Kansas City

One of the things I love about Janelle Monae, aside from my suspicion that we’re watching some singular vision execute itself in this really extraordinary way, is that she situates herself in music in ways I find really thought provoking. There’s a lot to talk about with “Q.U.E.E.N.” and we could spend all afternoon just talking about the end, which certainly must be the first song to go from Philip K. Dick to Jimmie Hendrix in two lines.

But I want to focus, for a second, on the part right before that:

I asked a question like this
“Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal.
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel.
So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,
But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.
My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I’m trying to free Kansas City.

I quote the whole thing, because I think she’s juggling Black nationalism and Ginsberg and I find that amazing. And because I think the part that I want to really look at depends on what comes before it–this questioning of who creates things and who owns them and who controls them. But this part, “I’m trying to free Kansas City.”

Now, if we consult our roadmap to important places in the psyche of American music, we discover that Kansas City is on that map:

Which makes sense, because we’ve all heard the song:

But hold my hand and let’s go down the rabbit hole. Doesn’t that sound like this tune?

Which is, of course, the same song as Bob’s:

Which is a very similar song to this one:

And yes, that last verse is:

Lord, I woke up this mornin’ with my pork grindin’ business in my hand.
Says I woke up this morning with my pork grindin’ business in my hand.
Lord, if you can’t send me no woman, please send me some sissy man.

Which I think brings us back full circle. We start with a man praying to the Lord for someone, anyone, to get him off. That leads us to “Kansas City,” the city that Janelle Monae is trying to free by asking church going folks, “Hey brother can you save my soul from the devil?/Say is it weird to like the way she wear her tights?” Then she promises, “Even if it makes other uncomfortable/ I will love who I am.” It’s a big promise, but there’s something about her that make me think that it’s a promise larger than it appears on the surface. I think she’s promising to love unabashedly everyone she loves, and not just them, but their whole history with them.

***

Also, though it doesn’t fit into the particular hole I was going down, it should be noted that Big Joe Turner was born in Kansas City. This is his song:

Which gave us rock and roll:

Which gave us Elvis:

Whew, you can see why we need Bob Dylan to map all this shit out for us. It’s a vast landscape, and all the roads wind.

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