I’m Fascinated By What Kanye West Is Doing

In The Beatles first film, the wonderful A Hard Day’s Night, George accidentally wonders into a casting office and is mistaken for teenager, seeking work in a new commercial. You can watch it below. And you should. It’s funny and it’s relevant.

I’ve been thinking about this scene a lot lately and how it relates to Kanye West and his new album Swish, Waves,  The Life of Pablo. Specifically, I’ve been trying to figure out if I think Kanye is a new phenomenon or just a trouble maker.

But, first some background.

Up until a month ago, my exposure to the music of Kanye I might have included hearing a Kanye West song somewhere once. This was not a stance I had taken against Kanye for making Mike Meyers uncomfortable, more on that later, it was a product of an unconscious choice I made when I was 15.

In Jr. High, I loved rap/hip hop. I came home from school every day and turned on Yo! MTV Raps and got into Kwame, Heavy D, Digital Underground, Biz Markie, Special Ed, KRS-One, Sir Mix-A-Lot (Pre-Baby Got Back), The Beastie Boys, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, and my absolute favorite, Public Enemy. Hip Hop wasn’t all I listened to, but it was most of it.

And then, in March of 1991 I heard Out of Time by R.E.M. and that was it for me and hip hop. It wasn’t a clean break. I still bought and loved Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Fights Black in October of that year, but by then I had begun to drift toward Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

I was aware of The Chronic and Doggystyle, much in the same way that I was aware of Diesel and Razor Ramon in the WWF, something else I had once loved and drifted from once high school hit. But I missed almost everything that happened in rap and hip hop after 1991. I missed Biggie. I missed Pac. I missed Jay Z.

I didn’t miss Eminem.

But I missed everything else. Including Kanye West.

So, a month ago, I listened to The College Dropout and read Wikipedia and my opinion of Kanye, built exclusively on his award show nonsense, his anger at not being allowed to have a career in the fashion industry, and his appearances on South Park, broadened considerably.

College Dropout (and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve know this for a long time) is amazing. And I found his backstory of trying to become a rapper after being pigeonholed as a producer and creator of beats for other artists fascinating.

The conceit of the last track, Last Call, where he describes his career to that point and  basically says, “no one thought this would work, but I made an amazing album that will change the world” is fantastic.  Remember, he wrote and recorded that song before anyone had heard the album. The only proof he had that it was great was that he was sure it was great.

And it was great.

But I’d never heard it, so here’s what I thought about Kanye, and it’s what most of your typical Simon Marshall’s thought of Kanye. This guy is an egomaniac. All he does is talk about how awesome he is while confusing white people on stage at awards shows. (There’s a great short documentary to be made of a dinner with all the people Kanye has derailed during award shows) He doesn’t have a sense of humor about himself or anything else (hell, he doesn’t even get the fish sticks joke), and he has a strange sense of entitlement.

I was truly baffled by his assertion that he should be allowed to be a fashion designer and that the fashion industry was bigoted and holding him back, as if everyone on earth has to actively turn down their job as a fashion designer, but Kanye has to beg just to get a meeting.

I still think that’s kind of nuts, but it makes more sense after listening to Last Call. People have been telling him he can’t his whole career, this was just another example and he was going to prove them wrong.

Maybe Kanye is a new phenomenon.

Then I worked my way through his catalog, liking some of it more than others. I’m not a huge fan of autotune, so draw your own conclusions about which albums I was less interested in, but I like artists that stretch and try new things. If every album sounds exactly the same you had better be as awesome at creating that same sound as AC/DC is at creating their song, and most people aren’t.

So, I was actually looking forward to his new album.

I’d begun to follow him on twitter and pay attention to the information that was out there about what was called Swish when I first became aware of it.

And then I delighted in the Wiz Khalifa twitter explosion that accompanied Kanye changing the name of the album to Waves and thinking that anytime anyone tweets the letters KK they are throwing shade at his wife (what must he think of references to the Klan?).

I had this image of Kanye in my head, stopping the entire recording session and pacing back and forth across the room with his phone in his hand screaming nonsense about Wiz Khalifa and then tweeting all of it realtime. I have no knowledge that this is what happened, but you’d have to work to convince me otherwise.

If he can become so completely unhinged after a misunderstood tweet to the point where he felt forced to tweet the next day about how he never let an ex-girlfriend anywhere near his butthole, he had to be nuts, right?

