Stevie Wonder - As / Another Star
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
How does one measure infinity?
Even given a callous definition of that indefinable state or states, it ain't gonna happen. If we start looking at the matter from the perspective of the mystic or the devotee of quantum physics, things start to get really hairy. If every component particle in the universe is in constant contact with every single other one, then each subatomic unit exists in and perpetuates infinity. Likewise, if "God is in that rock," as Gandhi said, then the entire cosmos reverberates with oneness, throbbing as palpably as your ears after a loud-ass concert.
Luckily Stevie Wonder figured all this shit out for us years ago. Songs in the Key of Life is an album as pretentious and humble, as perfect and flawed as its title suggests. It concludes with a couplet—"As" fades almost imperceptibly into "Another Star," a dancing duet of mirror images and alternate analyses of humanity interfacing with the breath of God. Of course, this is Stevie we're dealing with here, so we're not crunching numbers or referencing Niels Bohr or attempting to reconcile super-reality with our own clumsy little lives (or are we?). What we're talking about is what we talk about when we talk about love; as heartfelt as Mr. Wonder's devotion to a non-denominational God is, he's forever been the active agent of capital-L Love. Spiritual and physical, immortal and worldly, the Love of which he speaks is transcendent by way of alchemy; it combines irreconcilable essences to obtain the true singularity by which the universe of both thought and sensation are enscribed. Think about it as an earthly love transgressing into the boundaries of the divine.
"As" begins deceptively enough, with a mellow groove and Stevie's comparison of his love for "you" with emotive intangibles ("just as hate knows love's the cure") and the sacred logic of the spheres ("as around the sun the earth knows she's revolving"), potent stuff no doubt, but still familiar to us as a poetic overstatement of love's power that we've heard in a thousand sonnets and a million pop songs. The feeling of security lasts less than a minute. Then the chorus drops, and we're suddenly within the flash of forever exploding in your pocket, a swelling nimbus of energy sustained in perpetuity with the promise of love stretched so far it becomes a science fiction film or a surrealist painting ("until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea"). This vision lasts precisely eighteen seconds. Once the premise of lyrical pronouncement of devotion alternating with thunderous absurd poetry has been established, Stevie wastes little time in breaking it, refashioning it and taking it to new realms. "As" is a structure that re-defines itself continuously, an architect that blows up its own building. The change is signaled when Stevie asks with rhetorical aptness, "Did you know you're loved by somebody?" He states it as a fact, because it is one, and he brushes it aside almost instantly, as though you need not spend too much time dwelling on it.
Ah, then comes the quantum leap. We're held in suspension for a moment that divides by itself and becomes forever by means of an equation no one shall ever determine, and then a tossed-off "ah!" from Mr. Wonder and a sudden transition into his gruff, earthy voice spells it all out for us:
We all know sometimes life's hates and troublesThe acceptance of worldly constraints arrives concurrent with the knowledge of their transmigration into spiritual necessities. We are and love and shall love "until we dream of life and life becomes a dream" because life already is a dream—the waking dream of a sleeping God, the non-quantifiable existence who enraptures life as potential energy, dwelling in all of us. "Until the day that you are me and I am you," for once and for all unravels the mystery in eleven words and twelve syllables (23!)—we need not wait upon the arrival of forever, as it is here—right here, right now. Because it's happening—every moment of every day, love is making the present become its own infinity. And as the chorus rolls on an on into the recurrent sunset, attending to the constant birth and rebirth of the day, it observes and reflects the unceasing struggle of humanity's attempt to make love to logic and logic out of love.
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
Luckily, because Stevie Wonder is a singular breed of meta-genius and songwriter who has subsumed himself to the universe at the expense of his own persona, we don't get a moment to think about "and then." It happens right away: "Another Star" emerges from the dying embers of "As" and immediately realigns us to thinking about another infinity, another damned worldview—the pernicious next. The rhythm could be the fiery sister to the one underlining "As," but the structure is completely insistent rather than wavering. Melodic shifts occur, but they're bolstered by the same contiguous undercurrent: a needling at the base of the spine, an infusion of vitality injected directly into the veins. A casual listen might lead one to think that "Another Star" is a simplification of the almost-orgasmic pull-and-tug of beats and sounds that "As" becomes, but that would be fallacious; if it simplifies, it does so out of the province of the forgotten lover, the discarded heart, the tails to the heads of the prior song. At the end, the key to understanding "Another Star" lies within the very simple and forthright lyrics, encapsulated here:
For youPut aside the la-la-la’s for the moment. This is a song about heartbreak. The fact that it is a joyous song about heartbreak should tell you something. If it doesn't, think about the word "celebrate" for a full half-hour. Stevie isn't pining, mourning or acting to destroy the love you shared with him yesterday.
Love might be for you to find
But I will celebrate our love of yesterday
He's celebrating it. You wanna know why?
Because he has understood and encompassed infinity by the measure of his love. Because he knows that love has existed, has promised the earth and sky and the death of mathematical reason, has borne its bitter fruit and has decayed on the vine. This doesn't cause him distress, even after the obvious failure of "As" and its fantastical affirmations, it gives him hope. Because "for you, there must be another star" does not mean that love has failed but that love is where we find it. And because he has circumnavigated the corpse of infinity with poetry, Stevie Wonder knows that the eternal love promised by "As" is as real now as it was then; it existed and it will continue to exist, because we dwell forever in the unknowing now, embedded in the uncertainty of the absolute. Whether our existence is informed by the metaphysical, the poetic or the quantum, we cannot escape the fact that love has infused every particle; that love and all its promises and lies will dominate until it reaches its end.
And then—what end?