Five days later with the buzz for his album feverish, Frank Ocean performed for the first time on live television on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show. Backed by The Roots, and with the wonderful touch of a string section, Frank sang his song of unrequited love, the same song at the heart of the initial rumors: Bad Religion.
With all the discussion of Frank, and after listening to his album, I couldn’t help but dust off my copy of Nostalgia Ultra, and swing back through some of my favorite Frank Ocean joints. As I listened to Novacane I heard the song differently. Previously, I’d taken the song at face value and assumed it was about a supremely built-Z-Trip-listening-dental-student-porn star with a novacaine stash who put it on Frank so awesomely that it rendered him incapable of achieving satisfaction with anyone else. But with lyrics like:
I think I started something. I got what I wanted, didn’t I. I can’t feel nothing, super human – even when I’m f*cking, Viagra popping, every single record, auto-tuning, muted emotion … pitch corrected, computed emotion.
All the pretty girls involved with me, making pretty love to me Pretty, Pitty Pitty, I can’t feel a thing, can’t feel a thing, I can’t feel her.
It’s hard not to wonder whether Frank’s muted emotion, his inability to feel, and his inability to arouse himself unassisted, was somehow instead related to his unrequited love for a man. With this new understanding of Frank, it’s hard to tell whether it’s her attractiveness that has Frank sprung, or whether the numbed pain has created a previously non-existent space for him to experience something that he had not before. And as I think back to the first time I heard the song, I wonder too if Mister Cee heard something in it imperceptible to my deafly heteronormative ears as he was fighting off questions about his sexuality around the time he debuted the song on New York radio. And as I think back to the annoyance I perceived in Ocean’s body language the first time I saw him perform Novacane live, I wonder if he really was ambivalent toward its popularity, or if he was just upset that no one actually got it.
It’s completely possible that I’m looking at this too deeply, or listening too closely. Novacane could be exactly what we all always thought it was – a simple, mid-tempo drug ballad about a fling with a beautiful woman. But with this new knowledge of Frank and his multi-layered life, it’s also completely possible that he’s been trying to tell us who he was since his very first single, and that last Wednesday, he just decided to put it in words simple enough for us to understand. He is loved and he has loved and in that way, he’s no different than most of us.
I have no great proclamations to make about what his coming out means for his success or for tolerance in Hip-Hop. All I really care about is the music. Some of the world’s most resonant and affecting art has been created at the hands of tortured souls – people who’ve had to internalize their pain and only have the opportunity to give us glimpses of it through what they produce. Frank Ocean’s art was clearly weighted and flavored by the burden of his once unspeakable truth. It’s why Nostalgia and Novacane are more than just a mixtape and single. The selfish part of me wonders whether Frank’s revelation will somehow lighten the heft of his music, or whether the freedom he might now feel will push his art to heights previously unreachable. Either way, it’s a beautiful thing to see people decide to present themselves to the world fully and wholly.
Every book in here I wrote. Some I’m not too proud of, some I wish I could burn. So many pages I wrote, wish I could revise ‘em. But there’s no erasing and the best advice I got was keep writing, and keep living, and keep loving. And when the ink dries, and the pages turn to do dust- so will we.
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