I remember clearly the day I first heard Frank Ocean’s Novacane. It was the earlier part of last year, on an unseasonably warm March day. I remember the day specifically because I couldn’t help but drop the windows in the car; partly because of the weather and partly because of this weirdly infectious groove streaming through my radio. It sounded both new and vintage at the same time. And like anything new and dope on the radio in New York, the DJ, Mister Cee, was hypin the hell out of out it. He’d let the first verse and the chorus play out only to stop the record, announce the arrival of this Frank Ocean character and start the joint again from the top. I was intrigued and apparently, so too was the rest the city and country as Novacane and the mixtape that birthed it Nostalgia Ultra rapidly grew in popularity over the next few months.
Fast forward to November 26th. Frank has re-released Nostalgia to critical acclaim, stole the show on The Throne’s Watch The Throne and was sitting uncomfortably at the forefront of an unexpected Indie R&B explosion. The Bowery Ballroom is packed with an interesting mix of industry folk, pseudo-industry folk, music connoisseurs and people who just want to say they were there. I’m upstairs standing next to the NPR’s Frannie Kelley, who’d been listening to Frank for about as long as I had. And though we were both excited, as were most of the folks in the room, I was still a little nervous – unsure of how Ocean’s sometimes awkward vocals might resonate live. Frank delivered spectacularly. At times brooding, at times pensive – always shy, yet always open, Frank’s stage presence was myopically introspective. Much like in lyric, on stage he bore himself open in a way that allowed us to look straight at his soul without ever actually seeing it.
The crowd zoned out as he breezed through selected cuts from Nostalgia, a semi-freestyled version of No Church in the Wild, and a couple then new numbers that now appear on his debut album Channel Orange. As he grew nearer to the end of his set, you could feel the anticipation grow for what was his biggest hit to date. And as the the crowd’s anticipation was greeted by the first few bars of the Tricky Stewart produced Novacane, I swore I saw a slight frown, or some sort of annoyed smirk creep onto his face. “I think I started something…” he sang, his shoulders swaying lazily as if he was shrugging off the song. “I got what I wanted … “ I knew my eyes weren’t deceiving me when Frannie leaned over and said “I love how indifferent he is toward Novacane.” We both seemed to make the obvious music snob assumption that his demeanor change and seeming ambivalence toward the song was due to its popularity; it seemed like he’d grown tired of it, tired of people liking it.
A week and a half ago, rumors began running through the Internet. Folks who had the opportunity to listen to Channel Orange early talked about a love song, one where the object of Frank’s affection was described using male pronouns. Two days later he released what were to be the liner notes of his then forthcoming album. In them he revealed to the world that his first love was a man. Frank came out, not out of the closet, but out of his closet. Out of whatever place he’d been in that prevented him from letting the world know who he was, and how he’d loved. The internet went crazy, his coming out became headline news on major publications and websites and the twitter-verse had him trending for a full twenty-four hours. By and large, the reactions I noted were generally positive or indifferent though many made the mistake of attaching a particular sexuality to his coming out – which Frank actually stopped well short of … (con’t to next page …)
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