Space, Loneliness, and Suburban Blackness: An Essay & Poem
Today I woke up and rode my longboard around my old neighborhood. It was nice; the wind lifting my flannel and cooling my face, wheels splashing through last night’s rain puddles, the ride smoothing out on asphalt and clunking along on the sidewalk. In a lot of ways I didn’t realize I needed to just be alone for a few minutes. Between texting on my phone, checking FB, calling friends to hang out, even just catching up with my Mom about her day, I’m constantly interacting with somebody or something. I’m never alone. I have a strange relationship to loneliness. Like most people, I think I despise it, yet I’m an introverted-extrovert (yes, we exist) who needs my alone time. I grew up feeling very lonely. For a lot of different reasons. That’s why I always gravitated towards the Silver Surfer.
Who? Yes, the Silver Surfer, Marvel’s most sad boy superhero. You might remember him from that terrible Fantastic Four movie, otherwise he’s a little too deep in the Marvel universe for the average superhero movie-watcher to really know much about him. If you’re like me and were born in the early 90s, you might have seen his tv series, The Silver Surfer, on Fox Kids Network in ‘98. It only lasted one season.
Originally known as Norrin Radd, Norrin was from a planet called Zenn-La, where a technologically advanced humanoid race had created and sustained a utopian society. Without war, poverty, and disease, some Zenn-Lavian’s endlessly sought knowledge, advancement, and achievement, while others immersed themselves in hedonism. Norrin was one to seek new, challenging, and exciting things. One day, an alien spacecraft bypassed his planet’s old-dated defense systems. Norrin asked a Council of Scientists for a spaceship to visit the unknown craft, and discovered it belonged to Galactus, Eater-of-Worlds! After realizing that Galactus intended to consume Zenn-La (Galactus has an insatiable hunger for energy and life rich planets, sounds a bit like the U.S. and oil rich countries, eh?; anyhow, Galactus uses a machine which sucks the planet’s energy from it’s core, essentially causing the planet to collapse on itself), Norrin offers to be Galactus’s herald, searching the universe for planets that Galactus can eat in exchange for Galactus leaving Zenn-La as it is. Galactus agrees, and thus the Silver Surfer is born! Granted with the Power Cosmic, Galactus’s own infinite power, the Silver Surfer can absorb and manipulate the universe’s ambient cosmic energies; which means he can do a lot of shit ya’ll! Fly past the speed of light, phase through solid matter, transmute elements, reanimate or restructure living and nonliving things, he’s even time traveled! Do you understand how fucking awesome he is?! He doesn’t need food, water, light, nada, he flies through space on a silver board, pretty much doing whatever he pleases. Boss.
There are a few downsides to this story, of course. To be honest, the Silver Surfer reads a bit like a tragedy, or allegory for the cost of freedom. Norrin’s memories are erased by Galactus, and he can never return to Zenn-La and live a normal life. Most of all, he can never see his love, Shalla-Bal, again. Overtime Galactus convinces the Silver Surfer to lead him to life rich planets, and Silverado leads him right to Earth, where the Surfer fights the Fantastic Four, and has a change of heart after encountering Alice Masters, a blind woman (actually the Thing’s love interest) whose kindness reminds him of his long lost Shalla. The Surfer rebels against Galactus, and after a long history of encounters I cannot list simply for the sake of time (but he runs into my Dad’s favorite, the Hulk, and is tricked by Doctor Doom) the Surfer returns to space as a lone wanderer, searching for his homeworld and doing good deeds whenever he can.
As a five year old, I remember watching the tv show with my Dad, how almost every episode opened with the Surfer riding though star-speckled space alone. Something about his loneliness was profound and intriguing, even a bit alluring. The Silver Surfer’s endless search for his home, or any place he could call home, for that matter, was a feeling I would later become familiar with as I grew up in the suburbs of Avondale, Arizona, where Black faces were few and far between. I often felt how the Sky-Rider of Spaceways felt, without a home, or even worse, with so many places to call home yet none of them quite feel how a home should: safe, inviting, and loving. Even my own house, the house I lived in with my Mom, Dad, and younger Sister, began to decay once my parents divorced. I took my longboard and surfed the empty canals by the landfill, skated past “DO NOT ENTER” signs on gates, looked aimlessly for a place where at least I could be alone with my thoughts and unbothered by staring white neighbors and family drama. Once I started smoking weed, I took my one-hitter with me too (it was actually a pipe, but it was so shitty it was a one-hitter). Which brings me to another lonely figure I fell in love with during my adolescence. Kid Cudi.
