June 4, 2018 Edition
There’s a reason Lou Reed loved Kanye West. Both men were brothers through dragon energy, it seems.
“He’s really trying to raise the bar,” Reed proclaimed in a review he wrote of Yeezus for The Talkhouse on July 3, 2013. “No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.”
Love him or hate him for it, but Lou never held back his truth. You listen to his 1978 album Live: Take No Prisoners, which turns 40 in November, and you can hear the late leader of the Velvet Underground go on a prehistoric Twitter rant in front of a packed crowd at The Bottom Line, taking particular aim at former Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau in a near-17 minute version of “Walk On The Wild Side.” The controversial tirade administered by Kanye during a May 1 appearance on TMZ was punctuated by some very hurtful things said by the rapper/producer that affected the general public, especially when he proclaimed that slavery was a choice. It was a statement that, when combined with his weird bromance with Donald Trump, created a cultural shitstorm that cost him many fans. Then he dropped that song, “Lift Yourself” (aka “Poopity Scoop”), and most of us were like WTF. Pity those who mistook trolling for scatting, because that was West messing with us; nothing more, nothing less.
Then he invited a bunch of people from the music industry to a listening party for the new album, entitled ye, which he held in Jackson Hole, WY before dropping it online the very next morning. According to his wife Kim Kardashian, he shot the cover photo of a beautiful snow-capped mountain range en route to the event.
But during an interview conducted after the party with renowned Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy, West explained the version of ye he presented to a bunch of writers and hangers-on that night and to the general public the day after was a very different beast than what he had created two months ago, citing his TMZ appearance as a wake-up call to recalibrate its context.
“I just completely did a completely new album,” Kanye told the DJ. “With what the universe was giving me, I wanted something that matched that energy.”
When I wrote about West’s last LP, The Life of Pablo, for The New York Observer in 2016, I compared Kanye to Brian Wilson. Lately he’s been acting more like Mike Love, but this revamped ye proves the initial comparison correct as he’s crafted the SMiLE to Pablo’s Pet Sounds, especially in consideration of the stream-of-consciousness by which it was designed. Whether it was his own vanity laying the smack down on him for whatever his eighth album was supposed to sound like or the very act of seeing himself on that bungled TMZ broadcast shaking him to his core, this proves to be a most unexpected listen. At only seven tracks at 24 minutes, Kanye wastes no time in extolling the concept of Ye, that being the inner thoughts of a man battling between impulsive urge and lucid thought. And, like his outstanding production work on Pusha T’s equally brief Daytona and hopefully those Nas and Kid Cudi joints he’s got percolating, the beats on Ye are beautiful, dark, twisted pocket symphonies that just pull you in like a gospel octopus.
Whether you take ye as pure meta or a profound mea culpa, this is some of the most honest music Kanye West has ever made. If you want answers behind his recent behavior, it’s all in here. And therein lies the code to his genius, as frayed as it may seem in the present tense.—Ron Hart
Michael Stipe Surprises Fans With Book Signing at New NYC Bookstore
Michael Stipe surprised R.E.M. fans by appearing at the new location of Mast Books, literally doors down from its old location on Avenue A in NYC’s East Village, autographing copies of his new photo book, Michael Stipe: Volume 1 to a crowd of perhaps fifty, thanks to almost no promotion (many R.E.M. fans were upset that they weren’t apprised of the signing). The austere and ascetic yet aesthetically pleasing book, which is the first in a series of images accumulated by Stipe, focuses more on his early life and development as a queer artist and figures in his life who informed this transformation. They included, in many never before seen to the public shots, William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Jeremy Ayers, Kurt Cobain, and River Phoenix, amongst countless others, as well as phantasmagoric found photos and many other surprises. They’re disarmingly personal shots, and certainly not the sort of photos you see shared by public figures with their fans. But Stipe’s never been the typical frontman/public figure, and Michael Stipe: Volume 1 is an excellent exhibition of this attribute of one of the most idiosyncratic pop stars of our times, in all its raw, haphazard glory. Enjoy its blurry take on Stipe’s growth as a queer man in the public eye in an era in which heteronormative behavior was a strict rule to the average American, a rule Stipe challenged us on in ways we’re only beginning to recognize, and also look forward to what new adventures future volumes may bring on. The link to purchase the book is here, if you missed the signing last week.—John Everhart
Remembering Joe James (October 5, 1970 – May 26, 2018)
I don’t think I ever met a tougher man in my life than Joe James.
I got to know Joe, who was the cousin of one of my very good friends in high school, when both of us were members of the WFNP 88.7 FM family up at SUNY New Paltz back in the mid-90s. He hosted an excellent punk and hardcore show called Broken Bottle that gave me a new sense of appreciation for this music I’ve been around since my early teens.
He was also a bouncer at the two local bars all of us were regulars at, The Griffin and Cabaloosa. I had a music column in the campus paper, The New Paltz Oracle, in addition to my pair of graveyard shifts on the air, so some poor fool thought it would be wise to invite me as a judge for the Battle of the Bands that The Griffin has hosted back in ‘97. I remember a couple of the guys in this annoying frat boy ska band called Lettuce Boy were getting in my face after the show because I buried their TKE arses, and Joe James was the first one to have my back. And Joe was the last guy you wanted to have step up in your face. That really meant a lot to me.
Unfortunately shortly thereafter I ended up on Joe’s bad side, and sadly we drifted so far apart in life we never reconnected to make peace. And that is why his recent passing really wears heavy on my heart. But at the same time, to see how many people on my Facebook have been paying respects to him across my friend list is really something to behold. Everyone speaks of this salty, fearless, mercurial icon of the New York hardcore community and Hudson Valley film and stage community with a reverence and adoration comparable to that of Fred Rogers.
“Joe was an accomplished actor and member of the Screen Actors Guild; as well as an armourer, propmaster, set dresser, production designer, filmmaker, and active participant in the Hudson Valley Film Commission,” stated the obituary published in the Times-Herald Record.
Famous for his love and advocacy for animals, it is suggested mourners donate to the SPCA or local animal shelter in lieu of flowers.
I’m sorry to see him go, and I want to thank Joe for schooling me on the spirit of hardcore culture.
Prayers, love and PMA to his wife Julie and all of my friends who have been impacted by this life cut way too short.—Ron Hart