January Was My November: How a Tyler, The Creator song led to some serious personal reflection
We've made it to the end of January, Babies... finally. Let's dig in:
The 12th track on Tyler, The Creator's Flower Boy is called November. His desperation for the mythical, titular November is the track's driving force. After an 8-bar vocal intro sung by Kilo Kish (that he originally wrote for Rick Ross and/or Tracey Thorn), Tyler swoops in with characteristic gruffness stating: Take Me Back to November. He reiterates some form of this request more than 30 times over the course of the track's 3 minutes and 46 seconds- including a an entire bridge made up of 24 spoken pleas to "take me back, take me back." The admission that "I ain't doin' fine, lost my mothafuckin' mind/ Time travel back and help me find" wedges its way in there to break the repetition.
Saavy listeners will quickly realize that Tyler is waxing nostalgic for what he considers to be the greatest time of his life- his November. He names the Summer of '06 as his November, which the internet attributes to his friendship with Vince Staples and other skaters that developed in L.A. skate parks that summer during an adolescence that Tyler has described as painfully lonely. (Staples also has an album called Summertime '06 with a similar type of nostalgia simmering throughout). In an (excellent, well worth watching) interview with Jarrod Carmichael published on Tyler's YouTube channel last week, Tyler claims that his November was actually that month in 2016 when he rented a house with a group of friends and creative partners. Tyler had just started his collaboration with Converse (see new shoe from last night's Grammys), was messing around with VR equipment everyday and was recording what is decidedly his finest piece of art. And yea, he was literally wearing Hawaiian shirts in the Winter. (See fan investment in decisively nailing down what time period was ACTUALLY Tyler's November in the contributor annotations of this lyric on Genius.)
We don't need to know the definitive date of Tyler's November to know that it was a time when he experienced pure joy- at least in hindsight. The song's first verse is rife with insecurity that is the foundation for his longing for simpler times. Tyler was 25 when he recorded this album, and at the top of his game. Flower Boy's lead single Who Dat Boy? is a cocky proclamation that he (and A$AP Rocky) is, indeed DAT BOY (see lyric: I don't shop at the mall, all y'all just/ Dumb mothafucka, I'm a goddamn artist). But on November, he doubts the staying power of that confidence: What if 'Who Dat Boy' is rhetorical and this shit is over? He also worries that his manager/ father figure Christian Clancy is scheming to screw him over and that his accountant hasn't actually paid off the IRS- betrayals that will sink his career and land him back in the shitty apartment in Ladera Heights where he grew up with his mom.
These insecurities are keeping Tyler from enjoying his success. So he yearns wistful for the time when he was a living, breathing artist. He asks all of us, what's your November/ is it a person? A spoken interlude ensues that includes statements from Syd, Taco, Kish, Clancy and more. Here are some of their Novembers: My November was seeing Erykah Baduh perform (Syd), My November was summer 2015 when I fell in love with someone who fucked my whole world up, showed me life through a different... (unconfirmed, but cited as Vince Staples), 2014, Miami 43rd Street, every day was November (Julian Conseguera, founder of streetwear label Stray Rats).
As noted in its outro, November doubles as a lede into Glitter, the 13th track on the album that is actually a voicemail letting the recipient know that he loves them. Just before this confession, Tyler flips the script of the previous 3+ minutes and tells us:
"My November is RIGHT NOW."
Here's what I take from this shift, we never know our November is our November while we are living it. Our doubts and insecurities distract us from the vibrations of the moment. While these vibrations are shattering our molecular structures and rearranging their debris to support the development of who we actually are, we are grasping for times past that we remember as easier and happier and nobler. But as we all know, our rose colored glasses blind us to the uncertainties that agonized us during those false Novembers.
Until recently, I clung to more than one faux November. The editor in me selectively suppressed the traumas and emotional instability of those eras. I remembered them in ways that contributed to a history of self that I felt comfortable living within. But this history was at its best incomplete, at its worst completely delusional. Sure, there were some good times nestled in there, but in reality these moments were racked with pain that I wasn't mature enough to acknowledge. Below are how I used to remember two of my fake Novembers and the reality that has showed its ugly self since:
- The last two years I lived in Athens, GA: I used to remember this false November as a time in my life where I was free from the constraints of adulthood. I looked back and saw myself as part of a living organism of great friends and great parties set in a funky, fun city in a state that I knew nothing of just three years before that served as an escape from a history that was challenging. I liked to look back and see a time where I was still mostly ignorant to the bleak reality of urban education in America, all of my closest friends either lived in my house or within walking distance, rent/ drinks were so cheap their numerical value is now laughable ($350 was the most I ever paid for rent while living there) and I literally always had something to do. Here's the truth: I was dead broke despite working 40+ hours a week at a poor man's Hooters and a burger restaurant where sorority girls threw up in booths at 3 in the morning. At the same time, I was averaging 23 credit hours a semester to make up for the time I had taken off two years earlier after leaving UGA to try to salvage a relationship with a boyfriend who by now is an unfamiliar face in a crowd of mistakes. To pay for this outrageous course load, I took out way too many terrible loans that I was miseducated about and am still paying for. I overdrew my checking account weekly as my friends went on spring break trips to Mexico. I relied on way too many substances to have fun. Control of my body was taken from me more times than I care to acknowledge. I hadn't spoken to either of my parents in years because they had made it clear I wasn't a priority. I had very strong feelings for someone who never felt the same way. I was an actual mess.
