I can not tell you how many Friday nights I spent down in the basement of my childhood home back in Long Island, hairbrush in hand, lip-synching every last word, ad-lib and inflection Lady Tee poured into her song, Portuguese Love. God, I was such a homebody—short on friends, never kissed, totally lusting after this one particular boy I'd loved from the first day I'd met him in the 5th grade. He wasn't Portuguese, but that was just a minor detail. It was the sentiment of the words and the way Teena Marie sang them that transported me... transformed me... made me a believer. In love. And the possibilities.
On a starry winter night in PortugalWhere the ocean kissed the southern shoreThere a dream I never thought would come to passCame and went like time spent through an hourglass
You made love to me like fire and rain
Ooh, you know you've got to be a hurricane
Killing me with kisses, oh, so subtly
You make love forever, baby
You make love forever...
Years later, I fell in love with Casanova Brown. The song, that is. And not just because I'd fallen in love with my fair share of Casanova Browns. It was the purity of Teena Marie's voice that moved me, especially when she struck that long, beautiful note in the ad-libs toward the end. And it was those incredible words that spoke to me:
I love you to the bone marrow
Even when I'm asleep
And who are you to say?
What he does when I'm not around
Just because I fell in love with Casanova Brown.
I mean, I'd dug Teena Marie forever—woke up for school to Square Biz and Behind the Groove playing on my static-filled alarm clock radio, got a kick out of her slaying the guitar while she sang Lovergirl and I Need Your Lovin' on the dance shows from back in the day. It was solid music with a great dance beat. From a white girl, no less. It almost didn't seem natural, her hitting those notes. Having all that soul. That authenticity.
But my God, I had to get grown to really appreciate the sheer talent/phenomenon/force that was the singer, songwriter and producer Teena Marie. Had to go through some heartbreak and some pain and come back out on the other side. And there she was, Lady Tee—reminding every last one of us that we weren't suckers for falling for the okey doke. Casanova Brown was a charming bastard and turned us all the way out and made us feel all kinda ways and mercy—De Ja Vu, we'd all been there before. But we were going to be all right. Loving again wasn't only possible—it was necessary. Human.
More recently, TVOne's UnSung: Teena Marie put the force that was Teena Marie on full blast—made clear that she was much more than just some Rick James creation. She was an incredible songwriter who penned virtually every last one of her songs. She was a multilingual instrumentalist—fluent in keys, congas and guitar. And she was a trailblazer when it came to taking on shady music companies.
Teena Marie was, simply, more.
And she'll be missed, but never forgotten.
So long, Vanilla Chocolate.
Lady Tee forever...