A little treatise on PM Dawn and other June beauty
|Allison Felus||Jun 29, 2016|
Happy belated Pride to my dear LBGTQ friends! I hope everyone's June has been beautiful in countless ways.
Unlike David Bowie and Prince, whom I wrote about in my newsletter after their deaths earlier this year, there's a good chance that a bunch of you probably didn't hear about the passing of the artist I want to talk a little bit about this month.
Attrel Cordes, otherwise known as Prince Be, was the main driving force behind the group PM Dawn, and he died on June 17. He was only 46. Tech writer and superfan Anil Dash posted a long piece here the weekend that he died, giving not only some necessary biographical information but also a history of the strange, internecine hip-hop beefs that followed Prince Be through the latter days of his career. Until someone writes, I dunno, a 33 1/3 book about The Bliss Album (unlikely!), that piece will probably long remain the definitive statement on PM Dawn. (Even Questlove said so!)
I bring this up because, between the ages of about 14 and 17, PM Dawn was MY BAND. I didn't know anyone else who cared about them one way or another, but I was devoted, specifically to The Bliss Album and Jesus Wept. I've been writing a lot recently about the musical tastes and patterns of consumption of my teen years, trying, I guess, to draw some kind of line from growing up very much my father's daughter to becoming Pitchfork obsessed in the '00s to playing in my own band in the 2010s to however else my musical impulses express themselves these days.
And my overly generalized blanket statement about my adolescence tends to be that I didn't really listen to all that much popular music. But what I think I really mean by that is that I didn't listen to all that much rock music ("alternative" or otherwise). I did, however, actually listen to and enjoy a fair amount of the more popular and radio-friendly R&B and hip-hop--"Around the Way Girl," Arrested Development, Digital Underground, Digable Planets, and, chief among them, PM Dawn.
I guess I must have known "I'd Die Without You" from its fairly massive radio success and liked it enough to seek out a cassette copy of The Bliss Album not long after its release in '93. I would have been in eighth grade at that point, and I recall spending a lot of time listening to the album on the jambox in my room. It remains a fairly comprehensive representation of so many of the things I love most in music of any kind--great bass lines, danceable beats, intricate vocal harmonies, jazzy chords, twisty and hooky melodies, and super emotional lyrics that are equal parts about love and spirituality.
I remember slinking around in front of the mirror on the closet door in my bedroom, lip-synching to "I'd Die Without You" and "To Love Me More" (honestly, both tailor-made for a 14 year old to lip synch in the mirror to). And, having not grown up listening to much of the Beatles, I still prefer PM Dawn's take on "Norwegian Wood."
Released late in 1995, Jesus Wept was played most often not in my bedroom but in the white Chevy Lumina that I drove throughout high school and college. (More on my love of driving in this month's blog post!) I was performing in a musical revue that holiday season at a theater a couple of towns over, and so I spent a lot of time driving back and forth to rehearsal, sitting in parking lots (both with and without friends), and drinking milkshakes from Steak & Shake, all while listening to that album on repeat.
Lin-Manuel Miranda noted on Twitter that his favorite track on that album is "My Own Personal Gravity," but mine is one that I can't even find posted anywhere online to link to (except in a playlist that I posted on 8tracks myself a couple years ago), a song buried in the back half of the album called "Sonchynne." As Anil Dash notes in his piece on Medium, "Indeed, it’s easiest to understand P.M. Dawn’s catalog as largely a collection of love songs, but almost none of them are romantic love songs....Prince Be was not afraid to write love songs that were about love toward his son, or his children, or as odes to those long lost." Given the spelling of the song's title, it's of course something of a love song about Christian faith, but with lyrics about day-glow rainbows and "all of my lifetimes with you," there's also an undeniable Afrofuturist sensibility at play here (not that I would have understood it as such in 1995).
And I think that's actually part of what has helped PM Dawn's music not sound terribly dated (at least to my ears as I've been relistening to it for the past two weeks)--their dreamier, more musically voracious tendencies. As a teenager, I didn't know enough to feel ashamed of my affection for their music until someone dryly observed to me, "he raps kind of slow, doesn't he?" As if the hyper-speed density or aggressive posturing of much of what was successful (or, more likely, notorious) at that time was the sine qua non of rap and hip-hop.
