Friday, April 24, 2015

You're Breaking My Heart: "Last Good Sleep"

You're Breaking My Heart highlights songs that make me want to cry.

I go through periods of feeling fed up with rap music. I feel like I am too old, too white, too straight to be listening to it. What the fuck does my life have to do kids bragging about getting wasted, having sex, partying, selling drugs, and/or shooting people?

And then I'll hear a song that reminds me what I love about the music in the first place, namely the way it gives a voice to populations that don't often have a voice, and the way it lends itself to more thorough examinations of issues. Rock songs can be meaningful too, but a rap song will often have two or three times the number of words per song - a rapper can say more than a singer.

Which brings me to "Last Good Sleep," the 1997 song by Company Flow. Company Flow were a Brooklyn trio who were basically trying to make hip-hop like EPMD in an era where rap was first trying to go pop in a big way. CoFlo were part of the true school revival of the late 90s, artists who wanted to make the kind of hip-hop that got them excited about the genre in the first place. Up to "Last Good Sleep," their songs had been your typical rap songs about being the baddest MC etc.  And then El-P decided to write a song about his abusive stepfather.

The song is told from his perspective, and describes the night his stepfather nearly beat his mother to death. The song describes El-P's feelings of guilt, horror, regret, and remorse at not doing more to stop the abuse. That is a heavy, heavy trip to lay on a little kid.

I cannot listen to this song without tearing up. It's one of the saddest songs I know, because it deals so honestly with pain.

He describes waking up and hearing them having the usual argument they had when the stepfather was drunk:

Timepiece must've read early morning at least
So I lay deaths cousin, woken by the sonics of the beast
That somewhere deep beneath me a fracture had seized at my neck
Breath was it, a flag that marked the end of my peace
Conference of the birds I heard my mother dove cry
Not absurd just routine I'd learned

Just keep my fucking grill locked and hope the entropy stops me process
Stepfathers got to fight verbally when his livers soaked
And products come in bottles stuck with drunken last nerve up too close
But I couldn't sense the distinction from the other nights livest wires
Ceremony's sparked again a dry one in comparison to this one
Handing crutches to my psyche, I was tripping
Huddled up clutching sis I think I heard a dress ripping

He then starts to second guess his inaction, reliving the moment and asking himself why he didn't step in when he realized how bad it was:

(I should've reacted to that)
But I didn't know the extent, please
(You could've caught him in time)
Yeah, that thoughts occurred to me constantly
Now I've been digging my head and I don't know what he wants
From me until one of us is dead I suppose
That's why at night I cover my ears in tears
The man downstairs must have had too many beers
Now every night of my life he beats his wife
(Until the day I die)

He goes on to talk about how he that was the last night he slept without having nightmares about the abuse:

And slept my last sleep while I counted clone sheep
And dreamt about nothing for the last time ever
The ignorance was blissful just a recollection
Of the gift of innocent times from a merciful deception
Woke to hazy landscapes to find my world
Defied the laws my mind mandates
Patching jugulars with Band-Aids
The turn on you laid well above my bed
Were here and only barely through the shock
Of what her broken face told me

Again, he excoriates himself for not doing more to stop the abuse:

(You should have known what happened)
I was young and oblivious, 
(he almost killed your mom)
If I knew I could have done something
(You'll never see him again)

And here is the fucking kicker:

Yeah, but I see him every night
And cover my ears in tears as he beats his fucking wife

I've never been in an abusive relationship, or had an abusive parent, but I can only imagine the pain and shame and sense of powerlessness. Hip-hop is all about bragging and boasting (including about beating up girlfriends, but that's another issue), so the fact that a hip-hop song would describe domestic abuse so clearly, and with so much vulnerableness, is truly remarkable. It's one of my favorite songs, and a song that always breaks my heart.

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