Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Confessions of a Fanboy

I fell in love with Lauryn Hill in 1996 when I was a high school senior and I heard her cover (with the Fugees) of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly." Her voice was beautiful, the beat was solid, and the song had this sense of weight to it--some meaning that, whether or not I completely understood it or related to it and whether or not Lauryn or her co-Fugees had anything to do with the lyrics, made the song stick in my head and made me feel all tingly inside. Not long after that, the rapper Nas released "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)" with L-Boogie singing the hook, and I was hooked.

I didn't buy the Fugees' album because it had explicit lyrics and I was even more opposed to listening to swearing in music then than I am now and I'd never heard of edited albums, but my freshman year in college I bought Wyclef Jean's The Carnival, which featured Lauryn on several songs. It's a fantastic album throughout, but for some reason when Lauryn's deep, earthy voice shows up toward the end of "Guantanamera," those tingles come back. Whether she's singing or rapping, her voice manages to exude this sense of power and wisdom that I really dig.

I was serving as a Mormon missionary when Lauryn's solo album dropped (and was apparently pretty darn successful in the States, winning several Grammys), and technically missionaries don't listen to popular music, but a fellow missionary who was even more in love with Lauryn than I was bought the CD and I snuck a listen or two. I didn't buy it when I got home because that same fellow missionary ended up being my roommate so I could listen to his, and soon after that I started dating Foxy J, who had her own copy of Miseducation. I won't say the prospect of adding the album to my collection through marriage was the only reason I proposed to Foxy, but I do remember feeling a whole new kind of tingles when I put in a tape of love songs she had made for me and the first one was L-Boogie's cover of Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You."

Having been in Spain and unaware of popular culture for a couple years, I was entirely unaware that Lauryn had disappeared from the spotlight until she made her comeback (sort of) with 2002's MTV Unplugged 2.0. I bought the Unplugged album as soon as I heard of it and was introduced to a new Lauryn Hill. A lot of fans of her earlier work complain that the Unplugged Lauryn, devoid of hip-hop beats and backup vocals or band, is monotonous and annoying. Her voice is scratchy, worn from a previous performance. She's not a great guitar player. And, worst of all, she seems to have gone crazy between '98 and '02. Her lyrics are more obscure than ever, preaching in complex metaphors about religious and social repression. A lot of fans were disappointed.

I'm still in love with her. I'm not crazy about her guitar-playing skills, and her voice, though still beautiful, manages to miss notes enough even to bother me (I don't think I'm tone-deaf, but I'm definitely tone-ignorant), but I love her words. Maybe it's that Ms. Hill's disillusionment with religious and social structures coincides more or less with mine. Maybe it's that I'm just as crazy as she is. Maybe I refuse to allow my goddess to fall from her pedestal. But when I listen to "I Get Out," even after hearing the song well over two or three hundred times, those tingles still creep up right around the first time she sings in the chorus, "Father free me from this bondage / Knowing my condition / Is the reason I must change." As you know if you've read my essay "Getting Out," the song is sort of my personal anthem. You're probably tired of hearing about it.

But I don't get tired. When Lauryn started doing concerts again last year, I spent hours downloading and listening to fuzzy, echo-y recordings of her singing the same songs I already own. When her first studio release in years, "The Passion," came out on one of the many soundtracks to Mel Gibson's religious blockbuster, I downloaded it and listened over and over even though it's not that great a song. When I read that she had reunited with fellow Fugees Wyclef and Pras for the first time in eight years for a surprise appearance at Dave Chappelle's Block Party, I couldn't stop thinking about the possibilities of a new Fugees album for days (okay, months. Okay, I still think about it all the time). Every time I hear a vague rumor about a supposed release date for Ms. Hill's long-awaited follow-up studio album, my heart starts beating faster. A few weeks ago John Legend released a remix of "So High" with Lauryn singing and rapping on it--it's better than "The Passion" but still not L's best--and I secretly listen to the song several times a day (usually when Foxy's not home, so as not to annoy her).

