If I Were A Bell: A Tribute to Teena Marie

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 15 January 2011

Revolutionary Worker Scholar

Lady T
By Tony Robles

I’m for the real…and for you I’m true blue
--Lover Girl by Teena Marie

I was saddened to learn of the death of soul singer Teena Marie at age 54 on December 26, 2010. It almost seems odd using the term soul singer. In a world that seems to be losing its soul, with the soulless voices and faces you encounter on busses and in the media, the term seems almost archaic.

I want soul; I crave soul, taste soul on my tongue--lingering in the corners of my mind that are hidden in shadows. When I thought that soul had disappeared, I’d hear the voice of Teena Marie on the radio or on my record player or on, dare I say it, my cassette player, and at that moment I knew that soul was alive, and so was I..

Some of the best moments in my life were spent in beat up old cars. I would buy them for a couple hundred dollars and take out insurance—which amounted to jumper cables and air freshener—and if I had a few extra dollars left, I’d get a couple of fuzzy dice to hang on the rear view. I would drive far away from my job, far away from people, far away from other cars, far away from myself. I’d come to the edge of a lake or a cliff or some place with a nice view.

I would put my feet up on the dash and turn on the black radio station. That was the only kind of radio that spoke to me, black voices with black feeling and black anger and black love and the voices I heard often said what I wanted to say but couldn’t. Then the voice would say something like…here’s the latest from lady T…Teena Marie…on the Boss of the Bay…KDIA

And Teena Marie’s voice would come over the speakers of my cheap ass, broke down, Pontiac Astre. Teena Marie, whitegirl with the black heart and the black voice and the black tongue who sang about black love and black heartache. Her voice grabbed me and shook me and told me that my soul was soul too…black brown, black Pilipino soul—adobo, cornbread, gumbo and chow mein and bbq ribs all mixed together on a white paper plate. Teena Marie--with a heart that was black--sometimes blacker than black-- because it was mixed with blue.

I’d sit in my broke down car and Teena Marie would suddenly appear in the passenger seat. I’d look around and I wasn’t in no Pontiac Astre, no Toyota Corolla, no Yugo but in a coffee colored Cadillac Brougham with seats that were very close to leather. And I’d look over at Teena in her silk dress, skin the color of coffee and cream, and she’d look at me and say, “You gotta get your shit together, sugar”.

"I’m talkin’ square biz to you baby"

I’d start that car up again and go back to my house, job and life. But hearing Teena Marie singing was an event, a space in time that I could call my own and connect with what was real, what was going on inside of myself—allowing me a moment to be honest with where I was at in my life. Teena was always able to bring me to closer to that place.

Teena, you are on another part of your spirit journey. You experienced many highs and lows here in this physical realm that we find ourselves in. You brought joy to many people. When I craved soul, needed soul, you were always there, right on time. I still hear your voice, am still moved by the spirit and feeling and essence of soul that was you, that is you. Thank you Teena for saying what was in my heart and mind when I didn’t have the words. As you once sang, “If I were a bell…baby I would ring each day for you”.

© 2011


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