Beauty Jackson is a Percival Everett fan
By Derrick Weston Brown
“Her voice was a slow jam, full length white mink, Hella fine with a beauty mark on her right cheek” -Ghostface Killah, Beauty Jackson
The call came into the bookstore around five in the afternoon. It was her. His left earlobe began to sweat the moment her voice billowed through the receiver like a playful fingertip of steam. She was calling again to follow up on that Percival Everett title she had special ordered two days earlier. His interest was on high alert the moment she asked for the title, because though he got all sorts of requests throughout the day for all sorts of titles, he knew, deep in the core of his own book snobbish soul, that anyone asking for ol’ P. Everett had to be on some other stuff. If she read P.E. regularly, that meant she probably had some sort of paper degree on her wall. And said degree was probably in either English, A.A. Studies, or Sociology, meaning she had acquired some serious book learning in her past and wasn’t done yet.
But to be clear, it was her voice that made him sit up straight on his stool and readjust his thinking cap, which up until this point had been threatening to slide from his two-weeks-late-for- a-shape-up head for some time.
She had a voice like a slow jam, and he truly hoped, that the rest of her, matched each and every beautiful phrase that had come out of her mouth once she finally arrived to pick up the book.
Most folks, he learned never physically matched their voices. As a kid, for every voice he heard on the radio, there was a fully sketched figure complete with accompanying outfit, drawn up in his imagination. He just knew, that when he finally laid eyes on the source of the voices, he’d be able to fit them perfectly into his carefully stenciled brain cut outs.
Take his favorite DJ for instance, Mr. Swift, who had a voice like metal rake teeth being scraped over a manhole cover.Mr. Swift cut the most sought after promos and mixtape drops that would make the gulliest street soldier’s eardrums flinch. But in person, it turned out that Swift, looked more like a barely baked crescent roll full nelsoned into a candy wrapper tight throwback sports jersey. Main man was doughy. And our friend learned a hard lesson about judging a film by its soundtrack. But our hero still held to his belief that most people just had to match their voices. This was merely a setback. His faith hadn’t been shaken from its perch. Not yet.
In college, the high pitched tea cup poodle barking from down the hall, and around the corner from his dorm room, that he thought belonged to a pipsqueak of a sophomore going door to door seeking the identity of “that nigga who moved my clothes” from the laundry room dryer even though they had been sitting there for nearly two hours, turned out to be attached to the a 6’5 two hundred and twenty pound frame of the All-American small forward for the university’s basketball team. Our hero, convinced that he was about to face a knobby kneed shrimp, stormed out of his room, rehearsing his angry tirade for an underclassman that didn’t have the common courtesy to consider that other folks wanted dry clothes too, tore around the corner wearing his angriest face, and immediately hit the fader on the once rising bass and treble levels of his voice down to an apologetic, but firm volume once coming face to chest with an almost unavoidable ass whooping.
“Damn!” he thought. “I really got to rethink this theory!” as he crept back to his room, locking the top lock, clicking the deadbolt into place and sliding the door chain into action for good measure.
So what we know about our bookstore working hero is this: He still hasn’t given up his hardheaded theory, that a person should physically match their voice. You would think after a close call near-miss of a beating in a cramped laundry room that smelled of lavender scented dryer sheets, Ol’ boy would have abandoned it. Nope. Not our hero. He’s no quitter.
But let’s get back to the events at hand. And back to Ms. Slow Jam voice, who currently had the ears of our determined book seller slow burning like tiny briquettes of Kingsford, at the bottom of a big bellied barbeque grill.
But what is a slow jam O’ knowledgeable Narrator and how was this unseen woman’s voice like one? The uninitiated may ask?
And my answer would be, if you don’t know what a slow jam is, kill yourself. Whoa! Okay that was a bit harsh. Let me try this again. I suggest, you consult a search engine or ask someone born no later than 1985 if you want to learn about what a Slow Jam is.
Point being, they could hook you up with a decent definition because most likely, they, and the rest of their fellow twentieth centurians were probably conceived to some incarnation of a slow jam.
Now according to today’s go-to reference of choice Wikiwhatever, “a slow jam is an umbrella term for music with R&B and Soul influences. Slow jams are commonly R&B ballads or downtempo songs. The term is most commonly reserved for soft-sounding songs with heavily emotional or romantic lyrical content.
This definition has led to intense debate over whether particular songs should be classified as a “slow jam”, e.g. Ginuwine’s 1996 hit single “Pony”. The common use and possible origin of this term traces back to 1983 when Solar Records group Midnight Star recorded the song “Slow Jam” on their album No Parking on the Dance Floor.”
That’s a pretty good definition for the most part, although I got to give the mere mention of Ginuwine’s “Pony” as possibly being classified as a “Slow Jam” a big middle finger and an angry fist shake. But everything’s debatable I guess.
Now if, after this brief tutorial, you are still lost on what a Slow Jam is, I guess I’ll have to appeal to your senses and provide a few images and sounds to help you understand.
-the brush thump of a needle into a spooled vinyl groove and the accompanying hiss that sounds oddly familiar to fingers pulling clothing away or tightly across willful skin.
-amber lampshades heavily dimmed liked sleepy eyelids or falling stage curtains.
-the groan/moan of leather couch cushions bombarded by an avalanche of limbs, asses, elbows, you name it.
- growling bass saxophones
-the first forty seconds of R&B trio, Guy’s seminal New Jack Swing bedroom special “Let’s Chill” and Aaron Hall’s half whispered “slip-the draws off” introductory pillow talk, that’s been imitated but rarely duplicated.
-winks of light barely escaping the black hole crush of two pelvises colliding to rock like interlocked cruise ships stuck on choppy seas.
- arms and hands draw bridging closed across a waiting waistline.
-fingers encircling a neck, tracing a nape.
“Always and Forever”, Heatwave
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” Otis Redding
“Don’t Say Goodnight” The Isley Brothers
Prince’s Woooooooo at the opening of “Adore”
“Let’s Wait Awhile”-Janet Jackson
-a face nuzzling into a neck
-a forest of figures rocking like tall pine trees under a blue light basement sky of frosted stars and an orange moon and the breeze that has them a’swaying is The Force MD’s “Tender Love”
That my friends, is a Slow Jam.
So, after hearing this woman’s voice once again, our determined bookseller found himself on that slow start of steep roll down a hill of expectation that felt as if his gut was billowing full of Purple Emperor butterflies. He put her on hold and carefully placed the receiver back onto its perch. He stooped down and scanned the special holds shelf underneath the book desk. After finding her title he picked the phone back up and tapped the flashing hold button. “Yeah, we got it!” he told her. “Great!” she said. And he swore he could hear the smile in her voice.
“So you’ll uh, be by when to uh, pick it up?”
“In about fifteen” she sighed into the phone, not in a contrived breathy trying-to-be sexy kind of way, but in a “this is my last errand for the evening” sigh that comfortably stamped the period to her final sentence.
“Okay. I’ll be -we’ll be here.” He managed.
She hung up. He studied the name on the hold slip.
“You got to be kidding me!” he said to himself.
He swiveled right on his stool to watch the door. And then he started praying.