- June- August 2016: I misremembered these months as my November for about a year afterwards. I had just left a job I really didn't like and had designs on pursuing something out of education. I met a boy (I refused to call him a man, he was and still is not) who I thought was fun and challenging. These months were exciting and interesting and included trips to L.A., Portugal and Georgia. I remembered it as a time when I was young and free and really, really tan. Here's the truth: That boy turned out to be a Sicilian emotional terrorist whose manipulation weaved its way in and out of my life and favorite Brooklyn hangouts for 8 months afterward. I was lost in more ways than one and landed in a job that was both mentally and physically stressful because the salary seemed right. I ate very little and exercised too much. I relied on way too many substances to have fun. Control of my body was taken from me more times than I care to acknowledge. I hadn't spoken to my father in months because he had made it clear I wasn't a priority. I had very strong feelings for someone who never felt the same way. I was an actual mess.
Neither of these times were my November. At the time they appeared frenetic and exciting, but in reality they were unstable and damaging. I saw myself the way so many others did, as disposable. I knew I didn't have control so I tried to take it back in the only ways I knew how. I knew at the time that these weren't my Novembers, but I convinced myself they were because rebranding them that way was easier to live with.
I can recognize this now only after a couple years of difficult reflection and acceptance. Throughout this process, I have discarded the notion of these false Novembers as their truths emerged from the shadows, pruning the exaggerations of my constructed memories. They now exist in my brain as roadblocks whose existence and removal were necessary for my personal growth. And I've come to the following conclusion:
"My November is RIGHT NOW."
January 2018 was one of the most hectic, yet momentous months of my life. The catalyst of a canon ball into the deep end of a career change propelled me into four weeks where every decision I made had the capacity to completely change how I live my life. And my life is different than it was one month ago. In unmooring myself from a career that has been synonymous with my identity for the past seven years, I feel myself growing closer to the person I will be for decades to come.
To be very clear, this month was stressful: images of empty bank accounts have shaken me awake at odd hours and led to late night anxiety spreadsheeting, doubts have led me to mentally script conversations with my boss where I ask for my job back, the pending expiration of my health insurance pushed me into a variety of doctor's offices with one visit leading to my IUD being ripped out with tweezers simply because my body had didn't want it there anymore (which means I will have to undergo the painful procedure of insertion for the second time in two years before said insurance lapses- men, you'll never know this struggle), more than one person has disappointed me with their inability to just be honest, some days have been spent completely alone behind a laptop screen spitting out essays like this that are both liberating and terrifying, I send risky emails and Instagram messages that make me want to throw up to close and distant contacts in the hopes that they are willing to help.
But at the same time, it has been nothing less than magically electric: my creative juices are percolating at a speed that they haven't in years, I'm becoming part of nooks of NYC that I watched with envy from afar but never had the courage to join, some days found me in four or five neighborhoods whose distinct vibes reminded me why this is the greatest city in the world, friendships I should have had my whole life are making themselves indispensable, music and conversation and the stories of others remind me that literally anything is possible, most of the people I've reached out to have been kind and eager to help, I've let myself off the hook for no longer wanting to teach or pretending I don't mind existing in the volatile world of dating, I've cut out people and systems that don't deserve to be in my story because of the way they make me feel, I've forgiven some who deserve to be forgiven and some who don't because they don't deserve my energy, I've written and created a ton of work that I am really proud of and received feedback that is pushing me to be better, I'm defining myself as someone who will refuses to be bored or settled.
All of this within a month that brought a blizzard, a Bomb Cyclone and stretch of 50+ temperatures to Brooklyn.
