“My childlike creativity, purity and honesty
Is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts
Reality is catching up with me
Taking my inner child, I’m fighting for custody”
Kanye West, “Power”
Maybe it was the simplicity of it all. At age 10, my top priorities were hitting at least one homerun (a homerun constituting hitting it past the woods-line and into the forest) in a game of wiffleball with my friends so they couldn’t rag on me and making sure to catch the Red Sox game later that evening. Maybe it was the pure fun of it all. We never cared much about bruises or grass stains or ruining new clothes in the mud; that was for our moms to fret and nag us about. As a matter of fact, grass and dirt stains were a badge of honor; we strived to make so many diving catches playing whatever sport the day had called for that we’d be left sitting on the edge of our tub on humid summer nights trying to scrub the ingrained green off our kneecaps with a wet facecloth - not to mention the brown dirt stains on the bottom of our feet from running around barefoot all day.
There’s something gentle and warm about these memories of my childhood, and something that still resonates deeply within to this day. The sunny nostalgia of pre-pubescent wonder wraps us up just as the rays of sunlight did on those eternal summer days that seemed like they never would end.
Although different for each and every individual, it’s these beautifully mellow, softly burning memories that still beckon of home, even when we’re hundreds or thousands of miles away. While I’ll never be able to experience these moments of blind happiness again, I’d be remiss to stifle the joy that still rises up in my chest when the sun lingers up there in the sky for a couple minutes longer every day or when the possibility of reckless fun calls to me from by the oceanside. In other words, as winter thaws to spring, puffy coats become bathing suits and hurried February frowns morph into indolent summer smiles, I can’t help but feel a pulsing happiness that brings me back to the days of curiosity for curiosity’s sake and Hoodsie ice cream cups.
And all the while, as my “inner jit grins” (as Earl Sweatshirt would say) and my aging body attempts to keep pace by slowing down, Chicago rapper Noname and author Stephen King remind me to allow that light to shine once more in my current life - even if I’ll never be able to experience that same unadulterated joy ever again.
Noname’s melancholic and astoundingly tender music speaks volumes within the walls of her soft-spoken philosophy. In her two projects since 2016, Telefone and Room 25, Noname scribbles purity in the form of Crayola self-portraits laid gently upon the rainbow-construction-paper canvas of her production. But this isn’t to say her music is simple; rather, she allows simplicity to ring deafeningly true through symbolically-laden lyrics that open up a world of meaning upon their revelation. As Noname dissects tumultuous topics and heinous worries, she never fails to float freely over them with a breezy confidence and childlike exuberance that evokes the freedom and clarity we so often lose as we get bogged down in the mud of responsibility.
On the song “Yesterday,” Noname remembers her mentor and friend Brother Mike and wishes for the simplicity of childhood to once again steer her though the pain: “Me missing Brother Mike like something heavy / Me heart just wasn’t ready, I wish I was a kid again.” On “Diddy Bop,” Noname reminisces of Chicago summers spent at barbeques while wearing K-Swisses and FUBU: “B2K in the stereo, we juke in the back seat / Or juke in the basement, in love with my K-Swisses / This feel like jumping in a pool and I’m knowing I can’t swim / … Summertime, city life, Chi-town, my town, my town.” And on “All I Need,” Noname confides that a significant other reminds her of happiness and youthful gaiety: “You remind me to love myself for the principle / For the kid inside, ‘till the end of time / Happy go lucky was a time.”
By calling upon the liberation of her childhood, Noname is allowing her psyche to be unbridled and to enjoy the carefree existence we all strive to get a taste of. This appears most clear in the hook Cam O’bi sings on “Diddy Bop,” when he softly whirs, “This sound like growing out my clothes / With stars in my pocket, dreaming ‘bout making my hood glow / This sound like every place I would go, if I could fly / This feel like every summertime / Fall asleep dreaming ‘bout all the places I could go / And every one of them feels so close, still chasing time.”
