I thought I was, but then I read Donald Fagen’s obituary for him and it made me mad and upset all over again.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had anybody you loved really lose control when they were hitting you. But it’s like there’s this moment when the violence ceases to be about whatever it is that you’ve done and becomes something transcendent for the person who’s hitting you. It’s both about you and has nothing to do with you. It’s like being at a fucked-up exorcism, where the possessed person attempts to raise the Devil out of you.
It’s terrible, because it’s such a betrayal of what love should be–you should be safe with the people who love you and you should not have their issues opened up on you like standing in front of a blast furnace–but it’s also terrible because there’s nothing you can do to stop it but ride it out.
And the waiting for it can be unbearable.
Often, it’s easier when you see it coming to provoke it early, in order to get it out of the way, in order to drain it off before it has a chance to build to maximum pressure. Other times, it’s best for your self-preservation to do nothing to provoke it; to show a face that says you cannot be reached.
Often, when I hear people who’ve never been abused talking about abuse, it’s like they’re just talking about a person smacking around another person like there’s just some misunderstanding about how we treat people. I don’t know if they get that kind of blast-furnace fucked-up-ness.
I honestly don’t think that they do.
Because, if you’ve witnessed it, I don’t see how you can believe that a person can be redeemed from that.
And yet, when you love someone, you desperately need to believe that there is some redemption possible, I think.
It’s hard to look objectively at someone you love and say to yourself that he’s just a man that does that shit or she’s just a woman who does that shit and that he or she might love you in his or her own way, but it just doesn’t cut it.
I know I can’t.
But I think it’s one thing for a person to have to make a little myth out of the fucked-up person they love in order to get by, it’s quite another thing for strangers to make myths out of ordinary men in order to feel okay about liking their art.
I’d much rather see Fagen just mourn the passing of a great artist than to try to craft some story of possible redemption for the man, just because the myth is so obviously built on lies.
Shall we enumerate them, just to keep from counting our own aches?
–The Mississippi Delta is no magical place. It’s just a dirt-poor corner of a dirt-poor state.
–Robert Johnson didn’t sell his soul to the devil. Or Papa Legba. Or anybody.
–The Devil and Papa Legba aren’t interchangeable.
–Just because Robert Johnson was reputed to have sold his soul to the devil (or so some white men say), doesn’t mean that everyone from the Delta who’s had some success sold his soul to the devil and there’s something inherently intellectually dishonest about associating Johnson’s myth (which, probably, rightfully belongs to Tommy Johnson anyway) with Turner.
–Ike didn’t beat Tina because he wanted organization. He didn’t beat her because “Obviously, there was something Ike just didn’t get about the whole hitting problem.” There wasn’t some part of Ike that was failing to understand that pounding on your loved ones is wrong. Dude wasn’t an idiot, so let’s not excuse his actions as if he was. He beat her to have power over her and feeling powerful was more important to him for whatever reason(s) than doing right by his loved one.
He beat her for the same reason anyone abuses a loved on–because it made him feel powerful and in charge.
That’s the truth. That’s the line that’s crossed, from it being about you, as the person at the receiving end of the blow, to the person giving it. You do whatever (or nothing) and the person who hits seizes on that opportunity to feel powerful and in charge. It’s a rush for them.
And that’s why it’s hard to stop domestic violence, not because abusing someone is an effective way to run your life, but because feeling powerful and in charge feels so damn good.
–Ike Turner was just a man. He didn’t sell his soul to Anyone. No one but him was using his personal demons against him. He was just a man.
That has been a hard lesson for me to learn about my own family.
Speaking of folks from the Delta, I think it was Robert Gordon’s biography of Muddy Waters that helped me understand that about my progenitors. Not that my people had much in common with him or his people, but sometimes seeing how it works for others lets you see how it works for the people you’re too close to to get any good perspective on.
And this is what I know. They’re just people. Just people who needed to feel powerful and in control and who didn’t put protecting their children from their worst excesses ahead of of that particular excess.
It’s hard for me to articulate what I’m dancing around here, though, it seems I’m dancing as hard as I can to old Ike’s tune. Just that I’m afraid of that in myself and too suspicious of it in other people.
And that it’s hard for me to talk directly about it.
This is what makes me angry and sad. It makes me angry and sad that the deal seemed to be tolerating what went on in exchange for being kept safe from the outside world and yet, all it did was fuck people up about the outside world, and not keep anyone safe from anything.
My cousin J. once said to me something that made my blood run cold precisely because I’ve heard something similar from my dad on numerous occasions–“Our family is like in the Bible, like some Old Testament clan. It’s like the things that happen to us are part of some big plan on God’s part.”
But, you know, we’re just men and women, too. It would be nice to think that there’s some Divinely ordained reason for the way we are with each other and ourselves, but there’s not.
There’s just us, ordinary folks, fucked up ordinary folks with no myths to make sense of why.
It would be nice to know why, I guess. To be able to draw some sure thick line between, say, how recalcitrant the recalcitrant brother is and a woman born deaf and possibly raped and definitely married off to the man her dad gave her to, but who even knows how true that story is?
It’s like being caught in a wake, watching the waves ripple outwards, and being able to tell a few things about the boat that went by, even though you didn’t see it.
And still, I wonder, doesn’t pointing back to her, a woman whose name I don’t even know, allow me to conveniently avoid looking the generations between her and me square in the face and saying, “You did this”?
I feel my grandpa with me a lot. I don’t mention it to my dad because I don’t want to hear yet another myth of how great he was, except…
He was and he was.
He was great and he sucked. He was just a man.
That’s what I feel, when I feel him with me, some defiant anger and a long, resigned sigh, and just a man I really didn’t know and never really spoke to except for once, who’s got nothing better to do than to watch the ripples he caused roll on down through us.
I still love him.
I still love his son.
I love them easier now that they’re smaller than they used to be.
And that, my friends, is why I am opposed to making Ike the size of some epic myth. Some folks, you can only love when you can finally see them for the size they really are.