Then he changed the name of the album again. The Life of Pablo this time. Announcing it via twitter. He leaked a track listing. Then it was clear that he was still recording parts of the album, changing the songs, adding new verses, deleting old collaborations, not done with it yet, possibly moving the release date. It all seemed nuts.

And any thought that his twitter explosions might have been a calculated way to create more buzz around his album seemed unlikely.

Maybe, Kanye is just a troublemaker.

After all, he just can’t seem to leave Taylor Swift alone, rapping about having sex with her and then shouting about her back stage at SNL last weekend.

He can’t seem to finish an album or release it in any comprehendible way.

TLOP was played live at Madison Square Garden during a Kanye fashion show.

A different version was release on Tidal the next day, with lyrics about how well the MSG show had gone, and also, I guess, up for sale on his website.

Then it wasn’t for sale on his website anymore and he announced it would only ever be available on Tidal and never for sale anywhere.

And I think some of the songs have been changed since then.

It’s all very confusing and I probably got some of that wrong.

But you know what I haven’t done? Listened to TLOP yet. I don’t have a Tidal account and I’m not going to get one. Not out of spite, but just because I’m not going to get one. I’ve already got too many ways I’m paying to get content these days. No plans to add another right now.

So, I have no idea if it’s any good or not. I’ve heard good things. People who tend to like Kanye, seem to like it. I’ll probably hear it at some point, but the fact that I haven’t heard it doesn’t really lessen it’s impact or potential importance.

Because here’s what’s really interesting about all of this to me. The thing that may just swing my pendulum all the way from troublemaker to phenomenon.

With all the changing album titles and added verses and altered track listings and changes in distribution methods, Kanye is possibly reinventing the music industry in real time.

Ask anyone who has ever written a book or recorded a song or made a movie and they’ll tell you that their work was never really done. It was just done enough to be published, or put on the album, or released in theaters. You want examples?

Go see Bob Dylan in concert or listen to any of his Bootleg series. He’s always changing his songs.

Stephen King rewrote parts of The Gunslinger 25 years after he released it.

George Lucas has tweaked Star Wars countless times over the years.

Kanye is just embracing the technology and admitting that this album may never be done. He changed it the night he released it, not 25 years later.

And why not?

It’s his work. His vision. His creation. He can keep creating it until the end of time, or until his attention is drawn elsewhere. Which it will be, he got more clothes to design, or maybe he wants to be an architect next. He’s already reached out to Mark Zuckerberg to become the financial backer for all of his next artistic whims.*

Sure, it looks nuts, and maybe it is nuts, but we’re seeing the process in ways we’ve never seen it before. And change is messy.

Especially if you have a twitter account and a phone in your hands at all times. But twitter is just Kanye’s way of turning down the volume and saying rude things about Susan.

Which might just make him an early sign of the new direction. I’ll know in 10 years when I finally listen to TLOP.

 

*Mark Zuckerberg, you can back me and get me out of debt for a lot less than $53 million. Call me.

The One Thing About Donald Trump that No One is Saying

Donald Trump is completely in my head. But not in the way you might think. Let me explain.

About a year ago I was having trouble sleeping. Not falling to sleep. Generally that wasn’t a problem. My problem would come in the middle of the night when either my son woke me up, or I had to pee or something and I woke up just enough for a thought to creep in and take hold. That thought would take hold. It would lead to another, which would lead to another. and suddenly I was too awake and engaged with my own thoughts to go back to sleep.

I’m sure this experience is not unique to me. Millions of people every night have this exact same experience.

Here’s how I decided to deal with it.

I started meditating.

I’d been curious about this, but didn’t really know how to do it, or where to go to learn that didn’t involve Prudence Farrow and my manager dying unexpectedly. So, I found a couple of guided meditation CDs and a great app called Headspace. I’ve become a bit of a zealot about it. Recommending it to everyone I know regardless of their particular ailment. I try not to be that guy. But, sometimes I am a bit.

That’s not what this is, though. Don’t worry. I’m going to get back to Donald Trump.

So, here’s the thing with meditation. So much of it, at least at the beginning, is about accepting those thoughts that either gently try to get your attention (I think I need gas when I go out) or try to violently impose themselves upon your world view or your view of your self (I’m a failure at my job. I’m powerless to change my life. Why do people hate me? Man, I’m awesome at everything!). Accepting them and then letting them go.

You can’t control your thoughts. You can’t stop them. They’re going to come, but you’re not really the one making them come. The only thing you can control is how you respond to them.