Ah yes, the Man on the Moon. Scott Mescudi, better known as Kid Cudi, also known as Mr. Solo Dolo and sometimes Mr. Rager, is a rapper, singer-songwriter, actor, and producer from Cleveland, Ohio. He is well known for his melodic and atmospheric brand of music; Cudi raps, croons, and sings on everything from hip-hop beats to electronica and indie rock, giving introspective lyrics about his insecurities and nebulous feelings. As a result, his music is equally nebulous and free-form, therefore he uses space as a symbol of his freedom and exploration, but also to represent his isolation from everyone around him, and the world at large. His debut mixtape, A Kid Named Cudi, was released during 2008 (an era of free mixtapes that would establish a trend and change the rap industry); Kanye West liked the tape and signed Kid Cudi to his record label GOOD Music. His first album Man on the Moon: The End of the Day, is the beginning of a series that chronicles his emotions and imagination throughout his life. Cudi himself says “Man on the Moon:The End of Day is the first installment of The Man on the Moon trilogy. Basically, this is literally the beginning. Starts off with a dream, all these albums will be dream sequences but this one is the very first dream…I fall asleep and from the beginning track, you will definitely feel like you’re in a dream state. But the theme is definitely like my rise to fame and like what I envisioned in my brain. It’s a mixture of something I’ve dealt with and visions that I had in my dreams”. In these dreams, Cudi is often escaping earth, perhaps a metaphor for doing drugs, or a literal dream. On the hook of “Man on the Moon”, a popular track from A Kid Named Cudi, and a bonus track on Man on the Moon: The End of the Day, Cudi raps (or talk-sings? It’s always difficult to name his vocal style), “I be that man on the moon, I’m that man on the moon/ And I’mma do what I do, so do you, hey, hey/ I be posted with my blunt and a brew, my dude/ I’m that man on the moon, I’m up, up on the moon”.
My first introduction to Kid Cudi was the song “Man on the Moon”, and I hated it. Then I heard A Kid Named Cudi, and liked it better because he rapped on most of the tracks. It took me a while to get used to Cudi’s distinct style, he refused to do anything you were expecting, he neither fully rapped nor fully sung, but did something in-between that would later become a standard for rappers. His unique voice, combined with his lyrical content and simplistic writing, polarized the Hip-Hop community. Many people thought he was too “emotional” and/ or that his lyrics were disastrously underwhelming. You were either a fan of Cudi, or not, and whatever side you were on, you were gung-ho about it. I was one of few who crossed that line and became a fan, and I have firmly been a fan since then, despite his recent and questionable ventures into punk rock (check out Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, if you dare). What I’m trying to say is, to be Kid Cudi must have been, and still be, lonely. I’m not saying Scott was or wasn’t lonely, but his rap persona definitely was (I say this because I don’t know him, I know his music; on the other hand, as an artist he strives to let his music represent his interiority, so it may be safe to say that Scott Mescudi and Kid Cudi often feel the same). As a listener, it seemed to me that Cudi was a lonely boy (I use that word loosely) making music about his loneliness which resulted in further isolation, and because I was a suburban Black boy writing poems and rap songs about being a suburban Black boy which made me further confront race and class, I resonated deeply with his music.
