Of triumph and tragedy

I first saw Arthur Jafa’s haunting and devastating Love is the Message, The Message of Death more than two years ago at SF MOMA.

Saisha Grayson, a curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as quoted in Smithsonian Magazine, describes my experience of watching it best: “I cry every time,” she says. “I cry at different parts, for different reasons, but I’m never not profoundly moved.”

Two years later, I still feel that way.

Since that day, I’ve been scouring the Internet to see if it would move beyond gallery walls so I could share it more broadly. I think it’s an incredibly important film to watch and sit with, and I want everyone in my life to see it. In 7 minutes, set to the Kanye’s epic gospel Ultralight Beam, Jafa summarized for me the complicated, contradictory relationship that our culture has with Black identity, how easily our culture can idolize and villainize Black identity in the same breath. The film forced me to reflect on the ways that I’m complicit in this culture.

I finally found a watchable bootleg! Please, please watch. And if you do, you might enjoy chewing on this great conversation between Arthur Jafa and Virgil Abloh, previously a creative director for Kanye West.

P.S. Special shout out to Radha and Dinika, who saw it with me the first time, and the many times afterward. We couldn’t just see it once. Thank you both for making the space to take it all in.

To see without my eyes

Huh. I can’t believe it’s already March. If this is any indication of how the rest of the year will unfold…

In any case, here’s a playlist I made that dampens any unease I feel as I stare into the abyss of 2018. It has some sludgey lo-fi, opera, new age chill meets electronica banger, a delicate Trịnh Công Sơn track sung by Khánh Ly, that still feels fresh off vinyl—all inspired by Sufjan Steven’s devastatingly beautiful score for Call Me By Your Name.


Vulture did a fun profile of Sufjan Steven and his collaboration with director Luca Guadagnino, which included several golden nuggets on their creative process.

To share two that stuck with me…

The magic of sharing sensibilities, or sharing how you intimately process and communicate the various textures of being alive:

“Luca’s a real sensualist, and I very quickly keyed into that because I am, as well […] There’s a physicality to his work that’s really profound, and there’s an emotional experience that’s occurring as well, and they have this divine interaction. So that’s really what I was working on, this idea of first love being really irrational and sensational, and feeling boundless in its experience.”

And the state of flow behind the magic:

“I firmly believe in the power of impulse and instinct, and the ideology of ‘first thought, best thought,’ […] I have to admit that often when I’m writing music, I’m sort of at a loss for how it all transpires. It feels so immediate and impulsive that I feel like I’m almost not in control. I’m not writing in a state of ecstasy, per se, but I feel almost powerless to the creative motion.”

Hope you’ll take a chance on the playlist, and may you find flow, people, and work that speak to your consciousness.

(Also, I make a lot of these things. Follow me on Spotify!)