10/5/07

The automythology of Kanye West is an automythology I can get behind. Sort of.

"And then there is Jimmy Carter, who is in my judgment literally the worst poet in the United States."
~Harold Bloom.

So, I have no idea why this video and song -- "Good Life" by Mr. West, naturally -- has so thoroughly owned me for the last two or three days. I've listened to it easily a hundred times, and watched the video probably a dozen. It's a great song, I think. It's got a breezy summer jam way about it, and that's about as far as it should go. It feels like a lightweight song. But it has this very strange effect on me, and it's ridiculously addictive. And the weird thing is -- and this will sound preposterous-- but it has kind of profoundly philosophical implications for me.

Plus, Kanye West is ludicrously hot.

Look at his eyes when he rushes the camera. Dude's eyes make me want to be a better man. He's kind of got this Sufjan Stevens way about him. He does everything so well, and is even self-effacing enough about that fact, that you're necessarily left looking for the chink. Where is this man not fucking perfect? Not flawless, but he even picks the most fashionable flaws. Shit, he forces his flaws to be fashionable. There's a part in the video that any other rapper I can think of would have taken out -- Kanye and T-Pain are both dancing, and it feels like T-Pain is trying to show Ye a Broadway step, and Ye can't do it right and he starts laughing, aww shucks. That's when you know you're a tastemaker.

When your fuckups trump other people's triumphs, without them resenting you.

My ex-girl friend Tempest is having a couple of her lovely photos exhibited in a show soon, and there's one of those artistic statement things on her website to comment on the method of the photos. It ends, "I find this theme of solitude, even in the company of others fascinating." Me too. It's pretty fucking sad, but such is life. Here we are with all these possibilities, necessarily delimited by our own itchy skin. Even when we want to crawl out of it, we just end up crawling in it.

Hip hop, it has not escaped notice, is often a pretty materialistic enterprise, in a way that usually skates along to solipsistic, violent acquisitiveness. So generally, when I'm listening to contemporary rap of the thug or crack varieties, I have to beat down my reservations about the implications of this kind of scary economic system of happiness, where more is better and less is lesser, and just enjoy it as a depthless, chintzy aesthetic experience. It's not like these dudes are Nietzsche or something. They're not sinking into themselves to analyze their assumptions and their very existence. They're repressive types. They're beating down the stuff they find undesirable so as to emphasize the stuff that they take to be essential, and they end up sort of flat characters, cartoons, egos overshadowed by ids become superegos, where their primal urges actually become their better judgment.

There's this thing that Juelz Santana introduced and the Dipset and Young Money guys do. They say "no homo" after they say something that could be construed as gay. You know, "suck my dick -- no homo." There's a great example of it on urbandictionary: "That dude has huge calves, no homo." I'm not sure how cheeky they're being, but I'm tempted to say not very. It really doesn't seem like they realizes how much gayer this makes them sound.

Because, in this materialistic kind of enterprise, there's a necessary process of self-mythologizing. You make yourself fearless by showing no fear. You talk yourself rich. You talk yourself big-dicked. You talk yourself hard. You talk yourself a soldier. You talk yourself the best. And to some extent, this is just the kind of rhetoric that you use to bolster your self-esteem, you know. It's the Stuart Smalley school of thought -- "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." Except it's really mean. It's affirmation by denial.

But then there's Kanye. And I mean, he's the same, in a way. Except, you know, he's from an upper-middle class family, and he went to art school, and he wears sweater vests and shit, and Beanie Siegel and that weird slutlady from One D at a Time and Jezebel accuse him of being gay on a regular basis. So there's probably a bit of a classist bent to my appreciation of Kanye's philosophy. He's more like I am than most rappers. But this is, of course, hero-worship. It's like identifying with John Cusack movies. Identification as validation. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I mean, dude's obsessed with teddy-bears, and so am I. Dude's obsessed with college, and so am I.



Dude's obsessed with his self-consciousness, and so am I. His and mine. Ye's not talking about hurting anybody, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. He's kind of bitchy. But he's also kind of positive. Not in that, you know, unbearably preachy poli-sci rap way. He's trying to get his without stepping on your toes.

But there's this line in "Good Life." Actually, T-Pain (which is the worst name for an R&B singer ever) says it. He says, "The good life, better than the life I lived back when I thought that I was gonna go crazy."

