For the last five weeks, I’ve dedicated my Sunday mornings to Solange.
Her airy vocals on A Seat at the Table filled my apartment and my body with light. It felt nurturing and tender. Like a mother gently telling her child about the “ways of the world.”
But it’s “Cranes in the Sky” that haunts me.
Some days, I’d be spinning around my living room, eyes closed and elated as she sang:
I tried to drink it away
I tried to put one in the air
I tried to dance it away.
And then I’d stop. I was exposed.
She was telling me, gently, “Sit down, listen and deal with this.”
It’s no coincidence that the song follows “Weary” where she warns that you must be weary or wary of your place in the world. She sang, “I’m gonna look for my glory, I’ll be back real soon.”
Ending it with, “The glory is in you,” which then leads into the excruciatingly introspective, “Cranes in the Sky.”
Before you can even be “Mad” enough to talk collective black identity like on “F.U.B.U” or on “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Solange forces you to look at yourself and reckon with the metal clouds that loom above you.
I knew I had an “it,” y’know? I just wasn’t sure what “it” was. I had the song on loop like a soundtrack to my searching. I was obsessed and it didn’t help that the song was everywhere.
I went to the salon and the shampoo girl played it.
I tried to change it with my hair.
I poured myself into more projects.
I tried to keep myself busy
I ran around in circles
Think I made myself dizzy
Even when I thought, I’ll just run away.
I traveled 70 states, thought moving around make me feel better
I kept looking for an exit and Solange, like a goalie, blocked every shot. Because it was too easy. She exposed something in me but wasn’t handing me the answers. And I was pissed. I needed to know, because if she could get rid of “it,” then I could, too. Then I could be free. I just needed her to tell me what worked.
Sometimes I don’t want to feel those metal clouds.
The “it” is open to interpretation. It could be depression, mourning, or feeling lost. Or all three. I had to ask myself what my “it” was. It was after playing the song on several Sundays over refilled tea cups and a battered journal that I realized I was grieving.
I was mourning an idea. An idea of what I thought love and life was supposed to be and when I found out otherwise, I didn’t know how to deal. I was holding on to a lot of anger, insecurity, unnecessary expectations for myself and other people and a lot of pressure.
I felt uneasy. The working, the traveling, the physical changes weren’t going to make it go away. And I had to face the reality: some of it may never go away.
What “Cranes” reveals is that time doesn’t heal all wounds, but instead you learn to live with the gashes. Solange’s voice is soothing, a balmy dressing for the lacerations. But she’s letting you know there will still be scars.
It’s uncomfortable and unsettling because there’s absolutely no closure. She makes you feel something complicated. A stirring you can’t quite put your finger on, so you feel everything and nothing at the same time.
“Cranes in the Sky” reminds you that there is an “it” you carry around, that you don’t always get the answers and that you don’t always get closure. I was grieving the loss of the old me. This me has battle scars that she has to live with daily. You may never be the same as before.
And it’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay.
What people love more about Solange’s siren song is that it’s a chameleon. It manages to be joyous and melancholy at the same time. Upbeat syncopation with mellow strings and vocals highlight the victory in the loss.
At the end of the song, Solange hits a piercing falsetto. In that moment, she’s letting go of control. There’s freedom and peace in knowing that you won’t know. The metal cloud becomes lighter.
The “it” may not go away, but we keep going.
Sofiya Ballin is a writer and Features Reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at @sofiyaballin.
Pre-order a vinyl copy of Solange’s A Seat at the Table at the OKP Shop.