By Anjuli Kolb

Last week, just days before his first solo album was released, writer, singer, and Odd Future member Frank Ocean posted an arresting statement on his tumblr, describing his first love: a young man who couldn’t love him back. Some called it a coming out…others called it an amazing piece of writing. For his first televised performance, on Jimmy Fallon, he performed the song “Bad Religion,” a meditation on longing in the tradition of An Excellent Song, Which Was Solomon’s, and Mirza Ghalib’s Urdu poetry. 


    Taxi Driver

    be my shrink for the hour

    Leave the meter


    It's rush hour

    so take the streets if you


    Just outrun the demons

    could you.

    And he said Allah ho Akbar

    I told him don't curse me

    Well boy you need prayer

    I guess it couldn't hurt me

    If it brings me to my knees

    It's a bad religion…

—Frank Ocean “Bad Religion,” 2012


1 In my bed by night I sought him that my soule loved: I soght him, but I founde him not.  2 I wil rise, therefore now, and go about in the citie, by the streets & by the open places & wil seke him that my soule loveth: i soght him but I founde him not. 3 The watchemen that went about the citie, founde me: to whom i said, Have you sene him who my soul loveth?

Geneva Bible, Song of Solomon, 1560.


    ...What appears as confirmation of the Ocean's actuality

    It is merely a sum total of wave, drop, phosphorescence

   Reticence is a form of pride, even with oneself

   No matter how unveiled you are within your many veils

   The embellishment of the ravishing is never to be done

   Inside the seclusion of the veil, the mirror lives constantly

   The deep decorum of the hidden is misread as revelation

   The clairvoyant lost in dream, dreams he is awake…

—Mirza Ghalib, “Why parsimony today in the promise of tomorrow’s imbibing,” 1841, trans. Sara Suleri & Azra Raza

Let Me Recite What History Teaches (LMRWHT) is a weekly column that flashes the gaslight, candlelight, torch, or starlight of the past on something that is happening now. The citational constellations work to recover what might be best about the “wide-eyed presentation of mere facts.” They are offered with astonishment and largely without comment. The title is taken from the last line of Stein’s poem “If I Told Him (A Completed Portrait of Picasso)."

Image: Still from Frank Ocean, "Swim Good"