Love Letter to a Suicide Note
On Kanye West's I thought About Killing You and the last song my parents wrote together.
When you live with play killers violence doesn’t feel dangerous, but more like a ritual on the path to intimacy, and that is very dangerous, to be so calm about torment or pain, as if they belong in perpetual proximity to ease and love. The part of me that survived that also inherited it as guidepost and habit for loving a little danger. Is the most violent inheritance always misplaced love?
I walked into our living room and my parents were writing the last song they ever wrote together, a blues song called “I’m Tired of Just Making It.” My mom transcribed while my dad dictated lyrics by singing them. He could not write, had grown up sharecropping in Mississippi with little formal education and made a career in music and songwriting by dictating his songs to the women who loved him and singing them in studios. I walked into the upstairs bathroom later and dad was strangling her with a gun to her head and the bathtub faucet running, she had tried to run. I asked him to stop, he listened, I was 4. I detest pathos, but it trusted and pursued us there.
Every once in a while I turn on Kanye West’s “I Thought about Killing You” and vibe to the sweet familiarity of the innocence and bitterness that mingle in his tone when he confesses; it reminds me of my father. I hate being bi-polar, it’s awesome etched in childlike neon on Ye’s album cover reminds me of my father too. What my dad could write, he wrote in thick crayon and script not unlike the that on Ye’s cover, love notes to me and my mother, tiny three word offerings my mom helped him pen letter by letter. He hated being bipolar and was in awe of it too. He got rich for being a free-spirited genius and was hospitalized for it too, lost a lot of it too.
I was born calm and grounded with a methodical temperance that was eerie in the context of all that chaos, but his blood runs through me as a ruthless commitment to truth so piercing no one should test it, phoniness makes me seethe and I think about killing it. But we live in a world where you have to be a little crazy to tell the truth, or at least resourceful enough to tell it slant so you don’t become the messenger the liars think about killing for opening their eyes too wide, too quickly. So all of my father’s songs were about love, peace, reform, and they named me Harmony to consecrate those wishes, the sum of all those tender and bloody songs, my inheritance and theirs.
The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest, Kanye continues, stark-voiced and startled by his own admissions. And he brings up suicide, revealing, I think about killing myself sometimes, and I love myself way more than I love you. The criminal fantasies harbored and always-almost acted upon are what separate those deemed insane from the so-called stable people of the world. The things Kanye thought about, the things my father thought about and sometimes tried, his failed suicides or annihilations, fever dreams of a world with no lithium and no total alphabet. The ever-recoiling aggression of certain singing niggas, like Kanye and my father, I can’t help but forgive them and love them for it, for being completely themselves, even when possessed, even in manic fits of soul rebellion, even when threatening the lives of the ones they love, what hooks me into loving and forgiving them is that the threats are not empty, they are more like cries to be redeemed before they do something irredeemably evil. I love the forces that pretend they cannot control themselves, they pretend so well it becomes true and they earn the disastrous freedom to act out like angry gods.
“I thought about Killing You” is full of jagged edges; it’s a song that edges closer and closer to its potential victim, the true self. It goes there without scorn, intent and disaffected. Synths and a muffled chorus supplied by Francis and the Lights nudge us closer and closer to that precipice as if that edge is salvation and the song a ritual religious confession of a sin that lives somewhere between the real and the hypothetical. Kanye is always apologizing for his fantasies as he intensifies them and makes them more and more brazen. My dad was always sorry too, so much so that sometimes it seemed like his violence was his version of repentance in his mind, his way of testifying. And to this day I feel most at home with obsessive men who should fear their own fantasies and spend their lives divulging them either literally or abstractly. Home is a black fantasy, after all, what does it even mean without the legacy of escaping that we have created together in the place of home.
In the middle of his spoken announcement of what he thought about, Kanye switches tempos and starts to rap at a quickened pace about his own edges, his imagined suicides, and then he flips again, this time into celebration of himself, he sings himself, recalls all of his grandeur and triumph—it’s a different set of rules that we obey. Similar to Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” but much more intricately, “I Thought about Killing You” is a tour of the psyche of a bipolar black man, from the self-abnegation to the delusion and paranoia to the upswinging say my name, I’m a king, conclusion on the high days, the high that leads back to the suspicions that feed depressive, catatonic, phases. Fittingly the song ends with a threat: don't get your tooth chipped… for talking shit on his name he means.
My dad usually skipped right past threats to actions. If he thought about killing you, you’re probably dead, but he’s gone that way too, finally home. So much aggression is just versions of self-destruction, of weariness, energized by love or fear or longing to get out of here. So much passive suicide gets confused with other crimes that you have to forgive the ones brave enough to admit what they thought about it, or wild-hearted enough to try it. It’s hard for me to love people who don’t earn that love with risk and double-edged courage. I think that’s why I love our music so much, because the best of it does that and I can fall in love by way of a song that reminds of what we thought about but saved ourselves from becoming. A friend once asked after some silly fight if I hated them and the mood I was in allowed for no euphemisms. I don’t love you enough to hate you, I assured them. My inheritance. I never thought about it like a weapon until then.