I will remember these few weeks, which at times felt like they would never end, as one of the best times in my life- as my November. It will exist as the month I realized I will never be too old to start over (or to stay out dancing until 4 a.m.). It was the prologue to what will be my greatest chapter. Its greatness was a result of my own agency, absent of poor choices made by others. When I'm old and wrinkled (but still hella cute, obviously) I will remember this as a time when I was young and fierce and fearless and strong and I was committed to no one but myself. It was deserved and I earned it.
It won't be my last November. It's the first of a lifetime of them. But the best part of this one is that I'm feeling its magic while I'm LIVING it.
(THIS is the type of magic Bruno is referring to, right??)
A few notes on Tyler, the Creator:
I'm banking on some of you asking how Tyler jives with my messaging. It's a great question. There is no doubt that some of Tyler's lyrics and actions are problematic. If you're not sure what I'm talking about, Google him- the point of this section is not to drag. Here is a little nugget of context, the first time I saw him live (at Afropunk in 2016), he began his set by stating: I fuck bitches without permission.
Tyler has used homophobic and misogynistic language in much of his music. Verses in his earlier albums and mixtapes were often staccato repetitions of some iteration of f*g over a beat. These epithets were noticeably absent on Flower Boy which may indicate some maturation and growth. Some considerations below that are not meant to excuse, but maybe to explain:
- Tyler was 15 when he formed Odd Future in 2006. He is now only 26. He has a lot of time to evolve.
- Tyler hinted at his own homosexuality on more than one Flower Boy track, a few of which are co-signed by Frank Ocean who stands proud in his queerness. Ira Madison summarizes the album's references well in this GQ article from July 2017:
In 2015 he tweeted, "I tried to come out the damn closet like four days ago and no one cared hahahhahaha." As with most things Tyler, it was hard to tell if he was trolling the Internet or speaking from his heart. Then there's his latest album Flower Boy, which goes even further in muddying the waters of Tyler's sexuality. He raps "I been kissing white boys since 2004" on the track "I Ain't Got Time!" Then there's the entirety of "Garden Shed," where he adopts a metaphor of keeping his sexuality concealed: "You don't have to hide / I can smell it in your eyes / That there's something more to say, baby / Them words."
- Tyler references the absence of his father and other familial support in more than one song. Based on these lyrics, one can venture why he has a complicated relationship with certain words and identities: Hey Dad, it's me, um.../ Oh, I'm Tyler, I think I'd be your son/ Sorry, I called you the wrong name, see, my brain's splitting/ "Dad" isn't your name, see "F**got's" a little more fitting (Answer) and "Geek, f*g, stupid loser/ find a rope to hang/ I'm not bipolar, see I'm just known by those couple names" and "My step-father called me a f*g/ I'll show him a f*g/ I'll light a fire up in his ass" (Both from Pigs)
- Tyler also makes it clear on more than one song that he was not accepted growing up which leads to a lyric like this, also from Pigs: "Geek, f*g, stupid loser find a rope to hang
I'm not bipolar, see I'm just known by those couple names"
All of this to say that while many of Tyler's lyrics have pissed me off in the past, I try not to pass judgement on how people come to embrace their own identity- especially an identity that most communities do not accept. This is especially true when that identity is not something I have experience living within.
And a little something from my FAVORITE Odd Future Alum. On Christmas Eve, Frank Ocean took to his Tumblr to assure us that he feels the same way we all do about Elio's Dad from Call Me By Your Name:
I. Some things I was obsessed with this week:
- Drake's new music AND his lack of emotional growth: At this juncture, I can only hope that all my followers have listened to Drake's two song EP Scary Hours which straight up shattered streaming records on both Spotify and Apple Music. I love both songs in the same way I've loved almost every Drake song released in the last 10 years (I say ALMOST because Started From the Bottom is a poor showing). Even if you haven't heard to songs, you have probably heard the lyric that has weaseled its way into the Millennial Zeitgeist: She say Do you Love me?/ I tell her only partly/ I only love my bed and my Momma/ I'm sorry. Drake, baby, you are 31 years old. If these are the only two things you are capable of loving (besides your simmering infatuation with Ri), I can't help you- but a therapist might. Upon the track's release, I swore I heard a collective, resonant MHHHMMMMM from legions of single NYC men in their late 20s and early 30s who were like Drake is TELLING IT. Thanks, bro.
