#RealLife is a monthly feature where Consequence of Sound staffers join forces with a diverse cadre of writers to share personal stories inspired by one legendary album. This month we tackle Kanye West’s acclaimed 2013 record, Yeezus, sharing stories for every song on the album. Some of the stories may be inexorably linked to the album itself, and others may just share its themes, tone, and atmosphere. Regardless, they’re all real.
My official stance on Kanye West is that I have no stance on Kanye West. My unofficial stance on Kanye West is that I think he’s charismatic, and “Flashing Lights” is an awesome song. Oh, and I’ve never listened to Yeezus.
I know. But look, I have a problem. I get overwhelmed. It’s a thing. I’m on meds. But I get overwhelmed and I run. It’s like that for me in life, and, oddly enough, it’s like that for me in music.
When 60% of my Facebook feed is talking about the same thing, I don’t click the link or leave a bitchy comment. I run. When it seemed, upon its release one year ago, that Kanye West’s Yeezus was either the GREATEST ALBUM EVER MADE or the most overhyped, I ran. I didn’t see Kanye on Letterman, nor did I follow his “beef” with Jimmy Kimmel. I didn’t watch a single interview. I didn’t see that “Bound 2” video, nor did I watch that parody Seth Rogen and James Franco made. The only sounds I heard off that album were the ones in the Wolf of Wall Street trailer. And all I saw were all the think pieces and links and ALL CAPS Facebook posts.
So, I ran.
Now, let me clarify: it’s not because I don’t like Kanye West. I like Kanye West. Not only do I like him, but there was a time in my life when he was important to me. Hell, back when I was a born-again Christian, I wrote a whole essay on “Jesus Walks”. And I acknowledge that my compulsion to run from ubiquitous art is, well, not the best thing for someone who writes about music professionally. (I’m still not sure who this Iggy Azalea character is. Sorry ’bout it.) Oh, and let’s compound this with the fact that Kanye West was Consequence of Sound‘s 2013 Artist of the Year and Yeezus its 2013 Album of the Year. (Mine was Eluvium’s Nightmare Ending lol).
Consider this my penance.
I chose Yeezus as this month’s #RealLife for a number of reasons, but none so important as my desire to see the stories behind all those ALL CAPS Facebook posts. What does an album like this–a year old, a constant conversation piece, a source of devotion and frustration–stir up in people? Click ahead to find out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s about time I listen to Yeezus.
By Mike Madden
The west side of Hidden Beach is the more conservative side. On this breezy and mostly sunny afternoon, there are even a couple little kids there, splashing water and tossing a Nerf football with (presumably) Dad.
The east side, meanwhile, smelling equally of barbecue and weed, is strewn with empty beer cans and Backwoods packs, plus the usual beach debris. I am at Hidden Beach for the first time, and I am on the east side.
All around me, necks start to swivel. This is a natural collective reaction, like when everyone in sight raises their arms, palms up, upon those first couple drops of scalp-bound rain.
By the time I get the memo, W.B. is already munching on sand. B.G., whose black arm tattoos are barely visible above his skin, is stomping his right foot squarely into W.B.’s pasty back. Phones are hastily unpocketed, cameras activated, and the chants begin.
Another minute or two of viciousness ensues before B.G., deciding all this commotion isn’t worth it, steps away from W.B. for good. Or at least for today. He’s still fuming and he has removed his Derrick Rose Bulls jersey, I guess for emphasis.
In comes this white girl with a Kardashianesque posterior, hoping to calm B.G. down. I cannot hear her, but I can tell he is not having any of this.
B.G.’s eyes move away from Ms. New Booty and back to W.B., who has returned to his feet 30 feet shoreward. B.G. barks, “I’ll be right back here to beat your ass again tomorrow!”
He starts to vacate the premises, skipping to his left, his eyes on W.B. all the while. I do not return to the beach the next day to witness another episode of B.G.’s rage. It is not like I, or anyone else, would’ve truly subdued him anyway.
