By Cami Thomas
I was 17 years old the first time I heard Frank Ocean sing. My best friend Denise and I had snuck to the park around 1:00 am to watch the stars and talk out our post-highschool fears. We were both headed off to college; her to Chicago and me to New Orleans. Our conversation consisted of the usual college freshmen angsty comments and "we're growing up too fast" jitters. It was 2011 and the world was ours for the taking, if we could only muster up the courage to pack our bags and leave St. Louis for a lengthy four years. (Click "Read More")
The early morning was filled with the sound of loud crickets and the occasional car whooshing past with drivers probably wondering why two teenagers were sprawled out on top of a park bench at such an ungodly hour.
Per usual, Denise always heard about new artists about five years before anyone else. So when the whirring sounds and steady beat of Frank Ocean's Novacane played through the speakers on her phone, I didn't bother asking who or what this song was (because I knew it was someone I'd probably never heard of). Something about the song though, the numbness and emotional unavailability in Frank Ocean's voice perhaps, gained access to a part of my heart that was typically reserved for family and the closest of friends. He was guarded. He was intelligent. He reminded me of the hip, suburban but still wavy, type of young black musician that I related to the most.
For those unfamiliar with the song Novacane, I'll offer a succinct breakdown. Frank details his journey of meeting a young attractive woman at a music festival. The two smoke together and he realizes that what he's taking in must be laced with something unfamiliar, because he suddenly feels numb to everything that would usually bring him pleasure. He spends the rest of the song searching for something, anything, that will give him a feeling of gratification. Nothing works. Even sex with beautiful women leaves him feeling numb, and he feels terrible for letting these women think he feels anything. Check out the video below to hear the lyrics for yourself. Close your eyes and lay down if you want to have the full effect of me and Denise listening to music at the park at 1:00am.
I read the undertones in his lyrics as him coming out, before he officially came out later that same year. Though perhaps I was simply projecting my own feelings about men into his lyrics, for it was later that year that I came out as well. Either way, the song of a young, wavy New Orleans native fighting against his own emotional unavailability sounded distinctly different than anything my young ears had yet been exposed to. It felt oddly familiar too. He went to parties, met beautiful people, and recorded music, and yet felt distant from the people around him (maybe because he had yet to be honest about his true self).
Novacane remains my favorite song to this day. At 17 years old, I related to feeling a sort of emptiness when it came to superficial interactions with peers. I also realized that building a wall to block out your emotions (or to deny others access to your heart) comes with the steep price of feeling numb 24/7. You have to shake that off to experience true gratification. Or in other words, be smacked back into reality like in the end of the Novacane music video. The first step in being smacked back into reality is to come to peace with every part of yourself.
Frank Ocean blasted through my speakers as I drove down the Mississippi via I-55 to make a new home in the Crescent City. Novacane reminded me of what life would be like if I wasn't honest with myself and the people around me. The release of Channel Orange threw Frank Ocean into the mainstream music scene and gave him the exposure he deserved. Then he disappeared, leaving fans with questions and demands and frustrations. Though if you'd grown to love and know Frank through his earlier music, his unexplained departure was barely a surprise; if anything, it was expected.
So now it's four years later. I woke up this morning to an album cover featuring a shirtless Frank Ocean wiping the water from his face while he emerges from a shower (or four years of his own respective cleansing period). His hair is cut low and dyed green like the Joker. A bandage wrapped around his index finger signals to his fans that he's been working hard to give us exactly what we've been needing for the past four years. Blonde.