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The Sincerity of Scott Mescudi

Last week, Scott Mescudi (better known more by his stage name Kid Cudi or Cudi for short) checked into rehab for depression and suicidal urges and did so with a public confession on Facebook. This started what I believe is an important, yet long overdue conversation about mental illness. I was on twitter discussing it with a friend and he tweeted at me, “Kid Cudi changed your life”.  I agreed because Kid Cudi is something far beyond a pleasant sounding combination of samples and tones grouped with poetic set of lyrics.  He has a differing sincerity as an artist that I believe sets him apart from others.

I first got into Kid Cudi in early 2010, Pursuit of Happiness just got released and to be honest I never really considered myself anything more than a lukewarm hip hop fan, my collection was extremely small. I liked 808s and Heartbreak from Kanye West and a small number of other artists such as Eminem, but that was about it. As much as I enjoy those other artists, not much else has emotionally connected with me as a listener like Kid Cudi did and continues to do.  Kid Cudi as an artist has this fascinating ability of making something far off seem oddly close and intimate while also making the unfamiliar, familiar.

The Irony

I first heard Kid Cudi’s 2009 Pursuit of Happiness at a party which can almost be considered prophetic given its meaning. It sounded like a party anthem, and the listening location seemed to relate to it in that way. It was loud, catchy, and fun to dance to, but when I heard the lyrics I was blown away when I realized the self-awareness found within it.  On the surface, the song sounds like it’s glorifying substance abuse, but it’s attempting to actually do the opposite and point out its fleeting nature.

♬I’m on the pursuit of happiness, and I know
Everything that shine ain’t always gonna be gold♬

That’s Shakespearean, and I don’t mean that as a hyperbolic way, that’s actually a well known saying from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. This is wisdom that Qoheleth speaks of in Ecclesiastes, many of the things we think we will find satisfaction in will be empty or meaningless.  It reminds me of an ancient curse, “may you get everything you could ever possibly want.” Anyone who’s ever been unhappy with their lives and has desired happiness to the point where they are willing to risk everything for it can find this song something they can easily relate to.

When I’m singing about driving drunk on “Pursuit of Happiness” on Man on The Moon, you may remember that it was a nightmare. It was meant to be scary, the craziness, the fact that this person chooses to look for happiness in substances; and that’s scary, that’s a terrible combination, that’s a terrible way to go about things.
–Kid Cudi

If you watch the music video directed by Brody Baker, the themes are even more apparent.  The party around Cudi takes place in slow motion, but Cudi remains singing at normal speed. This insinuates a sudden moment of Epiphany and self awareness by contrasting him with his surroundings.  If you watch the megaforce version, Cudi struggles to even get off his couch.  Themes of depression and anxiety are not something you would expect to find in a party anthem.  Cudi struggles to even find the motivation to even embark on his pursuit, and when he does, he finds himself at another party where it all feels like a dream state. The different videos are extrapolated perspectives that view the ethos of the song from different directions. However, In the outro of the song, Cudi brings them both together and repeats the chorus by himself, but changes the lyrics slightly.

♬Pursuit of happiness,
Yeah and if I don’t get it, I’ll be good♬

This is followed by a moment of remorse of how he pursued, this is a profound acceptance of the fact of life that there are some objects that we desire that we will never fully obtain. Given the culture-at-large’s worship and pursuit of wealth, health, satisfaction, and comfort, hearing that acceptance is a thoughtful moment of lucidity. However, my intention with this post isn’t to just break down song lyrics as if I’m back in high school. The roots of Cudi go far deeper than we think.

David Foster Wallace’s essay, E unibus pluram: television and U.S. fiction drove home a very surprising point about how postmodernism (and more specifically, irony) has had a negative impact on our culture. For Wallace, it was plainly apparent in television during his time and even still in much of today. I suggest reading the full essay because my attempt at summarizing it will never do it justice, but in a nutshell, irony used to serve as an effective method of critique that revealed hypocrisies.  However, the problem now is that irony has become normalized to the point where it is essentially self defeating. It becomes an infinitely spinning carousal that leads to nowhere. Using irony to critique a television show was fine, but it was difficult to critique a show that was ironic already in the sense that didn’t take itself serious to begin with. It would be like trying to have a serious conversation with a person who is sarcastic 100% of the time. Referring back to Pursuit of Happiness, Cudi is utilizing irony there, but he doesn’t utilize irony for the sake of being ironic, he’s utilizing ironic in an unique way that leads to something else. It leads to something else which is far deeper and relatable, and that something else is sincerity.

