All Waters by Perfume Genius
The Ambiguity of Holding, By Harry Lindsey
Artist's Pronouns: He/Him
Calling for stillness is a quiet act of radicalism. As we have constructed life as something to work through, where work earns us our living, our livelihood, it is clear that we are conditioned to equate productivity with value, work with living, jobs with life. But what if there was something more valuable when we cease and make peace in the still? All Waters by Perfume Genius suggests a different horizon to move towards.
Atop the low fog of a synth, Mike Hadreas’s voice is a gentle light beam. “When all water’s still, And flowers cover the earth, When no tree is shivering, And the dust settles in the desert.” With synth and voice together in a steady rising, Perfume Genius’s “All Waters” is a gentle call for a generative stillness, opposing this constructive life of work for something more.
But dreaming for something more is not just a desire for Perfume Genius, it is a clear necessity. The dream of All Waters pines for stillness to combat something. And as the song moves forward, it is revealed that it does not hold the romance of longing, instead it moves with a rousing urge for change.
In the second verse, the longing scene we have been called into is revealed as a site for queer love to exist, untethered to homophobia or street harassment, “When I can take your hand, On any crowded street, And hold you close to me, With no hesitating.” Mike’s rising falsetto moves like a yearning gaze, tilted up to the sky, longing in its when’s. When will these water’s still? When can I take your hand with no hesitation?
The when’s of All Waters appear fixed on a horizon, a common destination for queer longing. José Esteban Muñoz’s “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity” is perhaps wedded-in-thought to Perfume Genius’s longing. In its opening lines, “Cruising Utopia” suggests “Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.”
In All Waters’ final verse, Hadreas’s voice is a warm illumination, pulling away from the horizon(s) he seemed to be longing for. Hadreas sings, instead, to the real presence of his love, “Oh my love, Oh my flower, Oh hold my hand.” The horizon remains in the distance, as just an illusion of the earth’s curvature. An unreal destination, perhaps an unreal hope. The flowers that will cover the earth feel tragically mythic. But Perfume Genius figures his own love as a “flower”, whose hand is still there, real in its physicality and longing to be held, no matter the consequence.
All Waters is a triumphant mediation on the ambiguity of holding; holding as an embrace but also as enduring, to hold out for. There is a quiet pain to this meditation, for it suggests that within the reality of holding a loved one, there is still more longing. Longing for a love outside of time, outside of constraint or construct, just being and soaking in a stillness that often feels unreachable. But no matter how far the reach to true stillness is, Hadreas will still extend his hand to love.
Writing and reflecting within these longing waters during lockdown is heightening the song’s ambiguous hold. It is reminding me that when this time ends, and we are allowed outside again, it will not be a return. There will be new and old horizons we hold on for, and there will be new and old hands we hold on to. Though some of those hands and horizons may be old, our holding will take new forms and new needs, re-focused by how the world and its people have revealed itself while we've been apart. In the growing newness of the world, perhaps all that matters is the dreams and the people we hold on to.
Whoever and whatever it pulls towards, the meditative urge of All Waters reminds me that longing and love will be felt together within the depths of our hold. As we move simultaneously towards each other and towards our necessary horizons imbued with transformative potentiality, we will feel both inseparably, loving and longing at once in the ambiguity of our holding.