Reading the GQ profile of soul artist D’Angelo, like the thousands others who read it, I was blown away by his story of self-destruction and redemption. One small detail stood out for me, though. When D’Angelo finally decided to clean up from years of drug and alcohol abuse he reached out to Eric Clapton to see if he could go to his treatment center in Antigua. One problem, though:
Getting D to Antigua was an odyssey in itself. First off, he had neither a driver’s license nor a passport—a challenge when trying to board an international flight.
Two things here: first, notice that D’Angelo’s lack of a license or passport didn’t prevent him from boarding the plane. It was only a “challenge,” wrote Amy Wallace. Here’s why this small detail was so interesting to me: voting rights opponents often argue that you need a photo ID to board a plane, so likewise you should to vote. But as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, and as D’Angelo’s handlers likely realized, you don’t actually need ID to board planes. This point has been made repeatedly also by Judith Browne Dianis at the Advancement Project, and Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center, who actually tested it out and was able to board without his driver’s license.
The other thing, though, and most important: Why the hell didn’t D’Angelo have a drivers license or passport? While it’s true that people without cars and of low income are among the most likely to not have a state-issued ID, a multi-platinum and much-traveled artist like D’Angelo wouldn’t fall in those categories. Perhaps the answer for this lies in what happened to him before he sought rehab. From the GQ story:
In January 2005 a bloated, bleary-eyed D’Angelo was arrested in Richmond and charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana and driving while intoxicated.… The near fatal Hummer accident came in mid-September of that year, after D had received a three-year suspended sentence on the cocaine charge.
Traffic crimes like these, especially those involving drugs, usually end up with a suspended and/or confiscated driver’s license. This 2006 article from Richmond Magazine confirms that his license was at least suspended:
Just one week before his Sept. 19, 2005, Hummer accident, he was seen high-fiving his way out of a Chesterfield courthouse after a judge had handed down a three-year suspended jail sentence (and no fine to speak of) for cocaine possession. The singer had been pulled over for speeding in January 2005 and arrested on DUI and drug possession charges….