Sincerity

The process for hopping off the irony carousal is to focus the view to someone that the audience can connect with, but in a specifically sincere way.  Now sincerity is not just summarized as being a little more honest, it is a few orders of magnitude different. It requires an almost catastrophic presentation of vulnerability, a flawed, insecure lunge that is surrounded by fear of rejection.  Have you ever been in a situation where you were just about to confess your love for someone and you didn’t know if it would be reciprocated?  Sincerity is life threatening, there have been people all throughout history who have thrown themselves off of precipices in moments of overwhelming despair when that sincerity was taken advantage of.  There are so many times in all of our lives where these moments of sincere vulnerability exist. And in our culture where mental illness has a situational stigma, even the smallest moments of honesty in that conversation are exceptionally vulnerable. This is due to the fact that mental illness is only discussed whenever there is a mass shooting somewhere. Mental illness has been turned into a caricature, varying between a mugshot of someone on the evening news or the homeless guy who shouts at the monsters under the highway. This drives people who struggle with mental illness to dive deeper into the darkness of the cracks and hide rather than open up to those around them, or even for some, to confront it themselves.

Walking through Cudi’s discography from Man On the Moon, there is an increasing progression of this sincerity. A notable example of such is in his most recent album, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. Technically speaking, this album is a mess, it’s rough around the edges, some even call it a musical failure and I personally wouldn’t disagree too much on those terms, but I find it to have some of the most brutally sincere moments. Even the name seems to invoke the end one’s life, leaving this world for the next. Now there are skits with Beavis and Butthead littered throughout the album where it does get a little too full of itself, and honestly I cannot stand those moments, but overall, the album does becomes a bridge. Now using dark emotional moments and depression as elements in music is nothing new and I know that, but the way Cudi and a few others present it is a little different. His presentation is not just about exploring all the various struggles with depression and anxiety in general, but it’s specifically his struggles with depression and anxiety. He’s part of the presentation and that inherently requires a level of sincerity on his part.

This album is 100% the purest form of my artistic self
@KidCudi (July 3rd, 2015) 

One of the most difficult part of living with depression or anxiety is that there’s this unique isolation where you feel like no one else understands you.  Sometimes you feel like a puzzle piece that fits nowhere, you almost feel as if there was some sort of mistake in nature which led to your creation.  These are dark emotions, and being honest about them is impossible without experiencing some sort of embarrassment.  Because by default, people don’t desire the broken, people want the shiny and new, the best of the best.  Being sincere that you’re a broken person is like taking the mask off and waving the white flag of surrender that sends all the interested people home early who were initially buying your act. Some people go their whole lives without feeling a mutual understanding of the emotions they have deep down and there are so many moments on this album that speak to that.

Sincerity is also a cultural movement, sometimes called New Sincerity or post-postmodernism.  Many point to the drastic tonal shift that our culture took in 2001, specifically on September 11th. If there was a time in our recent history when people began to look at the people around them and acknowledge the relation that they have with everyone, it was on 9/11. We’ve all had that one conversation, where were you on September 11th?  This moment of pause that we all experienced woke us up from the irony of the 90s. It reminded us of our mortality, shared loss, and it acknowledged the emotional similarity that we all have between one another. That was the beginning of sincerity, it was the beginning of the bridge that began to be built to fill in the gaps between all of us.

Sincerity as an experience has to be achieved with a character or person and in this particular case, you cannot separate the music from the artist. Kid Cudi is a celebrity award-winning musician and has what appears to be the normal celebrity wealth, health, attractiveness, and so on.  Those are some of the same things that many of us pursue in our individual pursuits of happiness, but seeing someone like Cudi, who already has them, be open and honest that he still experiences the same emptiness that we experience in private is profound.  This is like discovering that the wizard of Oz is nothing more than a man behind a curtain.

This is the bridge, the way that Cudi makes the unfamiliar, familiar. By taking the objects we desire, the objects that we feel will bring us this satisfaction and happiness, and show us that they offer the same empty familiar feelings that we already know right now.  As if there was someone telepathic speaks your own thoughts to you, giving you a way to describe the emotions you feel, but somehow lack the ability to describe by yourself. This feeling of unique isolation is broken the moment someone else says, I feel the same. As if we’re on the highway headed to find something and another traveler waves us down to tell us he’s already been there, and adding further that if we stay on this road, we wont find it, because he is also looking for the same.  It makes you feel less alone, and that is what sincerity accomplishes.  This sincerity makes us feel connected to others in a way we’ve never felt before.

