Mary J Blige, Lyn Hejinian and Anne Boyer trade notes on what it means to call ones life a Life.
This is about Mary J. Blige’s “My Life” and Lyn Hejinian’s “My Life” and Lyn Hejinian’s other “My Life” and Mary J. Blige’s “My Life 2” and Lyn Hejinian’s “My Life in the ’90s” and My Life, Anne
Boyer’s. This is about calling what isn’t a life a life and calling what isn’t one’s own life one’s own, about the embellishment of any “my” on a life that isn’t and can’t be or isn’t quite, at least not all the time. My Life’s aren’t lives: they are made things. These made My Life’s are made mostly of sound. The sounds are made, sometimes, out of calling, so this is about calling, too—not just the calling as if to name (My Life), but the call that summons: come here. To call here is to call for the figment: a life, mine. We had heard that we were supposed to be alive, that we might exist, that we had names and identities, that we cohered. There were rumours that when the phone rang, there was someone around to answer it. First comes My Life’s synthetic orchestration, then there’s the sound of the buttons being pushed, then the rings. Sean Combs (sometimes called Puff Daddy sometimes called Diddy sometimes called P. Diddy sometimes called Puff) says “Not this shit again” as he waits. There is, historically, a silence when Mary J. Blige is expected to speak. “What’s the 411?” started it. In “What’s the 411’s” introduction, no matter how champagne and opportunity the people who dialled for it, the 411 was “Mary J. Blige is called, but Mary J. Blige is not at home.” The 411 is that this is about calling for My Life and getting no answer or only sometimes getting one. For My Life, Mary J. picks up once: “Yeah yeah yeah, what’s up?” There’s the eponymousness of life (if I have called something My Life, I have given it my other name) then the regular eponymousness of Mary J. LH: “A name trimmed with coloured ribbons” (35). To have a name to call to oneself is also having a name to call a thing one has made. To call or name one’s self or one’s being repeatedly might—Mary J, are you in the spot tonight?—be an involvement with the problem of a kind of non-being, with the disproportionate violence of capital against certain kinds of bodies, with the unreliable fit of our names and our lives to what is called by them (does Mary J. make us feel alright?). At the climax of Mary J.’s No More Drama video, a horizontally tri-split screen stacks parts of three bodies enduring the regular disaster (addiction, crime, violence) into a body of not-quite-one. Then, after the personal body in three types of suffering fails to cohere as the general, Mary weeps and sings “no more pain” at a bank of shop window television screens flashing “America’s New War.” My Life is the general suffering unmaking narrative and unmade narrative unmaking what is “personal” about the personal and the unmaking all of it making the sounds, achronic and dysarticulate, of calling what isn’t or can’t yet be. My Life also is the suffering named as gender named by capital as “love.” The endogenously-experienced violence of the ever-crisis caused by capital’s conditions for certain bodies is explicit to My Life: who you love will harm you; you will want them not to harm you so much you want to harm yourself; the empire’s fighter jets take out into the night. My Life is about only sometimes existing enough to ask certain questions (like how do you kill a self that isn’t really alive?) and only sometimes existing barely enough to answer. My Life’s are also about calling what barely bothers to approximate narrative two words heavy with several centuries of formal promises: My Life. They are about doing this repeatedly, semi-preposterously, industriously, over decades—My Life’s call the promise of narrative out on itself. LH: “The narrative returns from a journey to the pole but the narrator is left behind” (123). But My Life, Mary J. Blige’s, is also about calling what is a profound expression and tormented range of annihilative desire “life.” There is, says Mary J. later, “a real bad suicide spirit on there.” My Life is about what it is like to live as a dead person whose desire is aesthetic, whose drive is to remedy the disproportion of existing as the non-existent: to commit suicide as an already dead person provides the aesthetic satisfaction of matching up a pair of socks. My Life is also about making sounds out of the desire to annihilate whatever lifelike traces litter the edge of the vacuum where a Mary J. Blige shaped subject only sometimes appears to cease to non-exist. Perhaps My Life, Lyn Hejinian’s, is also about calling what is a profound expression of the semi-tormented range of textual annihilative desire “life.” Juliana Spahr, from Resignifying Autobiography: “[My Life] does not allow its readers to ask and then decide who Lyn Hejinian is but instead places them squarely within a representational crisis.” Hejinian’s My Life wrecks the word at the place the word promises. So does Blige’s. Mary J.’s My Life is calling after a life so that a life may come, or calling after a life in the woeful cheerfulness of platitudes and deadly romance’s innocent and general cliché, or about calling after a life as it is in the form of another person, one who brings a familiar kind of death. My Life, for Mary J. Blige, at least the first time, is also the beloved—as in, “you are my…” The beloved is My Life, also the reason to live, also why to die, also what to call for when one might be calling for oneself. But the beloved is a man, and in this, he is everything and probably also, if you have heard the music, no good.
