Today, this “old school new kid” is seriously into his old-school groove for music. It’s all about Barry White, The Spinners, Teddy Pendergrass, The Delfonics, Al Green, the Isley Brothers, the Stylistics, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, The Dells, you get the idea. When those love songs and grooves stretched beyond the three-minute mark, like “Stay In My Corner.” When you wanted to make sure the music clearly got the message across to your honey. Or, if you were dumped and indulging in mass quantities of Ben & Jerry’s, you didn’t have to wonder what the lyrics were; the singer’s pain was your pain. And there were the songs that included The Rap, by artists such as Isaac Hayes, Shirley Brown, Millie Jackson; quite a different meaning from what it is today.
Of course, being a Black gay man back in the day, a little mental juggling was required when it came to those love songs from male vocalists. When Johnny Mathis sang “Chances Are” in 1957, none was required since he never specified the gender of his love interest. With the majority of the others, changing the pronouns was de riguer. Luckily, being a writer, this was not difficult. As for the female vocalists, like Gladys Knight, Brenda Holloway, Diana Ross, Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Murdock, Denise LaSalle, well…if Gladys had to cry sometime because of a breakup with her man, I cried with her instead of for her. If Aretha was extolling the virtues of Dr. Feelgood, I was happy with her, not for her.
And yet, that old-school music has an enduring quality. I’ve seen plenty of appreciative posts on YouTube from those in my generation as well as those in generations behind me, who heard these songs while growing up with their parents and/or grandparents. At the end of the day, what songs stand up to the test of time? If they do, why?
Today’s review takes a different turn, in the form of Nothing Can Tear Us Apart by Wyatt O’Brian Evans. Wesley Laurence Kelly is a well-built, 5’10”, 208 lb., 44-year-old African-American success story. Sweat, hard work, and a gift as a stand-up comedian have garnered him a diversified business empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and the life style to accompany it. Although on the inside he craves that committed, ride-or-die, loving relationship with another man, his recent relationships were in the red on the profit-and-loss statement of love.
Until one day…
In the process of interviewing for chief of security at Wesley’s estate in the metro D.C. area, in walks 30-year-old Antonio Miguel Rios, Jr., a Puerto Rican, 6’4″, 280 lb., bodybuilder hotty. Needless to say, Antonio’s impressive resume and credentials (besides the fact that he sent Wesley into heat) landed him the position. The chemistry is palpable, and of course, they can only hold out for so long. Aside from the boss/employee dynamic, there is the matter of insecurities, which causes Wesley to put forth one excuse after another for why they can’t be together. Even when Antonio shoots them all down, Wesley’s fear of actually getting what he’s wanted so badly nearly costs him his opportunity with Antonio.
Of course, it’s not quite that easy. Antonio’s father has a grudge against African-American men and 1950s ideas of what makes a man a man, deliberately out to drive a wedge between the couple on Wesley’s first visit. Despite Antonio’s constant professions of love, his reluctance to stand up for Wesley in the clinch is more than Wesley can take. A blowout of an argument ensues, which subsequently leads to a reconciliation–for the time being.
A brush with death is a wake-up call for Antonio Rios, Sr., and Wesley is welcomed into the family as Antonio Jr.’s boyfriend. Unfortunately, Wesley’s best friend Lonzo, a recovering alcoholic, is faced with a cheating, manipulative, controlling boyfriend. Also, Wesley has some enemies. Stir into the cauldron Antonio’s insecurities, his jealousy, his temper, shady clients, vindictive cops, underworld denizens, and a recipe for disaster is on boil–in the form of domestic assault.
Wyatt drives the point home in no uncertain terms with Wesley and Antonio; there is no excuse for abuse. By introducing the assault first and telling the story in flashback, he takes us through the journey of a dark side of romance, how the good turned bad. In this story, abuse isn’t just physical; Lonzo and Eriq’s relationship illustrates emotional and psychological abuse. Reading the novel brought this awareness home to me: domestic violence between same-sex couples hasn’t been taken seriously by authorities. Abuse is abuse, no matter who is involved. On the other hand, thank you, Wyatt, for a character who refuses to be a victim.
The author’s vivid descriptions of the couple’s passionate love and the equally passionate descriptions when the rollercoaster plunges downhill will take you for quite a ride–and leave you thinking when it’s over. It’s there on the shelf of your local Amazon/Barnes and Noble library, waiting for you.