And I just spent nearly an hour writing this post (including the time looking for the perfect picture; I'm still not satisfied with the one I found).

Yes, I am obsessive. Yes, it's probably unhealthy. No, I don't want to change.


B.G. Christensen said...

Oh, yeah. And it's driving me CRAZY that a little over three weeks ago Rolling Stone reported that the Fugees were going to release a new single (remember, eight years?) within three weeks, and other sources have confirmed that a song has been recorded, but still the song has shown neither hide nor hair anywhere on the internet, which is of course the first place it'll show up when it does.

Cricket said...

The first time I ever heard of Lauryn Hill was on Sister Act 2... (I think that's the first time *anyone* heard of her, LOL). Man, I think we all knew that there was one talented lady there but her rise to stardom was surely a surprise to me.

I bet she blogs reads. I bet she's seen your entry. I bet she feels wildly flattered.

Cricket said...

PS: No she hasn't emailed me yet, (but I have a million and two questions for her- you too, really) and I don't think he has started a blog yet because he believes I will go on a mad hunt to find it and read it.

B.G. Christensen said...

Lauryn Hill was actually on the soap opera As The World Turns before Sister Act 2, though I have never seen it. I saw Sister Act 2 several years after it came out (I was a missionary at the time, actually; watching movies is another thing missionaries are not supposed to do). My eyes opened wide and my mouth dropped. "That's Lauryn Hill!" I have watched the movie several times since even though it's not great, simply to hear Lauryn sing "His Eye is on the Sparrow." Beautiful.

Th. said...


Sister Act 2 is more than not great. It is an abomination. One of the worst days of my life was getting to drive 40 miles to a movie theater and then being forced to watch SA2.

Anyway, not the point.

I remember those Grammies. She's just kept getting more and more and more and more.....

I'm thinking about incorporating some popular music into my classes when we deal with poetry. I want a wide variety of genres, but hiphop is one I know little about. From what you've said, I've imagined the Fugees or Common might be good choices. I've been wanting to ask you to make me a mix cd.

If you have time, do. But don't neglect your real life to do so.

Also, I'll need lyrics.

Th. said...


I just noticed that Tori Amos is on Foxy J's list of favorite music and I thought that was interesting because as you described LH's lyrics and lyrical development, that's who I thoguht of.

So, since I can't act intelligent about Lauryn Hill, I'll just list my three favorite Tori albums and pretend that adds to intelligent discourse (I know all the albums because Lady Steed is to Tori as Master Fob is to Lauryn):

1. Scarlet's Walk (Entertainment Weekly's horrible review of this album made be rethink my infatuation with all of print)

2. Venus and Back (studio half only)

3. Pele's Boys (one of my favorite albums to write to along with Kim Fox's Moon Hut and John Scofield's A Go Go)

There! You may call me a participant!

Cricket said...

"Sister Act 2 is more than not great. It is an abomination."

I LOVED that movie!! Of course I was in like 7th grade and it was just plain cool....

ah, yes, Lauryn Hill's rendition of "...Sparrow" B-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!

I walked around trying to sing like that for months!!

B.G. Christensen said...

I have put all the Tori Amos CDs Th. recommends on hold at the library (they're all checked out). Foxy has Little Earthquakes, which I like.

Th. said...


I'm flattered you think that much of my taste when we both know we differ a bit in music.

And Mandi, for some reason it never occurred to me I might be older than you. But I was in high school....or just graduated, I'm not sure.


B.G. Christensen said...

Well, I do like the one Tori album I've heard. And she comes highly recommended by Neil Gaiman.

And you should get used to being older than everyone, th.

Tolkien Boy said...

Hi. I have nothing useful to say.

I don't think I've heard this woman. I have been living in a cave.

Which, according to my mythology teacher, means I am originally from a matriarchal society.