Mary J. Blige at the opening for the Mary J. Blige Center for Women: “When I was 5 years old there was a lot that happened to me … that I carry … all my life.” Her voice filled with emotion. People in
the crowd started to yell in support. “Don’t cry!” “It’s OK, Mary!” “We love you!” Blige removed her sunglasses to wipe away her tears. “And when … I was growing up after that, I saw so many women beaten to death, almost to their death, by men.” LH: “As for we who love to be astonished, we close our eyes to remain for a little while longer within the realm of the imaginary, the mind, so as to avoid having to recognize our utter separateness from each other” (103). Mary J: “I still love you / You know I’ll never live without you / I wish you’d change your ways soon enough / So we can be together.” Mary J. Blige made a perfume. It is called My Life. The thing about My Life is almost anyone can wear it. Though a perfume is not an album and an album is not a life and a life is not a book of experimental poetry and a book of experimental poetry is not a work written for a journal of music and experimental politics, one might mistake one for the other when My Life is, for so many of us, so difficult to find. LH: “It isn’t a small world, but there are many ways of dividing it into small parts” (50). From a review of My Life: “If I could rate this higher than 5 stars I would. I have never smelled something more Devine. Every women should have this perfume.” My Life is distilled, collected into a container of rumour, generally called, paratactic, wavering, intruded upon, brave-ish, feminine, diffused, interminable, libidinal, floral, and what also, in the duration, disappears. Mary J. is singing the living death by wrapping the brink of herself in unalluring allure: “come into my bedroom, honey / what I got can make you spend money.” When it comes to My Life, don’t believe it. The lyrics instruct the listener not to trust them for how they protest to be trusted. In “You Gotta Believe,” Mary J. sings some form of request to believe her eleven times, jammed up and layered against each other, before the start of the first verse. Don’t believe My Life, believe My Life’s noises. Destabilization is credible production. Sean Combs uses smoothed-down globs of Puff-type samples, confuses My Life’s explicitly stated category of feeling with tiny cracks and drops and ambivalent layers, makes of it a silky mess that indicates My Life’s place in another category, living death. Love—what Combs called at first “Ghetto Love” and of which he declared Mary J. the queen—is an eroding trope. “Mary Jane (All Night Long)” is the Mary Jane Girl’s “All Night Long” is Rick James’ “Mary Jane” is Teddy Pendergass’ “Close the Door.” Pendergass didn’t mean “Close the Door” as in the die-forever kind of way, but Mary J. later said of her death wish during My Life, “it was straight out, ‘Bam! I’m ready to go.’” In My Life’s production, Mary J.’s charity (toward her lover, toward love, toward gender itself: she covers “You Make me Feel like a Natural Woman” at the end of an album with a thesis that how her beloved made her feel is like a person who wanted to die) faces suit. LH: “The self is a site of time absorbing dissonances. I find that I don’t really mind that the cheering at the outdoor concert escapes the site and can be heard for several miles around in the summer night. There is no simple organic link between two instants, instead one must make a pathetic jump, passing from the first into the next, passing the power of the first to the second. But more of that another time. The writing moved sense and made it” (122). From a review of My Life: “I sniffed and almost gagged. It is very cheap smelling, like something that a teenager or a stupid man who buys a gift at the last second and has to purchase at the corner drugstore might pick up. YUK. That’s all I can say.” Mary J. Blige about listening to the My Life album: “It makes my stomach hurt.” My Life longing to be kept alive by what kills it or longing to die by what nominally keeps it alive makes my stomach hurt. This is My Life’s summary of Mary J.’s My Life: she begs for it. LH: “To give the proper term for an object or an idea is to describe its end. The same holds for music, which also says nothing” (61).
