The Musician: A Dream Deferred

To view Allison Carter's audio slide show, click the image.

To view Allison Carter's audio slide show, click the image.

By Marona Graham-Bailey

Lyric Jones is a true stage junkie. “Being on stage is my weed, my coke,” she said. “It’s my alcohol.” But nowadays, Lyric, née Janelle Clinton, finds herself far away from the spotlight in the dimly lit classrooms of the University of Georgia. “I’m in school because I have to be here,” Clinton said. Knowing she’s almost done keeps her going, as she finishes out her third year with hopes of graduating a year from now. 

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Clinton is studying broadcast journalism at UGA, the state’s flagship institution. This decision to attend UGA and then choose a non-music major is a note of rationality in the passionate dream of an artist whose friends say, “Music is her breath of fresh air.”

As Clinton remembers it, the summer before college began with an “eerie feeling.” As a high school student, she had spent three years participating in summer and academic year programs at Berklee College of Music in Boston, an institution lauded by serious musicians interested in contemporary music like jazz and rock. Grammy Award-winners Diana Krall, Melissa Etheridge, Quincy Jones and John Mayer are only a few of the notable alums who spent their struggling musician days at Berklee. In her final high school summer, it was both expected that Clinton apply and likely that she would be accepted into the degree program. “I remember making a decision and having a conflict over it all summer,” Clinton said. 

Her choice to attend Berklee depended on whether she received a scholarship, but recipients would not be announced until the end of the summer. “That means I’m gambling my college career,” Clinton thought. “I’m saying no to all these schools, because I’m waiting on Berklee to see if I get a scholarship.” 

Lyric Jones chose not to apply for the scholarship. Instead, she jumped off the musical fast track and headed down the coast to UGA. There are times when she asks herself, “Why am I still here? Do I really want to do this?” But she seeks comfort from her customary answer, “I’m trying to do what I love and live at the same time.” For Clinton, this means keeping herself well-rounded. A major in broadcast journalism, and not music, gives her more options. “There’s the most talented people in the world,” Clinton said, “and they’re still bagging groceries.” 

Clinton raps, plays drums, sings, plays bass, and writes lyrics. She dips into jazz, hip hop, and neo-soul. But whatever she’s doing, she brings a presence like no other. “She has a natural high when she’s on stage,” her close friend Regina Gavin said. “She tries to bring her message, keep it cool and sexy like a woman, but also show that she can be an MC as well as any guy can.”

At the bar scene, Lyric Jones stands tall and lanky on the stage with a short, permed, bob. The geometrical pattern of red, green, and blue lights cascading across the stage greets the pungent and distinct smell of weed. Clinton is Hip-Hop, with her skinny jeans, bangles, t-shirt declaring “no music, no life,” right on down to her hi-top sneakers. 

“All I want is the exhilaration of being on stage,” Clinton said. And her hunger shows. She’s hungry for the crowd to feel her music as deeply as she does, her powerful, message-conscious lyrics spilling out of the speakers. Clinton is up and down off the stage, able to work a crowd, small or large, involving them and getting them to repeat the refrain to a self-authored song, “Ain’t nothing hindering me.” But there’s no satiating Clinton’s appetite for music. When her set wraps up, she may be off stage, but she’s in the audience, living vicariously through the next performer. 

On the jazz scene, Clinton may have taken on a more modest look, but she performs with the same captivating spirit. The lights flash off the brass of the saxophones and trumpets inside of a must-free concert hall, illuminating the stage. For the evening jazz recital, Clinton is sensible in her black silk shirt, tailored dark gray pinstriped pants, and conservative, yet dangly jewelry. But her true love of Hip Hop must always be honored, and hi-tops hide in the shadows of her wide-legged pants. She’s sharing the stage, but in the most subtle of ways she’s stealing the spotlight with her presence and the goofy grin of joy that emanates only from someone for whom this very moment is pure perfection. “There are moments on stage with her that have just been phenomenal,” said her jazz band director Steve Dancz. “She and I can kind of lock in. She is just really looking and responding, in a real wonderful way.”

Clinton is all things music. In her bedroom, cds are propped up around the room, as though the very items themselves are a piece of art. Posters of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald plaster her walls. Baggy sweatpants and t-shirt on, there is no quiet without a constant stream of music in the background. There’s a guitar in one corner, mini-amp under her desk, and stacks upon stacks of cds everywhere else. Ledisi, Jill Scott, and Lauryn Hill stand among her favorite.

The decision to be in school is one of logic, Clinton said. “That’s what it really comes down to, being logical, instead of feeling. You need to balance it– feeling with logic. I’m still doing what I love to do. I’m still performing, I’m still writing. I’m still recording. I’ve got it all. I’m not doing it the way I want to do it, but I’m still doing it.” When questioned why she didn’t just major in music, Clinton becomes reflective. If God has blessed her with more than one talent, then why not pursue and learn another craft, she asks?

And for a woman, not yet 21, she’s got an incredible ability to express an apparent sense of peace in her chosen path. But her sentiments reveal more. “I don’t really have time to sit and write, and just write, write, write, because I’m supposed to be writing for class.” She points out her writing notebook which sits untouched at the bottom of a towering stack of school books. “That’s something that really hurts,” Clinton said. “I’m Lyric. You know what I’m saying?” she demands. “I’m Lyric Jones.”

Her friends advise her, asking questions like “Why not pursue another craft?” And others like Gavin say, “It’s like I tell her, you can always do both, school and music. Music is going to be there when she’s done.”

Music may not go her way, because it doesn’t go everybody’s way, Clinton believes. “I’m not guaranteed a career. I’m not guaranteed a record contract. I’m not even guaranteed my current record being completely done,” she said. “This is a guarantee: I’m going to get a degree because I’m paying for that shit. So I’m in school. I’m going to get that degree. I’m good.” 

What happens to a dream deferred?

 

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

 

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

 

Or does it explode?

 

 

Langston Hughes, 1902 – 1967

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