In a more deferential spirit (one that you can certainly see at play in this blog post I wrote two years ago), it'd be easy for me to say, "oh, I just kind of grew out of PM Dawn's music as I got older and went to college and was exposed to more stuff at the college radio station." Looking at that break with their music now, though, with a bit more perspective and emotional sobriety, I can see how fucked up it was that that was kind of the moment when I stopped, frankly, listening to as much music made by African American artists. My favorite stuff from that period of the late '90s and early '00s is not-so-curiously lacking much of anything remotely resembling hip-hop or R&B. I was misled into believing that since I didn't resonate with, say, NWA, Wu-Tang Clan, or Jay-Z, then I should just stay in my little world of toy pianos and ukuleles. So, just as Questlove himself said on Instagram, "I quietly championed him; that saddens me. Why? Cause I didn't want the other kids to think I was some sappy dweeb," I'm calling bullshit on the internalized racism and other cultural forces of shame and restriction that contributed to the way that I distanced myself from these albums that I truly, deeply loved.
So, rest in peace and thank you, Prince Be. We'll be waiting for you.
(A gracious thanks to Brian for chatting with me about Afrofuturism and the '90s hip-hop scene and to Mary for helping me get the chronology of late 1995 straight.)
What's new on the blog
This month on Queen of Peaches, I talk about my lifelong love of road trips:
“My siblings and I argued about who would get to sit in the front seat, like all siblings do, but it defaulted to me more often than not. (I was kind of snotty enough to assume I just inherently deserved it since, after all, I was now saddled with so much unwanted emotional responsibility. Like any asshole first child, I can get very rigid about pecking-order dynamics, especially when they’re set up to work in my favor.) The front seat brought pleasures of its own—watching the world fly by through the front windows, listening to and talking about music with my dad, kicking my feet up on the dashboard, being the first to see what was coming at us around the next bend in the road.”
My new zine
Depending on how closely you read this month's blog post, you may have noticed an embedded reference to my newly released zine, Loose Ends and Loneliness: A Zine About Transition Times. Featuring contributions from Tris Carpenter, Brian Cremins, Richard Hodge, Annie P. Ruggles, Liz Shulman, and Tony Trigilio, it's an exploration of life's grey areas that I'm proud to be able to share with the world now after months of writing and editing. From my introduction:
"I wanted to ask some of my dearest friends—the best writers and most thoughtful people I know—to explore this idea of 'loose ends and loneliness.' From stories about basic training to impulsive cross-country moves to the healing power of literature to ill-advised romances, death, and divorce, they all make me a little bit queasy, in the best way possible. These writers have not only excavated but also perfectly captured the tenor of emotional unrest that most of us are usually keen to forget the instant that it’s alleviated. There’s a delicacy to these grey areas of life, to be sure, but I also think there’s something to be said for talking about them specifically, to normalize their inevitability, for the sake of our past selves who suffered through them, if nothing else."
Click here to buy a physical copy or here to download one!
Click here to see some photos I took during this year's roster of panels at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, held the weekend of June 11-12 at the Center on Halsted. (And when you're done looking through those, be sure to read indie publisher extraordinaire Secret Acres' moving blog post about the expo.)
I had the pleasure of proofreading the forthcoming second edition of Chuck Granata's masterful book Wouldn't It Be Nice, which is a comprehensive look at the making of the Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds. The book is currently scheduled to be released this October in honor of the album's 50th anniversary. Everything that I carped about last year in this blog post, about how people don't go into enough detail when talking about or describing the actual creation of any given song or album, is abundantly corrected in this technically precise yet still emotionally satisfying book. Highly recommended!
I heave a big sigh over Beck's "Record Club" cover of "I'm Waiting for the Man," recorded with (according to Stereogum) Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Brian Lebarton, Bram Inscore, Yo, Giovanni Ribisi, Chris Holmes, and Thorunn Magnusdottir. I will go to the mat for Beck as a vocalist any day of the week, but as far as what writer Amrit Singh hears as "a loopy and ramshackle strain of psychedelia," I mostly hear as a needlessly sloppy in-joke among pros who should've known better. Just because the Velvets sounded like they were falling apart, musically, doesn't mean that they actually were and I always kind of take it as an affront to Lou Reed's massive (if ornery) intellect when people are like, "yeah, let's just fart through this; it'll sound cool."
My loves, were you feeling those hardcore Mars retrograde in Scorpio vibes these past few weeks? Which is to say, do you feel psychically wrung out, even though you've been trying to keep going about your business as usual? If so, now might be a great time for some healing or clairvoyant work. Click here to view my menu of services, from psychic readings to aura healing and reiki work, and of course don't hesitate to touch base with me if you have questions about what else this kind of woo-woo stuff might be helpful for.