After great pain, a utopian sociality comes. This is about the revision of My Life that is No More Drama’s “A Family Affair.” There can be no more hateration, no more holleratin, in this dancery.
The situations must be left at the door: a sonic hollow carved by the beat by which the pain of the individual is filled by the “soldiers” of we who are now open, crunk, dancing en masse, B.S. free for Mary J. LH: “we have come a long way from what we actually felt” (41). My Life, too, relies on its structural qualities. These are as accidental as consciousness or years. LH: “Sway is built into skyscrapers, since it is natural to trees. It is completely straightforward. On occasion I’ve transferred my restlessness, the sense of necessity, to the vehicle itself. And if I feel like a book, a person on paper, I will continue” (64). Her first My Life, written when Lyn Hejinian was 38, was made of 38 stanzas of 38 lines. Her second My Life, written when Lyn Hejinian was 45, was made of 45 stanzas of 45 lines. My Life in the Nineties, written in the ’90s, was made of 10 stanzas of 90 lines. My Life—this one, My Life, my first, Anne Boyer’s—is made of three paragraphs: one of 40 sentences, one of 43 sentences, and one of 71 sentences. Combs tells Mary, in the introductory phonecall at the beginning of My Life 2: “Life is a marathon that has many parts to it.” LH: “The new cannot be melodic, for melody requires repetition” (51). Gertrude Stein, from Composition as Explanation: “Naturally I would then begin again. I would begin again I would naturally begin. I did naturally begin. This brings me to a great deal that has been begun. And after that what changes what changes after that, after that what changes and what changes after that and after that and what changes and after that and what changes after that.” My Life’s are about calling what isn’t a life a life and calling what isn’t mine mine. My Life’s are about calling what isn’t a life a life repeatedly, semi-preposterously, industriously, over decades. They are about calling too, “My Life” what doesn’t resemble it, at least not entirely: not just calling what is not a life a life, but calling “My Life” something that isn’t the “My Life” that was called it before, and now calling it again, even as it is begun again, as it is what is “after what changes what changes after that.” What My Life is made of mostly is sound, and sometimes whatever scented particulates break into the air around the body of anyone who wears it. One of My Life’s reviewers: “I don’t understand why reviewers are calling [My Life] a granny scent?? If your grandmother is wearing MY LIFE then she is surely smelling GOOD!” My Life is unstable, with the semi-morbid scent of white florals, but its silage is moderated, radiating only to the length of one’s own arm. One of Mary J.’s two great producers knew her better than the other. The one who knew her well was Combs. It was the other great producer, the semi-stranger Dre, who with No More Drama lifts Mary J. out of My Life. Combs was producer as chorus, troll, indulger in semi-satirical sweetnesses, encyclopaedist, show off. Dre does not crack the sound under a cracking-up Mary J. With Dre, there are no more ominous, muffled interludes chapping the edges of Mary J.’s voice. One critic had said of the songs of Mary J.’s first My Life, “for all the melody they possess they might as well be breathing exercises.” LH: “The new cannot be melodic” (51). What Dre does is build Mary J. Blige platforms on which to unwaver. These are not My Life’s Combs-underscored carnivals of almost-dead and interludes of shift. The tracks on No More Drama are not My Life’s breathy death rattles wrapped in love sighs, but songs. Some of them, like “No More Drama,” are explicit disavowals of My Life’s gardenia-scented thanatophilia. The song “No More Drama” is only slightly cruel optimism scrawled over the theme song of the soap opera Young & the Restless; it’s the knowing manufacture of an improving feeling, felt in the together, summoned to obscure My Life’s insurmountable evasive alone. LH: “They used