Thursday, September 9, 2021

Baby Girl, AKA Aaliyah

Where were you when you heard about what happened to Aaliyah?

That's the question many fans of hers share; thus, most certainly me included.  I remember my first hearing of her death clearly.  I was in one of those MSN chat rooms at the time that very night the incident happened.  Someone came in and blazed the news: Aaliyah was dead.  I couldn't believe it and, since I was already online, immediately jumped into investigator mode only to find that it was true.  And, yes, I was hurt.  I remember having this odd fascination with her age (twenty-two) and how I couldn't imagine what twenty-two would look like while I stood dazed at age eighteen. And I wondered, would I make it to twenty-two one day if something like this could happen to someone as fascinating and talented as Aaliyah?

Aaliyah to Me

Nevertheless, the convulsive notion was how her death emphasized how fleeting, cruel, and unfair the mortal existence was.  Though I’m hardly one to go into deep existential thoughts, her sudden death truly troubled me.  I had been listening to her since her first album.  Memories upon memories of her music stacked up against moments upon moments of my adolescent and teenage years.  I had just gotten her third album, Aaliyah, the month before her death, which was released that July.  And to this day, it remains an album that stapled a life-changing and transitional summer (other than being my favorite album of hers) for me.  Heck, the first single off the album, "We Need a Resolution" came out that April. And it's a song that tied my final days as a high school student as my signature song when I reflect on those days.

Nevertheless, the album, Aaliyah, came out the the summer I went from a high school graduate to working my first paying job. And two weeks before her death, I had entered into wildly unsupervised and self-disciplined realms of community college.  Aaliyah was the album I was playing throughout that period.  A period, in which to be frank, twenty years later, I'm still healing and taking care of the inner eighteen-year-old of who I was back then. For the sake of brevity, all of her albums and songs hold emotional weight and memories for me. However, it was the third album that just happened to come out the year I went from the laissez faire attitude of a teenager to taking those traumatic steps into defining my adulthood. That's why I treasure her and that album most.

The book: Baby Girl

Nonetheless, I have read one other book about Aaliyah soon after her passing. But I really enjoyed this book most.  Now I couldn't care less debating those bits of "clout chasing" arguments about the author's purpose for writing and publishing the book. Though I recognize such controversies exist. So I didn't go into reading it with a disdainful mindset about the author. I swear, the older you get, the less you want to go back and forth about anything that doesn't help your FICO score increase. I'm too busy trying to live, so arguments are out the window for me.

But I digress...

The point is that I appreciated this book because of the cohesive and condensed gathering of Aaliyah's life, journey, and the circumstances (some fueled with acknowledged speculation) surrounding her death.  I appreciated the statistics, the accuracy (so I can only perceive), and how the author went down the line regarding the trumpeting successes behind Aaliyah's varied artistic projects (single/album sales, films, etc.).  Additionally, I appreciated the cohesiveness regarding the more personal aspects of the artist and how she overcame damaging odds as a survivor.  However, that’s not to say that there aren’t any uncomfortable parts in reading this book. Nor are there not parts that could be challenged regarding exactness of her story. Either way, I left the book with an empowering realization about Aaliyah and her story that I never recognized beyond the surface of her as an artist.

I saw a person in her. I saw a dream. I saw admirable alterity. I saw a will. I saw resilience. And I saw pieces of myself and what internal power I'd had all along, too.

The Death Parts

Nevertheless, when it came to the chapter speaking about Aaliyah's death, I realized I did not want to go down this ruminating path any longer.  I'd never heard nor read the details regarding her condition precisely but, evidently, it's been known. So reading it here was it for me.  And I don't say that in a scandalized and repulsion-to-the-facts way. I only mean that I found every single bit of her story so heartbreaking that I couldn't take reading about her death too much. Her death is undeniably a chapter in her short-lived story, but it does not make it easy to revisit even after so long.

A range of emotions do seem to take over, but one glaring thought that always intrude when I think about her death is how cosmic and f'ed up it was. And I get angry, wanting someone to take responsibility for it. And still, as I read about the condition she was in, her story made me want to live where she couldn't. Therefore, in essence, after twenty years I'm willing to let it go. As there is nothing I nor anyone else can do but kept celebrating her.

A Final Focus

So, for now, I just want to focus on the music that I grew up listening to and loving.  I no longer want to wonder and try to make sense of her death after reading this book.  Years have gone by.  Times have changed.  People I've known personally have gone.  I have certainly grown, matured, evolved, and changed (Thank you, Jesus!).  In the meantime, I want to use Aaliyah’s story as an example to make my mark and continue to thrive and live.  To wake up and try even when I don’t feel like trying anymore. And to keep loving the people who truly stand up for me, as I've done for them. To continue to be encouraging and find encouragement. Most of all, to continue to love and be myself.

I hope her story does the same for you as well. 

Aaliyah and her story indeed–twenty years later–reads like a legend.

Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah by Kathy Iandoli

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