By being open and honest about his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, Scott Mescudi is challenging the stereotype of the mentally ill by saying, “Look, I’m just like many of you, but I’m also dealing with this.”  As a result, I’ve seen numerous responses pouring out ranging from support to people being open and honest about their personal struggles with mental illness.  He’s also showing there’s very little difference between Kid Cudi the artist and Scott Mescudi the person. By doing that, he’s reaching through sincerity and offering himself as a living, breathing, vulnerable example someone who’s honest about their struggle to maintain their pursuit of happiness. Many of us also reach back because in a way, we feel the same.

 

 

Cope and Hope

Last night, I fell asleep listening to Manchester Orchestra’s latest LP, Hope.  I then woke up at 3am, because my mind was spinning a hundred miles an hour. I’m suprised by my own reaction to it, It’s the same album as Cope, their LP from earlier this year, but every song is re-imagined differently, softer and more acoustically.  Cope was heavy, perhaps too much so and many fault it for not really have any “breathing room”, but this is where I think Hope comes back with a second swipe of the audible paintbrush to paint a larger picture.

Earlier this year, the first impressions I heard from others about Cope was that it was either hit or miss, you either like it or you don’t.  Many of my peers thought it was one of MO’s weaker albums, but I was in the small camp that enjoyed it.  I’m a rocker at heart and enjoyed the heaviness, but after chewing on it lyrically for a couple months I now know why I loved it so much and why I think Hope adds to this.

♫ All that I know, it’s no way to fix it. ♫

I don’t listen to music the same way I used to.  Gone are the days of putting on catchy ambiance and bouncing along to the beat.  Such things are trivial now. When my head is stuck on something, when my emotions are spinning wheels and not going anywhere I need something that acts like a forceps.  Where I can forcefully rip it out this emotional parasite and throw it against the wall.  I may examine it to better understand myself.  Perhaps a nod to Nietzsche’s Übermensch, I look at the beauty and pain and attempt to revel in both.

♫ I hope you don’t choke on that last passive word that you keep in your throat. 

Cope was probably to too specific for many.  The array of songs all feel as if they’re directed to a small group of people.  People currently in the middle of an exhausting, anguishing pain. Almost as if the private room between your ears had the volume up to 11 and the tension holding everything together was as taut as piano wire. It evokes a feeling akin to the struggle of drowning, the feeble attempt at reaching out to grab onto anything that’s there, whatever it may be.  The desperate cry for something, the painful shout to everything or anything that would warrant a response.  From little boys, us guys are practically indoctrinated with this undefined concept of manliness that ends up resulting in more emotionally distant, sociopathic stubbornness than anything else.  This almost perpetuates things, the sigh and gasp turn into a grunt and scream.  The glassy eyes close, the teeth clench, the veins swell. Because of this, sometimes we may end up doing more things we regret as a response or coping mechanism than whatever even got us into this mess.

 ♫ And I hope if there is one thing I let go it is the way that we cope. ♫

In comes Hope, it’s actually quite funny in a way.  It’s literally the exact same album.  Same songs, but only with a different “feeling”,  but in a way, I think that is the point.  Facts don’t change in your life, only how you feel about them.  It’s amazing how your current mood can alter your perception of a memory.  That’s the problem with coping, it’s a futile struggle to change some things you are powerless over.  So laying in my bed with the room in complete darkness I pressed play on my my phone as it immediately lit up the room like a flare just went off.  Seconds passed as the room slowly returned to pitch black darkness.

The echoing piano that carry many of the songs drip a calm and peaceful nostalgic feeling like water out of a rung out rag.  I can’t exactly work out in the gym to this album though.  Many of the songs have a feeling as if your taking a walk down memory lane, even though Cope came out earlier this year, it feels like it has been much longer.  The ominous backing vocals have a Gothic, or cathedral feeling.  A meditative, calming reevaluation.  I suddenly notice lyrical differences as I sing along slowly to “Trees”.  The shoe is now on the other foot. I’s have been swapped with you’s and vice versa.  Verbs have been swapped, colors have been altered. This album now begins to to convey subtle differences that are painting a much larger picture. This album now feels like a lens to view the last LP, “Cope” through.  A fresh perspective, but one that doesn’t handcuff itself to anger and frustration, one of a calming, letting go.