- The new season of High Maintenance: The former web series about a NYC weed dealer and his range of clients turned HBO Friday night delight is back for its second season. The second episode was fine, but the first was pure New York City motherfuckin' magic. It opens with The Guy waking up from a psychedelic barber shop nightmare to the realization that something bad happened. That something bad was signaled by a push alert to his and his girlfriend's phones. The alert sets off a flood of texts to Guy's phone desperately seeking weed. The something bad is never defined, but given the way people are reacting in mass mourning, you could sub in any of the events that made up the hell-scape that was the last year in America. People are stressed and upset. This set up allows the show to do what it does best, expose every corner of a city that is not only ethnically diverse but whose cramped take on housing allows for a diversity in lifestyle so pronounced that the person in the next apartment not only has a different career but a completely different take on being a human than you do. This episode alone includes the stories of: a man who has recently lost a ton of weight and wants to post that on Instagram but thinks it might be insensitive given the circumstances, a woman who has a threesome at the McCarren Hotel that takes a surprising turn, and an immigrant bar back who has to take a subway to East New York after working until 4 a.m to pick up his son. The episode, called Globo which is Spanish for Balloon, ends with the bar back and his toddler son passing the titular ballon around a subway car in a moment of realistic, NYC camaraderie. Bonus: One of the bar scenes is filmed at Franklin Park, my neighborhood bar where I have been both THAT girl and DAT girl on more than one occasion.
- Judge Rosemarie Aguilina: She is the judge that presided over the Larry Nassar case that resulted in Nassar being sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for repeatedly molesting young gymnasts in his role as a doctor for both US Gymnastics and Michigan State University (two organizations that are now under scrutiny for their failure to protect the young women in their care from this moster). Aquilina's unprecedented approach allowed for more than 150 women to give victim impact statements in the courtroom. Aquilina allowed every woman who wanted to to tell her story. Most were open letters to Nassar describing the impact his actions had on their lives. When Nassar complained that he shouldn't have to listen to these statements, as they were causing him "harsh emotional distress", she basically told him to shove it (Nothing is as harsh as the thousands of hours of abuse your victims endured at your hands...). Aquilina emerged as a victim's advocate that the American justice system has desperately needed for far too long. Legal experts have criticized her for sacrificing the Bench's expected impartiality and that she "undermined justice." FUCK THAT. Nassar had already been found guilty when Aquilina proclaimed that she had "signed his death warrant." And for far too long, we have treated victim's as nameless/ faceless pieces of evidence who must withstand cross examinations that attack their motives and characters. Where was their justice? Aquilina allowed these women to speak, uninterrupted, for as long as they wanted about experiences that impacted them but do not define them as people. (Here's Glamour's take on the importance of Aquilina's conduct and the NYT's stellar profile of this bad ass lady.) And for those of you who are afraid this will permanently damage our court system, I say LET IT BURN.
- Cardi B at the Grammy's: She (along with Hillary, John Legend, DJ Khaled, Snoop Dogg, Cher, etc.), roasted Trump while performing a spoken word reading of Fire and Fury ("This is how he lives his life? Why am I even reading this shit?), she was all of us after receiving a hand written letter from Bono and after coming face to face with Jay-Z, she performed Finesse alongside the finest footworker in the game and later offered him a kidney on Instagram if he happened to need it, and she wore the dress below that I will wear to any wedding I may have or on just any random Tuesday.
Related: Vulture recaps the highs and lows of this year's show. Highs include: Kesha, Gaga's Piano and Performances by Kendrick and Gambino, Janelle Monae's speech, Blue Ivy shushing her parents Lows Include: SZA, Cardi, Jay-Z and Kendrick going home mostly empty handed, ATCQ being snubbed in all categories, U2 being literally everywhere and Dr. Luke (the subject of Praying) still profiting from the
II. List of the Week: Eight Qs to which I want to find an A:
- Was the resurgence of Tanya Harding just well-timed serendipity or was it orchestrated by some powers that be to surf in on a cultural moment?
- Why does The Skimm newsletter feel the need to appropriate terms to appeal to its audience to whom those terms don't belong?
- How should I feel about the allegations that Hillary Clinton allegedly protected a staffer that sexually harassed other staffers?
- Is American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianna Versace the most visually appealing TV show I've ever watched?
- Are life long New Yorkers all heroes with a story to tell? If yes, will they tell them to me?
- Will our generation ever be cured of our toxic phone habits? Plug: I attempt to answer this Q in an essay of mine published on P.S. I love You this week?
- Why are the Patriots in the Superbowl again? Can they just go away? Here is a profile of the Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins who has been a fierce advocate for anthem protests and player's rights.
- Does Beyonce just wake up on some mornings and decide she wants to put together a spectacular family Instagram shoot? Or are these planned far in advance?
Note: In response to Q5 above, lemme know if you know anyone who knows anything about making podcasts.
And here's one question I may have already answered: Would the lyrics of Missy Elliot's Work It have been different if it were written in 2018? See below.