By Jimmy McDermott
A grad school friend texted me condolences when my sister died last year. I was grateful and touched that he hunted me down. We hadn’t talked in nearly 10 years. Months later, I saw the first movie trailer that genuinely excited me in the decade since I had spoken with my old chum. The thing just surged. It had adrenaline. Dopamine. Breathlessness. Vitality. Danger. My friend. Shock. Elation. Enthusiasm. Investment. Reflection. Regret. Jealousy. Anger. Despondence. I finally streamed the movie a couple months ago. We don’t get out much. It was a masterpiece. As good as Goodfellas. Not enough people recognized that. I texted my friend to tell him how terrific he was. He is. And to congratulate him on the birth of his child. Which had happened in the interim. We exchanged Instagrams of our daughters. And I mentioned that I was adjuncting in the $70M brand-new building at our alma mater. He said he had a bathroom named for him there from a donation he’d made. That night, at rehearsal, I realized I had been pissing in it for a week. I texted him a picture of the plaque. He was at a Clippers game.
I Am a God
By Michael Roffman
“I’m holding right here the only path towards salvation,” my high school theology teachers warned each day, as they tapped their bibles and stalked the room back and forth. I grew up in a non-religious family — my father’s Jewish, my mother’s “whatever” — who insisted I avoided South Florida public schools for a stronger education in places like St. Mark’s Episcopal School or St. Thomas Aquinas High School. And for every extraordinary biology teacher I had, there was always at least one religious zealot nearby, hellbent on practicing The Word of the Lord — especially in high school.
As old-fashioned scholars of Jonathan Edwards, a few of my teachers would read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as if they were clutching a syrup-stained menu at Denny’s. What a fucking power trip, I thought. Soon the cutesy parables of my youth turned into sinister morality lessons, contradicting much of the themes examined in my preceding lit classes (think: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible). Naturally, I tried rebelling with outside logic and science — all from lessons taught at the same institution, no less — but eventually opted to ignore the chatter by focusing on other classwork or some outside reading.
“What compelled you to bring American Psycho into my theology class?”
I was done. Over. Destroyed. Mr. Lawson had snatched up my book and was going to deliver it to the equally intolerant headmaster after class. Mind you, my bookmark was wedged between the titular character nailing his ex-girlfriend to a piece of wood and shoving a starved rat up her vagina. Mortified, I began thinking about the idea of sin, my own especially, and how this was one repercussion, oddly reverting to the exact mental place they wanted me in. Rather angry, but most of all desperate, I demanded the book after class by apologizing profusely and insisting I would never bring it on school grounds again.
Lawson obliged, but a part of me felt defeated; I had sunk to their demands — the gods of St. Thomas, so to speak. Later that afternoon, I felt gross, sickly even, as I trudged back to my car. The sun boiled over the parking lot as I studied the book’s cover in my hands, frowning at the aristocrat’s unfriendly scowl. Had Mr. Lawson read the book before? Or was it just the title? My mind lost itself in a downward spiral of thinking: Maybe he isn’t such a bad guy, maybe he’s just doing his job, and maybe he’s just as smart, if not smarter, than the school’s brilliant mathematicians and science instructors. After all, It’s just a nine to five, Mike.
American Psycho made its way back to school again — many times. I even used it as an acting piece for my Forensics class that year, doing a pathetic one-man show that would offend just about everyone for all the wrong reasons. (Think Tommy Palmese meets Angry Video Game Nerd.) Fuck ’em if they can’t handle it, I thought. God, Jesus Christ, Patrick Bateman — they were all the same to me: fictional icons. I felt so ‘holier than thou’ with that knowledge, reveling in my own personal heresy and obsessing over truths that I believed they’d never understand. It was so intoxicating that I can’t even write about it now without concluding: Yes, they were assholes, but I was the bigger one.
