Society & Culture

The beautiful ones always smash the pictures



When I was 13, I used to wait until my parents left the house and play my records way too loud. I wasn’t allowed to use my dad’s precious Bose sound system when they were home — he had gotten it when he worked for Bose itself and it was his only reminder of the glory days in the corporate world.

By the time I wanted to spin records he was a disillusioned man who comforted himself with a jug of Earnest & Julio Gallo wine each night as the rest of the family ate dinner. Talk about middle class American suburban clichés.

I didn’t have many albums — The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Malcolm McLaren’s Madam Butterfly, The Style Council, Paris Match, Song to the Siren, This Mortal Coil — and I knew each one of these, every note, every breath, every strum of the guitar or sorrowful whisper — better than I knew the secret places of my own heart.

My favourite one, my guilty pleasure, (for it had been derided by my older brother — the authority on all things musical), was Prince’s .

Not every song — there were serious weak links in the overall work—I knew that. But there were moments, there still are moments, when something transcendent happens in those electronically fabricated melodies that can still send a chill down my middle-aged spine.

You must remember, this was a time of great teenaged angst. It was 1984 (or 3, or 5…who can tell anymore?), and I suffered from a Breakfast Club-like alienation from my fellow peers and the rest of society at large.

Alone in my house in Barrington, Illinois — a big house by normal standards but certainly not by the Nuevo Riche among whom I lived (it was a farmhouse, after all, built when Canada geese still ruled the skies and coyote were its most dangerous neighbour) — I could dance. When I danced, my agony about the fact of my own existence and the age-old questions like, “Why won’t my mother buy me the leg warmers I want and end my torment of social pain?” stopped whirling around in my head, at least for the duration of the song.

Many of these moments of relief were brought to me by a fellow misunderstood soul who happened to be black (or somewhat so), unusually short and ridiculously talented: Prince.

And not only were they moments of relief, they were moments of joy. My ordinarily lumpy body became lithe and luxurious, my typically plain face, exotic and radiating light. I could feel the sensual energy pouring off me, my muscles moving like charmed snakes, and I could imagine that one day, one day I wouldn’t feel so bad.

When Prince sang about doves crying and red corvettes and darling Nikki, he was touching something hidden in my adolescent flesh — sex and promise and beauty — and when he told me that “the beautiful ones always smashed the pictures, always, every time,” I knew that someone understood — I was a beautiful one, simple me.

I’ll tell you a secret. I still wait until everyone leaves the house to crank up those same old songs. Now I do it on an iPod, and I don’t have to make sure everything is left exactly how I found it so I don’t get grounded, but the delicious, illicit pleasure is the same. And though I still struggle with social anxiety and the oft-times belief that I am little more than ordinary, I know that all it takes is the right song to make me feel beautiful.


{Photo: Mayra Linares / Flickr}

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Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a Y.A. certified yoga instructor, level 2 reiki healer, vegan cook, featured writer for elephant journal, author of the novel Weed Street and mother to 6. When not in the kitchen chopping garlic, you can find her trouncing through the woods with her dogs or hiding from her family in a blanket fort.

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