. I need to remind him of that.

Boy, I hope a good woman's got you tied up. Damn. I think those Macks taught you something...hahaha.

Thanks for making a 40-something black woman a regain some of that sexual healing! And thanks for being honest about race relations, too. I imagine you must've got a lot of looks as a kid on that bus.

Its all good. Keep it real and don't let nobody player-hate on you.

Megan said...

Okay...move to Las Vegas. Now I'm convinced you must be a sex god...LOL

Thinking very bad thoughts. Can I be at least a quick fling? Please? (Just joking, sorta)

I've never heard of Keith Sweat or Luther Vandross, but I know about Marvin Gaye ;)

Anonymous said...

It may have taken you "forever to realize that sensuality and the electricity of those kinds of moments is much more important that the sheer physical mechanics of sex", but at least you did. Not everyone can say that. Count your lucky stars :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was sad.

Marvin's gone. And Barry. And now Luther.

Guess that leaves Issac Hayes to keep the sexy funk alive.

Hope a new wave of sexy funk comes along fast ... don't want to have to resort to Kenny G as mood music ... that would just be sad.

Anonymous said...

I sent this to my boyfriend. Hopefully it'll help him understand what a woman really wants. Thanks!