songs that soundtracked the aids epidemic

Songs That Soundtracked The AIDS Epidemic: Janet’s “Together Again”

Sweet harp chords flourish as “Together Again” starts, then it picks up momentum with these lyrics “There are times when I look above and beyond, there are times when I feel your love around me baby, I’ll never forget my baby.” Janet Jackson released this single on December 2, 1997, part of her sixth studio album “The Velvet Rope” and instantly this became an anthem for those lost to the now quiet violence of the ongoing epidemic.  

Janet herself said the song is about friends lost to AIDS and that she was inspired by the Nuyorican Soul song “Runaway.” It would become a beautiful ode to lives lost. 1997 was two years after the introduction of HAART or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy simply called ART now. This breakthrough: that a combination of drugs that attacked viral progression at different stages meant a rapid decrease in the viral load in bodies,  which reversed conditions for many sickened with HIV and diagnosed with AIDS.

This however, didn’t end the morbidity of HIV, especially for Black and brown people fighting to live. According to the CDC, Black people bore a disproportionate rate of death from HIV in 1997. It’s in this context that “Together Again” comforts so many who have lost someone by reminding us with a beautiful refrain that “Everywhere I go, every smile I  see I know you are there smilin’ back at me.” This was a godsend for so many who took their pain of loss to the dance floor, booming in clubs, a beautiful ritual of remembrance cascading under the brilliance of iridescent lights. Knowing that our loved ones were “Dancin’ in moonlight” and that they are now FREE. Free of the pain, hurt and judgement of having lived with a virus. 

“Together Again” was commercially successful, becoming Janet’s eighth number one hit topping the charts on January 31, 1998 and stayed there for two weeks.  There were two music videos produced for this song, but the most memorable is the one shot in Tanzania. Janet’s radiance in the bright Serengeti sun is remarkable with bright red ponytails and colorful African prints, Janet and her dancers beautifully synchronized in choreography that has elements of vogue. 

What an offering. 

To all those lost to AIDS, I can’t wait to feel your warm embrace and “I dream of us together again.” and “I can’t wait for you to wrap your wings around me.”

Until then I’ll gaze at “your star shinin’ back at me.”

àṣẹ

Abdul-Aliy (They/Them) is a Philadelphia born writer, organizer and cofounder of the Black and Brown Workers Co-op. In their work they often trouble ideas of medical surveillance, bodily autonomy and Blackness. Follow them on Twitter at@mxabdulaliy. Cash App: $dulle

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