Still in Rotation is a feature that lets talented writers tell Midlife Mixtape readers about an album they discovered years ago that’s still in heavy rotation, and why it has such staying power.
I first heard of What Now and Why blogger Arnebya Herndon during the BlogHer Voices of the Year keynote back in 2012, when she read this powerful, moving piece about Trayvon Martin. I didn’t know, when she and I were dancing together to Reverend Run at BlogHer14 just last month and I thought to ask her over to do a Still in Rotation in August, that the Trayvon post would be boomeranging through my head again this week, with terrible relevance. I love Arnebya because she’s funny and I can always count her to sing along to obscure old school hip hop with me. But it’s her gift for conjuring her memories and experiences into moments we can all understand that makes her extra special. P.S. For fun, tell the Starbucks barista today that your name is “Arnebya” and don’t spell it for them. Never fails to entertain.
All the Great Hits (1978)
by Arnebya Herndon
I am six. My father wears an afro and bellbottoms. He sings on beat, on pitch, with The Commodores in the basement. He knows all the lyrics. My father is gone most nights, only to return talking about his gig.
My father is Lionel Richie.
Listen, in my child’s brain, this made perfect sense. I’d seen Lionel in photos. He looked like my father; my father looked like him. They were the same. The thing is, I know he’s not my dad (now). And yet, the music can put me in the frame of mind of absolute happiness from being a child who knew nothing about marriage and anger and passion and disagreements and love and money and did you seriously use all the damn butter and not say anything. As an adult, though, the music of The Commodores is all mine. While some songs can invoke memories, it’s the music itself, the construction, the lyrics, the instruments, Lionel’s voice, that I adore. Besides, I’ve had my own share of love and upset to refer to when I hear certain songs.
In 1983, when I was 10 and my parents divorced and my mother got the house, my father left a crate of records. OK, wait, let me clarify. Left isn’t really the right word. He put them in a corner behind a chair with a cover over them. He was coming back for them. So naturally I took The Commodores’ All the Great Hits. Here it is 32 years later and I still have that record, but I’ve never told him the circumstances surrounding how I got it. What? Because he’s never asked! I mean, if he were to ask, I’d tell him, but come on, they’ve divorced; he already thinks poorly of her. What worse is it for him to think she stole his record? It’s not! I was a child. And you are so judgmental.
It would be years before I’d realize that my favorite Commodores’ lyrics were usually about love loss. Oh, how my dad must have felt sitting in that basement listening alone.
“Sail On.” This was my angry breakup song. Beautiful, but absolutely about leaving, sailing on, and probably partying a whole lot afterward:
I’ve thrown away the blues
I’m tired of being used
I want everyone to know
I’m looking for a good time
The song “Still.” This was my satisfying, no big deal, it was meant to be, breakup song.
We lost what we both had found
You know we let each other down
But then most of all
I do love you
Come to think of it, perhaps I cried over every slow, melodic song with sweet lyrics. I don’t appreciate your reminding me of that.
When my husband and I moved in together to show our families we cared not about the sin of fornication (that back seat was getting way too cramped), naturally we blended our CDs and cassettes (still have the cassettes too). We were arguing over whose turn it was to cook one night and my eyes happened to catch the CD tower. It was full. There were stacks of CDs on the floor around it. So, I cooked. Because there was no way in hell I was prepared to go through and see what belonged to whom. Also, if we broke up over refusing to compromise about dinner, all that fornication was for naught and I couldn’t have that.
Easy. The I wanna be high, so high lyric tells about a decidedly different time in my life. Stop being nosy. We’re focusing on this being a love song. Sure, it’s still an end of love song because of
Know it sounds funny But I just can’t stand the pain Girl, I’m leaving you tomorrow
But it’s about love, about having the balls to leave when that love turns to sand in the bottom of your purse that gets under your freshly done nails while you’re searching for an errant Starburst – just wrong.
“Three Times a Lady.” Once, twice, three times a lady. This is a song to the testament of a woman’s love, which Lionel wrote about so beautifully. It’s also about breaking up.
And then there is “Brick House.” You know how you dance to “Blurred Lines” and try to hide it because it makes you a bad feminist? This is how I am with “Brick House.” True friends will point to you in the club, no matter how old you are (not too old, because face it, at some age you probably need to take your ass out of the club), no matter how decidedly unbrickhoused you are. I drop it like it’s hot every time this song comes on because misogyny or not, listen to that beat. I’m mighty mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out.
Arnebya is a DC-based writer, wife, mother of three, and dance party after dinner extraordinaire. She blogs about family life, food, and whatever she thinks of because it’s her blog, at What Now and Why. Find her being amusing on Facebook, cute on Instagram, and not complaining enough on Twitter.