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Unto Thee, O Erykah! The Year I Found Badu

I: THE DARK AGES

Before I found Badu, I’d been listening to hairy weirdos twiddling their amps for a decade, and I’d had enough. I got into spangled ladies filling stadiums with dancey-pain. I’d landed at Alicia Keys via Whitney –> Mariah –> Beyoncé and then stalled out, repeating Alicia Keys’s excellent Unplugged for weeks (minus the Adam Levine intrusion, which is like a child’s piano recital). But something was missing, I knew. Religious people might say I was “searching.”

And I was. For different needs, I called upon a hundred different saints. Annie Lennox, Saint of Transformation. Linda Perhacs, Saint of Winter Melancholy and Lentil-Eating. Florence, Saint of Howling Ambition. Beyoncé, Saint of Stomping While Smiling. The Raincoats, Saints of Whispered Rage. But we don’t always know what we need, and so I kept searching for the one woman who could tell me all things.

I should note here that I knew of Erykah Badu, of course—I heard her in the background pretty regularly, because my boyfriend loves her. Too doo-be-doo for me, I shrugged. I thought he was trying to trick me into jazz.

II: REVELATION

A lot of my extended family is Born-Again Christian, by which I mean they are evangelical and can identify the single moment in time that they were saved, when they suddenly believed. I don’t know their unique stories—it seems wrong for me to ask when I’m not truly open to it, I guess—but I have noticed that others’ such moments of revelation frequently coincide with narrow escape from a car accident. My moment, too, was in the car.

The album was Mama’s Gun. We were at a Shell station off I-75 just north of Cincinnati a few days after Thanksgiving, and I was sitting in the car while the gas pumped. My boyfriend had gone inside for coffee and a pee. I was alone with her, the thin warble meowing from the glovebox.

My eyes are green

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