I’m not a religious person in the conventional sense, but I do believe that the human soul calls on something greater than just the rational or tangible in times of trouble. My back’s been against the wall more times than I care to mention; my heart has betrayed me in many ways. I have seen truth where mendacity ruled: lies, esoteric inside myself and in the eyes of those who have professed to love me.
I first heard ‘The Pressure’ on pirate radio, when my life was in question and I didn’t think I’d make it to the end of the year, let alone to 30. Little child runnin’ wild, as Curtis Mayfield once sang, I, me and my troubles had greeted the onset of the coldest winter on record for NYC, living in a cold water walk-up somewhere on 125th and Malcolm X Boulevard. I owned two turntables, a powerful amp, clothes, 10 boxes of books and 500 records. I lived from day to day and wrote on a Corona I found on the street or copiously in notebooks purchased at cheap supply stores. I struggled to keep warm and the bathroom wall bore ’Stranger! If you, passing…’ by Walt Whitman, the scrawl of my lover, a man whose passion took me to dark places, so intense was our connection. For only connect, said E.M Forster, and so we did. This man took the taste of recent death from my mouth and our relationship changed me forever.
I left the last vestiges of my innocence behind me that year, not quite a woman, but a grown girl with too much pain, he a cop, the son of a cursed Vietnam veteran, both of us so haunted, clinging to a broken ship of dreams. Our burden did eventually get too heavy. Our star cussed love nearly brought us both down, destined to be smeared against rotten walls of discontent. Stormy days and tousled, desire-swept evenings, sleepless hours, jealous watches of the night, changed numbers, the pressure, always there, the pressure, always with us. Never happy, we devoured each other, leaving nothing left but a hollow shell, shadows in each other’s hearts as we slept intertwined.
How do you find the strength to leave, how do you stay when it hurts this much?
One night he smashed the mirror in the bathroom cabinet with his bunched fist. His hand was covered in blood. We ceased fighting, because we knew, in that moment, it was finally over. I wrapped a tea towel around his broken skin, helped him light a cigarette, and his other hand stroked my hair at the back of my neck. He kissed my mouth and left with no backward glance. It was the last time I ever saw him.
Later that night when I lay in bed, my tears were silent and quiet, the worst kind. This song came on around 4am and no, this song didn’t change my life, but it gave me an answer when I most needed one. Despite the pain of the past, despite all the heartache to come, I would be all right; I would somehow survive not only him, but my shipwreck of a life. The words in this spiritual, the tenor of the woman’s voice spoke to me like fighting talk when all I wanted to do was give up. I found this mix on a white label some weeks later. I still have it and whenever I listen to this version, crackled with age now, I see him and the love it took me years to release. It speaks to me and my heart of a time and a place when I needed hope and found it on the radio in the middle of the night.
And that, in the end, is the ultimate beauty and meaning of music: it’s only as good as the way it makes you feel, deep down inside.
The Pressure (Sounds of Blackness) Frankie Knuckles Remix (Live at The Sound Factory August 4th 1991)