There’s something so intoxicating, so inundating, about the plotting, scheming and cosmic dreaming of our youth. We are bound by nothing; our imagination runs free without a leash, exploring the great unknown and hoping that one day we will follow suit. Yet as we grow up, our dreams are often squashed as we’re forced to live within the bounds of society’s reality. Noname admits as much on “Forever” when she raps, “Everything is everything, but I still haven’t paid my rent.” Aging and the ensuing responsibilities often crush the dreamer and the optimist within us. But, as Noname points out, calling upon these pastel dreams of hope can be our saving grace. No, we’ll never live that carefree again, and we’ll never be able to revisit Grandma’s barbeque or that summer wiffleball game ever again. But if we can continue to carry this essence of our childhood within us no matter where we go, our souls will shine eternally golden, much like the flittering sunlight of those everlasting summer nights that littered our youth.
If Noname is tapping into the syrupy sweetness of our past to endure adult life, then Stephen King is simply retelling and acknowledging just how simple life in sixth grade really was. While almost all of his novels and short stories seem to center around adolescence, none seem to hover on its importance more than the short story that would eventually become the amazing film “Stand By Me.” The novella the movie is based on, “The Body,” finds a man named Gordie reminiscing on the summer he and three friends went searching for the body of a boy their age who allegedly died a gruesome death when he was hit by a train while blueberry picking.
In their curiosity, the boys set out on an almost week-long hunt to find the boy’s cold body and in doing so, encounter a roller-coaster of emotion that is exceedingly difficult for their 12-year-old minds to process. As we walk with them through the forest of their youth, we experience exactly what being 12 is like: the endless vulgarities and name-calling, the chest-puffing and ignorance and also - maybe most importantly - the drastic fear and vulnerability of trying to make sense of ourselves and the world around us for the first time. Through masterful imagery and arrestingly-captivating scenes, King brings us back to how beautiful the simple age of 12 was. Descriptions such as “I was still sleepy and disoriented, unstrung from my place in space and time,” and “Seeing that outrider of twilight made me feel sad and calm at the same time, brave but not really brave, comfortably lonely,” perfectly depict the feelings that rush through our heads at such a time in our lives.
There are many gorgeous scenes of adolescence throughout “The Body,” including Gordie’s slightly-deranged friend Teddy trying to dodge a train, but Gordie tackling him off the train tracks resulting in a fight and shortly-ensuing concord; one of the four boys, Chris, pulling out four battered Winston cigarettes and handing them out to the fellas, resulting in an after-dinner smoke where they confidently state, “‘Nothin like a smoke after a meal,’ Teddy said. ‘Fucking-A’ Vern agreed”; and maybe the most pertinent, when Gordie wakes up before the rest of his friends one tranquil morning in the woods and spots a doe that he describes as “some sort of gift, something given with a carelessness that was appalling.”
King uses the serene perfection of the deer to symbolize the purity of our childhood, and specifically Gordie’s childhood. Gordie goes on to explain how during the toughest times in his life, he finds himself returning to this memory of the doe cropping in the repose of dawn as a small piece of solace. King uses many images and scenes throughout the story that really depict the simple beauty of our youth, but Gordie’s deer stands out as the most striking, reminding us of the ethereal nature juvenescent wonder seems to carry with it.
It’s hard to articulate this feeling of blissful naivete into words; as King’s Gordie admits to the reader about keeping his moment with the deer to himself, “The most important things are the hardest to say, because words diminish them.” This is exponentially true; the sublimity of our childhood light is far easier to communicate in memories and moments, as opposed to words and explanations.
What I can say about it is that it’s delicate and light, like walking barefoot in the grass on a warm Sunday; it’s buoyant and shiny, like a red balloon floating upward into the immaculate infinite; it’s as fleeting as a ghost, because we never realize what we’re grasping until it’s all but a memory.
Noname puts it best when she closes out her album, Room 25, with, “Just boundless movement for joy, nakedness radiance / Through all the joy and all the pain / Don't forget from where you came / The avenue remembers you / Your song, your truth, your light is proof / That love is still with you.”
“Now you better close your eyes, my child,
for a moment,
In order to be better in tune with the infinite”
Jay Electronica, “better in tune with the infinite,”
Sampling Professor Marvel, “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939