And this is the kind of automythology I can get behind. Because, even though it's crazy corporeal, and all about bling and bitches, it suggests that there's this place of bliss available if you can just keep charging through the awful. And I don't believe that Kanye is there, in that place, but I believe that he's kind of mythologized himself there, and I can respect that in a way. I mean, it's probably telling that the two best moments of the song are about women's asses. There's "If she got the goods, and she got that ass, I got to look... sorry." But his sorry, it's fucking weird, it actually sounds a little bit penitent. I mean, it's coy, and it's impish, and it's bedeviled, but it's also sheepish. And I love that Kanye West is willing to be sheepish, even when he's planting his flag on the highest mountain of world culture, and redesigning the flag at the same time. And then there's, "Welcome to the good life, where we like the girls who ain't on TV cuz they got more..." and then the track drops out and the vocals are pitch-shifted down, and it's "...ass than the models." It's tremendous. Ye likes real people? No, Ye just wants more ass.

And it's probably just that I'm taking a class on Utopias that makes me note the kind of necessity of paradox that circumscribes this kind of thinking. Because the solution to that line that is kind of the key to what I like about the song -- "The good life, better than the life I lived when I thought that I was gonna go crazy" -- is "and now my grandmama ain't the only one calling me baby." So what does your grandma think about your whoring around?

So the good life is about cashing in money for stuff and sex, without that being a deflating, emptying metaphysical experience. It's that line from Anchorman, where Will Ferrell says, "We've been coming to the same party for twelve years... and in no way is that depressing." It's all about stasis, because these girls aren't a series of singular girls. It's just this category as interchangeable as dollar bills, one as good as another as long as it looks right. And that pisses me off, because that doesn't sound like the Good Life to me. It seems like pursuing life to the far reaches of its hollow, pathetic depths.

But still, Ye says it's there. Ye goes for his, but Ye's got to shine. It's not a choice. And it's not a thing. It's a feeling. It feels like NY, summertime Chi, ahhhh, now throw your hands up in the sky. And I think that's the most telling moment in the song, and in the video. "It feel like VA or the Bay or Ye," he says. And he points to "Ye" but it's blurred out, and a big cartoon arrow points to him. So it's a coke reference. But it's also a lot cooler. Because living the good life means feeling like Kanye feels.

(I imagine two philosophy majors in the late 1980s arguing, one saying, "the day a rapper writes his name under erasure to indicate the diffuse nature of existence and identity, I will eat my hat." Then, I picture him eating his hat.)

But then, there's a shot of the young Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson never did live a good life. I wonder how he could have lived the good life. But, he always looked good doing it, or not doing it, as the case may be.

And that's the feeling that the song makes me feel, or feel like I could feel. The feeling that there is a good life if you scrape off the patina -- the green on the bronze of life -- it starts to sparkle. But, confound it if it doesn't all come back to hot. If it looks good, eventually it will be good. Right?

Until it gets old?

You want your fuckups to trump other people's triumphs.

You want to automythologize like Kanye West. But at that point it stops meaning anything. So I guess you feel it, or you don't.

*

People sometimes say Kanye's a bad rapper. And he's not a tongue-twisting mind-bending word-fucking rapper. He's not a "tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth" rapper. But he's not a bad rapper. He's a good rapper. His voice is so featherweight, it's hard to imagine why it's so singular and memorable. But he has a way of saying two things that nobody else has: "Huh!" and "Ayy!" It's sounds like a minor distinction, but it's not. But he's doesn't just brand himself like a lotta rappers nowadays. He's not just about slotting in his gimmicks at every opportunity. He's surprisingly flexible. He ends up in the "vocalist" category of rapper, which is odd, because he can't really do more than your average hungry rapper, but he's carried and buoyed by the complete singularity of his voice -- a lot like Dr. Dre in that respect. Two of the best producers ever, no surprise maybe that they use their voices as their most singular instruments, even though they're both kinda shitty technicians, and only better-than-adequate lyricists.

*

Oh, yeah, my blog is back. Sort of.

3 comments:

Tempest said...

YAY!

Tempest said...

meaning...I'm glad you're back.

D said...

Gee, I thought you meant you were really interested in what I had to say about Kanye West.