I started listening to Phyllis Hyman back in high school, the time when her album, Living All Alone, dropped. She was a mainstay in my college years and was the first artist where I took my collection of cassette tapes and converted them all to CD (my cassette ribbons were all chewed up with how much I rewound and played those cassettes). I’m not sure what drew me to her: maybe it was just that bold spirit, her flare for style that was out of this world, that big voice, them cusswords she laced so lovely, her ability to drink her a glass of some strong stuff when she needed it, the trash-talking and the overwhelming hospitality at the same time. I admired all of it but somehow I knew she was unhappy, which drew me to her more, a sentiment I could understand. I just thought she would maintain. I was hoping.
At 45 years old, on June 30, 1995, Phyllis Hyman committed suicide. Her suicide note read this: “I’m tired. I’m tired…” I have not been able to listen to a single song by her since then. I just couldn’t. It’s been a long 18 years with NOT A SINGLE PHYLLIS HYMAN SONG.
I woke up at 4am to prepare for the day’s work, a day that will have me on campus until at least 9-10pm (and I am just not someone who can handle this 3 hours of sleep per night thing!). Since arriving to work at 8:30, the only moments of real joy that I imagine that I will have are when my undergraduate students stop by to say hello and pick up their anthologies. At 4am, that’s how I knew this day would be and for some reason, I just wanted to hear Phyllis Hyman’s voice, as if I thought she could get me through and would understand. I suppose I am reaching the end of this set of growing pains as a post-tenure professor pushing myself to put myself in situations where I am only doing the kind of work I truly believe in. Before tenure, it was all about that get-that-tenure-grind, now it’s more about me …and what and who can intellectually, politically, and socially sustain me. That said, I still needed to get through this day, a day that won’t actually approximate that previous sentence.
So today, I am backtight with Phyllis (for the Ebonically-challenged: that means a longlast reunion with a old, deep soulfriend). I still miss her deeply but today, she has felt a little closer again and has gotten me through the day.