Is Lil Nas X The Spiritual Heir of Little Richard?
In the dreary haze of vaccinations and spring-induced allergies, no one expected to wake up to Lil Nas X’s anti-sermon, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” The Abrahamic world was stumbling into Holy Week after a year of haphazardly enforced sheltering-in-place, and while we’d been offered teasers of what was to come, no one expected a dancer to slide down a heavenly pole and into Lucifer’s lap.
“Montero” is the queer Black artist’s second #1 smash (so to speak) hit.
It has provoked A LOT of discourse.
The dialogue about the video has been ENDLESS.
For some of us, the video has been absolutely invigorating, enticing, and liberating. In a world where neoliberal gayness has taught us that the best we can hope for is Lady Gaga belting out the national anthem while deportations mount, Lil Nas X charitably tossed us a Zyrtec. I mean, the biggest accomplishment of our post-marriage equality era is Pete Buttigieg pretending he knows what the fuck to do with transit infrastructure. I’m pretty sure Mayo(r) Pete has neither a clue where his prostate is nor how to be multi-orgasmic.
Pete’s a good Christian after all.
I’m not fazed, only here to sin
For over a decade, we’ve been treated to milequetoast gay pop stars barely allowed to peck their partners on the cheek. In denial over the complex emotions triggered by dick appointments, sad sacks like Sam Smith croon and cry salty rivers. Nobody but a twenty-one-year-old Black gay Aries from Georgia, a public figure known for his fiery clapbacks on Twitter as much as his art, would bottom for the devil in order to reclaim his spirit. They say that forty-two years ago, the devil himself went down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal. Cycles naturally repeat and the time has come for some of us to steal ourselves back.
All along, the question has been…Is the Devil himself the problem?
Christianity often calls what brings us a dopamine rush, and a smile, darkness. Churches command us to find joy and light through the mindless worship of an egomaniacal patriarch who is somehow three people in one. Then, along comes “Montero” to model how to reclaim what’s rightfully ours. With so many souls being stolen, one of us had to rise to the occasion. And this special someone had to understand that the gates to hell can double as the gates to redemption.
Decades of policy in states like Georgia have robbed a generation of queer and trans souls. Ancestors have been used to fuel a necropolis that runs on neglect, exploitation and outright bigotry. Lil Nas X’s song acknowledges those souls that we’re still losing to invisibility. It acknowledges that proponents of respectability politics lie to our faces, telling us that assimilation is bliss.
We could be cumming but we’re too busy keeping capitalism on life support.
Lookin’ at the table, all I see is weed and white
Baby, you livin’ the life, but nigga, you ain’t living right
Cocaine and drinking wit’ your friends
You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend
We’ve been told to mistrust sex for so long. We use Beelzebub as a scapegoat for the mortal ignorance that tingles down our spines. We invoke a demon to prevent children from understanding and knowing themselves. We invoke hell to prevent pleasure. We teach people to project what they truly feel onto something that can’t be seen. We ostracize the young should they show even an inkling of trying to enjoy themselves. We suppress them until they erupt and harm others. We penalize them should they choose to self-medicate with anything stronger than a Miller Lite or THC. We double down the blame, lock away those who suffer, and ignore the increasing body count of those sacrificed to the cult of Christianity.
These forced tithes are making some people very rich. Texas megachurch pastors Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes still rake in millions being quietly anti-queer. Many smaller churches that promote hate operate for that weekly handful of crinkled bills in the collection plate. Conversion therapy is a money-maker for tax-exempt churches in the thirty US states where the “treatment” remains legal. Like the prison industrial complex, churches target queer folks and attempt to turn a profit. Christian supremacy extracts an income by promising to make us angels or eunuchs. The goal is always the same: to make us obedient members of the fold.
Only Christians, some conservative, some considering themselves progressives, would wince at their own reflections. What they consider dark is blindingly bright in the mirror. What is their relationship with the word fuck in the first place? What is Christian epistemology as it relates to fucking? These naysayers don’t understand that fucking one’s demons satiates them. They fail to grasp that this act sets us free. Puritanical people prefer that you mock their misery. Their own pitiful misunderstandings of sex and intimacy, never mind their lack of reading comprehension skills, pave the road that they want their children to travel down. There’s comfort in misery passed through the generations. Those who live in the light of the truth are too numb to acknowledge much of anything.
Cheated on my baby
You can go and ask her
My life is a movie
So much time has been spent discussing the “Montero” video’s imagery that the song lyrics have been lost in the clamor. Because people are too busy melting down over the lap dance, no one has bothered to trace a queer Black genealogy. If we stop to examine our family tree, it becomes obvious that Lil Nas X is the fulfillment of Little Richard’s dreams. He embodies the life that so many of our ancestors could not have.
At the dawn of the 1950s, the Lavendar Scare forced gay white male soldiers who’d performed in drag during World War II back into the shadows. If the world was unsafe for these pale queens, it was even more dangerous from someone Black, queer and gender-defiant. Enter, Little Richard. He began his secular career performing at age seventeen, when he presented drag persona Princess Lavonne to the world. R&B singer Esquerita influenced the performer’s style, instigating his trademark pompadour and mascara. The Esquerita-inspired stage-persona transformed Little Richard’s show into a spectacle full of raw, sexual charge. His live act made Elvis’s mimed dick helicoptering seem rudimentary.
