Discover more from ...the fuck is this?
Free! Free! Free!
Early in the year, my friend H invited me to watch Good Luck To You, Leo Grande courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival. I had come to it with some trepidation — “older white woman engages with younger person of colour sex worker” has certain connotations in the culture and I was apprehensive. It's a pretty great movie, as it turns out. Funny and touching and smart. And the performances! It feels very much like a lockdown movie: largely one location, a cast of three (to be clear, the two leads take up about 98% of the running time), but even so, a whole universe opens up in that one location and between those two. I recommend this wholeheartedly.
Daryl McCormack as Leo should get so much praise for his twinkly, nuanced performance. He's eminently watchable. Minute movements of his face telegraph so much, and the graceful choreography of his movement is economical and effective. Emma Thompson is going to get the most attention, though — and she deserves the noise! Watching her as Nancy is just a reminder of a thing you've known for so flipping long, which is: Emma Thompson is extravagantly gifted. And she's been at that level for most of my life. That's a long time!
When I think of Emma, I can't help but think of Sense and Sensibility, the Ang Lee-directed Austen adaptation that Thompson herself adapted for the screen (and won her second Oscar for). The moment in the sitting room, when she does the most contained and yet utterly overwhelming eruption of emotion when Elinor finds out that Edward, the man she loves, is unmarried and actually loves her is... singed on my mind. The first time I saw it, my jaw fell open - I knew what that sound meant. It's such a unique noise - kind of grotty and very real, like a small animal wriggling from a trap, barely escaping with its life, weak but now powered by pure adrenaline.
Anyway, I've been thinking about that scene for the last week or so, because I've been experiencing a similar burst of emotion every time I listen to ‘Church Girl’. It's the seventh track on Beyoncé's Renaissance, which feels like the only record in the world right now. I resisted listening to it for the first two weeks, as is my wont for all solo Beyoncé offerings because the breathless reception makes me feel contrarian and I like to sit with new art after Sauron's eye has moved off it. So I eventually pressed play, and listened twice through while steam cleaning my sofa and rug (the household task with the best vibes, FYI). No one needs a Renaissance review from me so this is all I offer: I love the tracks I love and repeat them often. I don't play the ones I don't like/love that often. Much has been made of the seamless transitions between songs but here is one of the things I love about ‘Church Girl’ - it comes after ‘Break My Soul’ (arguably the most boring song on the record) and it begins cleanly and it ends cleanly. Which feels correct. It is its own beast. It does not need to be linked to any other.
The lyric that makes me do the Thompsonesque explosion is this one: "I’m warning everybody/soon as I get in this party/I'm gon' let go of this body/I'm gonna love on me/ nobody can judge me but me/I was born free." It's a repeated lyric from the pre-chorus. And it's when it comes up the second time that I feel a knot come undone in my chest and I start sobbing. I’m not a church girl, I should say. But I have known so many.
The first time it happened, I was startled — I was dancing at the time, shuffling in my living room, doing my best approximation of a modest twerk — the sound was so raw, and the feeling was so abrupt that it paused my movement. I had to check in - was this about something else? Was I just all pent up, dancing for the first time in months, and feeling overwhelmed? But then it happened a second time and I was a little more primed for it—at the kitchen sink, rinsing Dawn off a cereal bowl—and it was no less powerful. And it keeps happening, because I can't stop playing ‘Church Girl’. On the C train. In bed. In the bathroom while I'm brushing my teeth. In the morning. At night. Beyoncé sings those lines and the background Beys join in to joyfully affirm: I was born free! free! free! free! It’s transcendent every time. I well up every time.
I posted on Instagram about how the lyric made me feel and I got a flurry of replies; people telling me, YES, SAME, and with theories on why. I have some idea, personally. Black gospel music (this song samples, among others, The Clark Sisters) is never not profoundly moving to my ear. There has been so much written about the fervour of religious ecstasy and how it morphs to live in so many forms of dance (Black) music and disco specifically. In that sense Beyoncé is following a well-trodden route. “I’m gon’ let go of this body” is church meets world, metaphor kissing the literal; “I’m gonna love on me” is pure hedonism, regardless of the many reasons she gives elsewhere in the song; “nobody can judge me but me” is a battle cry, a good woman squaring her shoulders and asking rhetorically, who gon’ check me? (hint: it’s certainly not you). And by the time you get to “I was born free” you’re almost in catharsis mode — she warned you, she said what she was going to do, and now she is loosed, and what’s more, she’s unapologetic… because she’s her own. She needs no papers. She was free, she is free. I’m tearing up a little writing this. I love this song. It feels like a spell.
So maybe my favourite song on the album will change (‘America Has A Problem’ is so exciting and I love it) and maybe I will eventually stop weeping when I impatiently skip to ‘Church Girl’ while hissing “no!” to ‘Break My Soul’. But it will not happen tonight.
Thanks for reading ...the fuck is this?! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.