to be the leaders of the avant-garde, but now they just want to be understood” (43). No More Drama is not My Life in that Mary J. does not have to decide whether or not to answer the phone. The option to showily non-exist, to be in the nothing-answer as the obvious resister of being forced to exist like this, the option to mark the misery of life without life with a despairing non-cooperation, isn’t a track. LH: “They say that Goethe refused to let his life become ‘an unstructured and unintended series of events,’ but rather, ‘each major event in it, foreseen or not, was to be pondered and given it place in a newly interpreted whole.’ Then compelled to summon strength, to wake up, to get out of bed, and to accept capacity” (108). Mary J. Blige without the drama brings it: the palliative we. This self-helpery is what she now claims to have always intended as her purpose, the place her suffering is given in a newly interpreted whole. No More Drama temporarily turns Mary J. Blige’s death-loving living-death of love into a danceable therapeutic industry. Writes one reviewer: “I don’t buy celebrity perfumes, but Mary J. is very down to earth than any celebrity. She is not a media whore like a pop or reality star, she is not an annoying artist, you wont hear about her affairs in gossip magazines, etc. Definitely a date night perfume, I’m thinking of buying the roller ball version. It smells very high end and refined.” No More Drama matches the post-release claims of therapeutic value often made about My Life, the ones made under the most tenuous theory of sympathetic magic and its reverse: how, again, could My Life heal us? LH: “I could fill notebooks with things interpreted differently. I could puke” (129). With Family Affair, Mary J. conducts the now-habitual small riot of her own eponymousness for an “us” so general it’s almost post-racial (“doesn’t matter if you’re black or white”) but (always to her point, who sings of and for the people) not post-class (“work real hard to make a dime”). Yet it seems that it is for herself that she calls her own presence to the utopian song of the situations left outside, as if to convince the Mary J. who barely is that she could be what Dre makes of her: “Mary J. is in the spot tonight and Ima make you feel alright.” This is true: she shows up, we feel. My Life 2 (“Naturally I would then begin again”) comes after the therapeutic correction. It is not My Life 2, the actual death, or My Life 2, the resurrection. It is My Life 2: The Journey Continues (Act 1). This time, the phone rings and it is Mary doing the calling, asking Combs if he’s cool with doing a sequel. Mary says she was hurting so bad on the My Life album, that when Puff told her to speak about the pain that’s what was going on, and he says to Mary J. “What you waiting for, My Life 2, get it!” In the track “My Life” on the first My Life, Mary J. sang the words “My life, my life, my life” in obsessive, despairing repetition, a repetition in which all certain things indicated by My Life (by the words My Life, by the cultural-historical promise My Life, by the formal structure My Life, by the feeling of My Life, by the naming of My Life and what isn’t My Life) faded, shifted, cycled, reversed, detached, re-attached, corroded, undermined, sickened, dizzied, ached.
She called My Life, called for it, then again called within the song My Life, repeatedly, and then again, and with the promise, too, to sing My Life again, and likely again; My Life appeared, also, at 38,
and then again at 45, in the ’90s, at 40, at 2011, at 2014—Lyn Hejinian’s and Mary J. Blige’s and mine but also a perfume, My Life, almost anyone could wear and many people still do. LH: “Politics gets wider as one gets older. I was learning a certain geometry of purely decorative shapes. One could base a model for form on a crystal of the lungs” (39). It was as if there are those of us who believe, by saying My Life, again and again, by naming many things not My Life My Life that another My Life (ours), shed of the present’s grim conditions and attachments, might finally exist.