That heady glee of sex and flirtation saved his ass. It prevented him from remaining an unknown Ray Charles clone. As his success rose, Little Richard watered down his queerness to suit larger audiences. In tandem, his sexual experiences became more observational rather than participatory. Lil Nas X picks up Little Richard’s abandoned baton. Lil Nas X unapologetically documents the richness of his sex life in real time and via a media blitz no one can ignore.
Souls are listening. Watching.
Black queer artists tried but have been attacked at each and every turn for attempting to provide a road map or a cheat sheet for future generations. They’ve been beaten not just with whips and batons, but a cross as well. Black CIS/Hetero folks, and those pretending to be, haven’t been crushed under the burden of forced faith in the same way. Some use the symbols of righteousness to drive a stake through the hearts of those they’ve been told are vampires and demons. They pretend not to notice that they feed on our blood. We are their choir directors, clothing designers and cultural curators. We, the trans folks, the faggots, the dykes, the hasbians, the theysbians, and even the bi-curious, provide their life force.
There’s a long list of Black queer musicians that chose to hide in Christianity. Pre-dating elder Richard Penniman’s vacillation between faith and phallus were the likes of Harlem Renaissance entertainer Gladys Bentley, a woman who looked too dapper in a tuxedo. The night before he was to code “Under The Boardwalk,” Rudy Lewis overdosed alone, joining the twenty-seven club under circumstances both private and queer. We are all complicit in the silence that the Warwick-Houston clan maintains. They force the suppression of queerness and their mandate has led to two generations of addiction, sexual assault, and the premature deaths of sisters, daughters, and phenomenal singers. Some of us just want “Auntie Dionne” to twote what we wrote.
We have gospel-singer Donnie McClurkin wasting away, turned into a living ghost because his desires oppose the Christian faith. These artists haunt us, appearing in the occasional tabloid headline. Mostly, we’re unaware of the countless souls that chose faith in a non-existent entity over the warmth of human flesh. They opt for the unknown and reject the pull to another’s body. They choose to be walking corpses, dead while their hearts continue to beat.
“Montero” calls out by name and takes to the sky what was buried sixty-five years ago. The spirit dresses “Tutti Frutti” in its original clothes while bestowing on it a delightful new versatility. That ancestral song started life as a ribald set of instructions for Black queer audiences about anal sex. In the confines of venues like the Dew Drop Inn, it functioned as a how-to none too dissimilar to Teen Vogue’s seminal 2017 article on the subject. Stripped of its prostate-pounding original intentions, “Tutti Fruitti” grew sanitized. Tutti Frutti is no longer a person serving up cakes to be glazed. A girl named Sue now knows what to do. And just what is it that she’s doing? Our imaginations are left to run wild with possibilities.
“Montero” moves beyond the backseat quickie, clocking in over three minutes. The song lets us luxuriate instead of forcing a two-and-a-half minute cum and run where a bottom doesn’t get off. This new iteration is allowed a blatant sensuousness. It bears no secrets. It isn’t smothered by polite twentieth-century marketing sensibilities. It doesn’t search for Vaseline or bacon grease or whatever’s convenient under the eyes of vice patrolling every move. It’s neither filtered for white consumption nor repackaged for the uncouth mouths of white men, rendered meaningless for a few extra dollars.
We will get to savor its rawness for at least another week.
A wop bop a loo mop a good goddam,
Tutti Frutti, good booty,
if it don’t fit, don’t force it,
you can grease it, make it easy.
is resurrected as…
I wanna feel on your ass in Hawaii
I want that jet lag from fuckin’ and flyin’
Shoot a child in your mouth while I’m ridin’
In a landscape where Black music is marketed over and over again by white faces, “Montero” gives us so many reasons to celebrate. There’s no Pat Boone contemporary oblivious enough to heed a record executive’s demand to cover the song. There’s none that are brave enough to sing about taking a dick or a strap-on and liking it proudly either. Tame Impala looks way too much like Jesus and his disciples anyways. We go on pretending like the Last Supper wasn’t history’s most famous Radical Faerie gang bang.
We still lie to ourselves. The wiser among us know Judas only betrayed Jesus because he was no longer the favored twink among the dozen. The father, the son, and the holy ghost are the original throuple. The white heteronormative sexual imagination exercised by most Christians favors mental manipulation and crude speculation. Anxiety fuels it. There’s little time to actually read the social commentary which it inspires. There’s no time to use what you’ve learned for your own self-discovery.
Tell me you love me in private
I do not care if you lying
The tension between romantic love and sexual pleasure counters the slaying of Satan in the “Montero” video. It’s okay to lie to ourselves about such tensions. You can pretend, during the moment of release, that the hollow, shell-shocked being that has been blamed for the root of all evil is capable of loving and lusting for you at the same time. Someone stripped of all nuance need only perform the words, not actually live them.
For the first time we have a Black queer attempting to slay the dragon on a world stage. Lil Nas X triumphantly stands above the corpse of every mediocre compromise before him. Hopefully, it’s a new beginning and not just a passing victory. As a complete theatrical work it stands heroic and aware. It also lacks joy.
It brings catharsis. Relief.
Still, “Montero” isn’t a happy song. It occupies an interim. We continue searching for paradise. For someone that has fought the crusade against my body and soul my whole life, it’s a relief to see the war reflected in a piece of art. For so many that died before they could live the truth they tried to speak, “Montero” is a belated blessing.
Time Capsule or actual human being, who knows. Laurence Jones has been sifting through ephemera of the past seemingly forever, spinning vinyl for you, taking film photography and entertaining you with instagram posts of the decrepit old cars they own. You can find previous writing by them at djlarsupreme.com and medium.com