Music

Hip-Hop’s Heartbreak: Kanye West – "Coldest Winter" and "Pinocchio Story"

808s & Heartbreak -- and this Between the Grooves series -- wraps up with a two-song tandem that exemplifies everything Kanye West's masterpiece-before-the-masterpiece is about.

Kanye West ends the most introspective pop-hop album to date, 808s & Heartbreak, with the tandem of "Coldest Winter" and the bonus "Pinocchio Story", two tracks that prove a worthy end to the angst and hopelessness the rapper's fourth studio LP is smothered in. It's fitting, really. Instead of offering a last glimmer of hope for the future, West takes the opposite approach with these two songs aimed at putting the final nail in a coffin that holds his happiness.

The call-and-response of such lines as "On lonely nights, I start to fade / Her love's a thousand miles away" sums up the record perfectly: It's a battle—a battle within himself. The initial recital is aimed at the raw emotion the rapper is seemingly beginning to feel, while the follow-up utterance is more reflective—almost as though the man is questioning the thoughts and actions that have plagued his recent memory.

What also adds to the intelligence of the move is the placement of "Clodest Winter" on the album. One listen of the soothing, synth-y verses battling the African drum-laden chorus is completely and utterly indicative of the entire work as a whole. If there was one thing West wanted to convey on 808s, it was the combined notion of confusion and doubt. Those two emotions bleed through "Coldest Winter" more than they do on any other track.

The most poignant moment? The song's chorus of the three-times repeated "Goodbye my friend / Will I ever love again?", followed by the final line of the final (official) track the CD offers, the finely nuanced change from the former to "Goodbye my friend / I won't ever love again". It's an admission of defeat. It's weaving a way through the pain and suffering a string of awful experiences can provide, only to finally reach the journey's end to find no resolution, no proverbial light at the end of a tunnel. It's the purest and most honest form of hip-hop heartbreak.

And that's all followed by a bootleg, no less. "Pinocchio Story" is essentially a reaction to a reaction. It's West looking back at this moment of his life captured on record and adding reflective pain to the actual pain. Thrown on the CD as a bonus track, the live performance from Singapore features a freestyling West rapping about everything from YSL to "what it's like to live a real life". The most interesting facet of this all, though, is that it works. Various forms of the verses have since worked their way into many Kanye West live performances and each time he recites the lines, it ends up being one of the more plaintive moments of each evening. Take, for example, this insertion during his VH1 Storytellers performance:


Let's face it: there aren't many rappers (or artists, for that matter) who can sing the lines "There is no Gucci I can buy / There is no Louis Vutton to put on / The is no YSL that they could sell / To get my heart of out of this hell / And my mind out of this jail" and still be taken seriously. But because of who Kanye West is, and because he's never been one to shy away from opportunities to showcase exactly what he stands for, the move comes across as sincere and emotive rather than corny or flippant.

So in reality, "Pinocchio Story" is a microcosm of everything 808s & Heartbreaks is. Odd, but honest. Artsy, but superficial. Pretentious, but accessible. A victory, but a loss. There would have been no My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--his 2010 follow-up--if there was no 808s & Heartbreak. The album in and of itself was an act of liberation for the rapper. It was cathartic. And regardless of the seemingly endless pain and obvious tragic circumstances that had to occur for the album to formulate, 808s & Heartbreak is a Kanye West masterpiece. With or without Auto-Tune.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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