The impact all of these thoughts have is completely up to you. So, through meditation, if you can learn to look at those thoughts and say, “Oh, look at you. Aren’t you cute, trying to be all helpful like that? Thanks for stopping by.” then those thought float on through and you can go on about your business, or in my case go back to sleep.

And it’s been a huge help.

So, Donald Trump.

As we got into the last Republican debate last week, I made the point to a friend that if I were one of the other people on stage with him, I’d just ignore him. Attacking him doesn’t work. It only makes him stronger and people seem more interested in him and what he’s doing. But, if anytime a question was asked about Trump, Jeb! decided to talk about something else, if anytime Trump attacked Ted Cruz, Cruz ignored the attack and instead starting talking his own brand of crazy, if anytime Trump mentioned Chris Christie, Christie just looked the other way and talked about something he cared about, the power Trump has goes away.

Trump is a dumpster fire that requires fuel.

And it’s tempting to give him that fuel, because he’s entertaining.

And that’s how he’s exactly like those thoughts that keep you up at night.

He’s going to keep talking, just like those thoughts are going to keep trying to get your attention. We’re not making him talk and we can’t stop him from talking. But we can give him all the attention he deserves:

“Oh, look at you. Aren’t you cute, trying to be all helpful like that? Thanks for stopping by.”

My thoughts require my attention to gain traction and disrupt what I’m doing. And so does Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is in my head because he is my thoughts and my thoughts are Donald Trump.

The comfort and clarity this has provided in both my sleep cycle and my attention and focus on this presidential race is without measure.

I will now return my focus to my breath.

Why Kim Davis is Good for Kentucky

I thought I’d missed my chance to get in on this “crazy lady in Kentucky refuses to do her job because of some combination of God + Gays + Evil + Divorce, or something” but then she went back to work today and due to her policy of being on TV, put herself right back on TV again by refusing to issue marriage licenses. So, the window is still open on this one.

Yay!

I’m not from Kentucky. Sure, both branches of my family tree have their roots there. Sure. I was technically born there, though this latter has more to do with the quality of Southern Indiana hospitals than it does with having a deep connection with the Commonwealth. And it occurs to me just now how odd it is that it’s The Commonwealth of Kentucky, and yet they call themselves The Bluegrass State. This is neither here nor there, but let’s just add it to my problems with the Kentucky: General indecision about whether they are a commonwealth or a state.

So, no. I’m not from Kentucky, but I am connected to it in ways that make me uncomfortable. And also, mostly, I hate the University of Kentucky and their cheating basketball program with their history of cheating and their horrible fans who don’t seem to care that they have cheated since TV was a brand new invention just so long as they win.

Because of my universal dislike for UK and its fans, I have long held policy of painting the entire state with one big cheating redneck brush. Except for the UofL fans, and the nice people who make bourbon, everyone in Kentucky is the same to me. Uniformly awful.

But then this horrible woman started acting horribly and denying people the rights they are guaranteed by law, and refusing to do the job she was elected to do because of Jesus.

And my first thought wasn’t “Typical Kentucky.”

And this, my friends, is great for Kentucky’s image.

Kim Davis has managed to make a whole lot of people in Kentucky look a whole better than I would have ever imagined. She is a walking, talking, braided, “There but for the Grace of God” poster for the citizens of The Bluegrass Commonwealth. The people of Kentucky, most of them anyway, including the UK fans on my Facebook timeline, do not agree with what she is doing, and are pretty open about it.

Go, you guys!

Now, it’s bad for the gay citizens of Kentucky who live in her county and would like to get married that they have to choose when to apply for a marriage license by weighing such factors as; how much do I want to be on TV yelling at someone, and is the lady who runs that office on her lunch break or in prison today.

And it’s bad for the straight people in her county who want to apply for a marriage license. Because nothing makes going to a government office to fill out paperwork worse than having to fight through four blocks of news trucks and Wolf Blitzer to do it. Not to mention how awkward it would be to get your license and turn around to see the upset faces of the gay couple being denied this same right while you get to go plan your shotgun wedding.

Sorry, old habits denigrating an entire state full of people die hard apparently.

And it’s bad for her colleagues who just have to deal with all of the fall out from their boss’s crazy behavior all day, and keep the TV cameras from seeing that they’re on eBay all day bidding on Hummel figurines.

But, congratulations Kentucky! Kim Davis is so awful that I’m not thinking about how much I dislike your basketball team right now. And I’ve mostly stopped thinking of you as an amorphous blob of unpleasantness.

And whether you know it or not, that’s huge.