By Dominick Mayer
For as much fun as it is, being in a media studies program in college can be a drain if you love pop culture enough and, more importantly, want to continue loving it while not being critical of it 100% of the time. Doubly so if you’re chasing an M.A. in it, which I was just wrapping up when Kanye West showed up on SNL with two new tracks from the forthcoming Yeezus in tow. Setting aside for a moment that this is among the first-worldest problems a human being can possibly have, I’d hit the burnout wall a few months prior, and by this point had become the quintessential jaded critic. The site I was co-managing wasn’t working out, grad school had lost its luster in the homestretch, and in general I began melodramatically worrying that art would never move or impress me again. And then modern American pop culture’s grandest provocateur showed up to perform “New Slaves” while shrouded in darkness and restricting attention to his visage, one spitting so hard that it appeared the mere delivery of words was tearing his body asunder. Kanye might not’ve saved art that night, or even SNL, but for five minutes they both felt radical again and served as a reminder that art doesn’t get shitty. The people appreciating it do. And whether or not they keep doing it is totally up to them.
Hold My Liquor
By Dana Norris
It’s night and it’s cold and I’m in a field, standing in a straight line with the other Munchkins. We’re Munchkins because we aren’t yet Wizards, who are the members of the same-named secret society at my college who just tapped us. I always hear the Wizards stomping around the campus late at night, chanting something I can’t make out. I want to know what they say and to say it, too.
Finally, a truck rolls up onto the grass, carrying cases of Natural Ice Light. Each Munchkin is handed a beer. We are told: “Drink.” And then, “Drink another beer.” And then, “Here, here’s another. Drink it.” Someone asks how long we should do this for, and she is answered with a command: “Drink!” And then, “When you have to throw up, turn around and throw up behind you. And keep drinking.”
I began sipping my Natural Light and wondering how long it’s going to take me to actually vomit. After only five minutes, I heard someone retching. I am so flattered to have been chosen by this possibly alcoholic co-ed fraternity, but I do not want to drink Natural Light until I puke. So, maybe I don’t want to be here. But I also don’t want to leave. I guzzle the beer, hold it in my mouth, turn around, and spit it back onto the grass while mimicking the gurgling sounds of regurgitation.
They wait until we have all puked at least once. Then we’re told to join hands and march through campus. They teach us their chant. We join hands and move forward, chanting and stomping in unison, “Oh we love (stomp) the old ones (stomp) Oh we love (stomp) the old ones (stomp).” The people around me sway. They chant and laugh and then we have to stop so they can puke again. I am finally one of them and I am shockingly sober.
I’m in It
By Edward Trover
I have always had a Midwest inferiority complex. I think it comes from growing up on what used to be a cow pasture, or the fact that every school I attended had cornfields in view from the windows. Leaving Indiana gave me a little pride, some confidence, until I was told that where I came from wasn’t a place—not even at least acknowledged as a fly-over state or a sign passed on the highway. I don’t regret where I am from, rather the opposite. People feel trapped by circumstances; I embody them. I had a friend that always said that you make your own happiness. She should have told ‘Ye.
Blood on the Leaves
By Sheldon Pearce
We’re sitting in the car, waiting. Nina Simone warbles. Even amid so much sonic chaos, her strained voice is what catches the ear. Magazine pages shuffle in the backseat while her stringy timbre fills the enclosure, seeping into the leather. My kid sister snaps out of her pop daze long enough to inquire, “What is she talking about?” I pause. Well … “The lynching of blacks in a divided, uncivilized America,” I reply after a moment of consideration. She wasn’t expecting something so heavy. We both stop, soaking it all in. The lyrics spiral off in the background into trifles and trivialities. Listening never felt this weird before. “…Then what is this about…?” she asks bewildered, perhaps detecting what I too was realizing: this is all actually incredibly thoughtless and impolitic. “I guess it isn’t really about anything,” I reply attempting to escape and save face. She looked up, dissatisfied, “I think she’d disagree.” Nina Simone warbles. This time more painfully than before. A knot forms in my stomach. “I think you’re right.”