So, tell me you see the connection: The Silver Surfer, a man outcasted from home and cursed to wander space alone, and the alone stoner, outcasted from the rap world for being emotionally expressive and escaping Earth to be the solitary human on our Moon. I guess the only similarities are space and loneliness, but those are two major themes of both characters. It seemed to me that the Silver Surfer and Kid Cudi were walking paradoxes, they wanted to be themselves and be accepted, but they were not accepted for being themselves and relegated, either by force or by choice, to solitude. Being suburban and Black is a strange paradox. Usually your parents are very proud and conservative, they’ve worked their asses off to get you a two-car garage and spacious backyard, and they’ve done a lot of assimilating to get there. As their child, you are expected to be gracious and well-behaved, the respectable Negro. The rest of your family members, aunts, uncles, cousins, may not have the same class privileges, they look at you like an exception, they pedestal or pester you; your family has ventured out into uncharted space and found someplace that is not just sustainable, it is also abundant. The expectations on you are high, you’ve attended good schools, lived in a good neighborhood, got good gifts for Christmas. You are supposed to be the shining example of Black excellence, all while one of the few Black kids on your block, in your graduating class, in the entire suburb. Amidst all of these strange standards and rules placed upon you, the stereotypes of the Black body, which are largely based on class, seem to fit you sometimes and other times they are a size too big. The stress, pressure, and isolation you feel is extreme, but most of all the loneliness, the feeling of weight with no one to help lift it, that is the toughest part. Even if you have siblings, they are dealing with their Blackness in their own ways, and may not be able to console you all the time. And your friends, some Black, most not, all are forming their identity and coping along with you, sometimes they are your allies and sometimes they’re at a loss for words. I recognize that this is not every suburban Black child’s experience, but it is most certainly mine. I also felt like the Man on the Moon and like the Silver Sentinel, on my own path in an abyss where everything was nearby and light years away. Cudi and the Silver Surfer allowed me to escape as well as see myself, while immersed in their worlds I was not on my own and empathizing with myself at once. They were important figures in my development as a Black man.
Now that I am older I know that I was never truly alone, but I was consistently misunderstood and what’s the difference? It wasn’t easy being Black in Avondale, and it still isn’t. At the University, my experience is always surprising. Both my white and my Black classmates assume I must have come from a low-income neighborhood, especially since I love and live by Hip-Hop culture. But I wasn’t. I always lived on the other side of the highway, the “good” side. My Mom preferred to shop at Target. I had a computer in my room by the 5th grade (what the hell were my parents thinking?). I’m not saying this to brag, I’m saying this because America’s understanding of Blackness is poverty, the two are intertwined in our cultural imagination. My upbringing has caused some serious self-loathing issues. I needed Norrin and Scott. I needed heroes who may not have been perfect, but who were true to themselves, who embraced their solitude whether chosen or condemned, who made a home of themselves when they did not feel safe anywhere else. Kid Cudi was that home for me. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to this first projects one after another. His ability to communicate ideas and feelings greatly influenced the art I make today. I often look to his work as a building block for mine, a starting point for a cultural shift in the expression of Black masculinity. The Silver Surfer is my favorite superhero because he also was a home for me. Forget the fact that he’s badass, forget how he saved the entire universe from Thanos, survived a squabble with the Hulk, and has a list of superpowers so long it could be a separate article. The Silver Surfer is my favorite because he represented someone who was isolated for being themselves. He didn’t do anything wrong. He wanted to be Galactus’s herald to save his planet, and satisfy his longing to explore. He was being who he was born as, and he became alone because of it, which is a feeling I know all too well.
In My Dreams
I can have anything
& everything I ever wanted.
– Kid Cudi
I wanna be the Silver Surfer,
coasting on white-hot solarwinds
at the expanding universe’s edge.
In my dreams I take that form:
I project past planets our Sun
has claimed, where stars
blossom & fade
like fresh bruises.
The skin of this world names me
& factory worker.
What I would give for my Mom’s
hands rubbing oil on my dry scalp,
Take care of yourself Sean.
But how do I love this body staked
& named everything except
what I name myself?
My day is another day.
Classmates either ignore me
or study me, like lecture notes.
Nightfalls & I become a bright dot
stitching my own name across
the black canvas of night.
As a child, Sean Avery was a military brat who kicked his grandma because he thought he was a Power Ranger, but that’s a story for another time. Today, Avery is a rapper, poet, actor, First Wave Scholar, contributing writer for the Black Voice UW Madison, and senior studying English Creative Writing and African-American Studies, by way of Avondale, Arizona, better known as, the Sun. His work has been featured in Buzzfeed, Blavity, and special topics courses at ASU, and he has been published in Wisconsin People & Ideas and Illumination: The Undergraduate Journal of Humanities. In 2014, he released his debut mixtape, EMOFUNK, available online at bandcamp.com. His work embraces both his imagination and journey towards defining his own Black masculinity, and in 2016, he is exploring how Rap music affects how young Black men form their identity.