As much as I love to spurt out Nietzsche’s “Hope is Evil” rhetoric, there are times when it feels like Hope is just what the doctor ordered.  Sometime’s it’s the one thing keeping you going. As if this train is finally at the end of the tunnel and you can finally begin to feel the warmth of the sun again.  First there’s pain, then you Cope, then there’s Hope.

 

-Logan

 

 

 

Learning from Eminem

I’m a huge fan of Eminem.  I blasted his most recent album so much that I blew out my speakers in my car.

This post is going to be a little bit harder to explain than my last one so bear with me.  Now the same facets are there, honesty, self assessment, decision making, as well hitting it from a different angle.  However, before you make a strawman out of me, let me explain that I’m not trying to be Eminem, I’m not making him the standard for my life. However, I will admit that I have learned a lot from him and I think a lot of other people can too.  Given that you can bear listening to his music.

It starts with the things I identify with.  But what does it mean to identify with anything?  Nobody wants to admit their pain, everyone wants to be the strong person.  The person that isn’t affected by other people’s garbage.  We think than when we refuse that we are making ourselves feel better, but we’re actually lying to ourselves and in the end, we alienate our own relationships.  Everyone is experiencing some kind of pain, everyone is going through at least something.  It takes some courage to confess your problems, but if I am going through something and I see someone else experiencing anything like mine, a bridge is built there.  Then it becomes just a little bit easier by identifying that common ground.  Once it’s built, that’s when  you begin to work through it and chew on it.  When I see someone going through something I’m going through I make sure to tell them something like this,

I feel you man, I know what you’re going through.

I am going through something kind of like it.

And just like that, a community is created that extrapolates strength.  The load suddenly becomes lighter.  However, when there’s no one around you and you have no one to connect to, a song on your mp3 player is the next best thing, but that’s not trying to sound like it isn’t meaningful.  It’s extremely meaningful as well as helpful.  It brings all of the various emotions that I feel and cant articulate and it makes them tangible, it makes them concrete.

♫ I can’t tell you what it really is
I can only tell you what it feels like
And right now it’s a steel knife in my windpipe
I can’t breathe but I still fight while I can fight♫
(Love the Way You Lie)

Love.  Love can be an excruciating venom when it turns sour.  Someone you’ve fallen in love with has been abducted and replaced with a monster.  In a way, it feels as if you’re being skinned alive  emotionally.  Alfred Lord Tennyson couldn’t be more wrong when he coined the phrase, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.’  And when it comes to songs about love, Eminem has plenty, Kim, So Much Better, Love the Way You Lie, Puke, Crazy In Love, and so many more.  In a way, his heartbreak has defined him as a person so you’ll hear these references to it peppered throughout his entire discography.  I can relate to that, but honestly, I hate admitting it.  It feels as if the duct tape has been ripped off and  my own feelings were finally given a voice. I’ve said before that music is emotion in aural form, and even in the grittiest of songs, I may not follow the wave to the extent that Eminem does, but I’m still sitting in the same ballpark.

♫ Cause you told me, you love me, forever, bitch, that was a lie
Now I never, wanted someone, to die, so bad in my fucking life
But fuck it, there’s other fish in the sea♫
(So Much Better)

There are some awful things that Eminem had to go through that I’ve never had to experience, and for that I am truly grateful.

♫  I’ll take you back to ’73
Before I ever had a multi-platinum selling CD
I was a baby, maybe I was just a couple of months
My faggot father must have had his panties up in a bunch
Cause he split, I wonder if he even kissed me goodbye
No I don’t. On second thought I just fucking wished he would die ♫

Cleanin’ Out My Closet is so unbelievably raw, you can feel the pain and anger attached to every word.  It is impossible  for me to listen to it without getting goosebumps.  But in contrast to what you may think, it doesn’t make me angry, it fills me with sorrow.  He walks through his life and how his father abandoned him as an infant.  Then he alleges that his mother was causing him Münchausen syndrome by proxy as well as so many other difficult things occurring.  I am overwhelmed that he and plenty of other people ever have to go through an ordeal such as that.  There are also times he uses his own father as motivation to become a better one for his own children.  Enduring a painful marriage for the sake of the greater good, his children.

♫ I look at Hailie, and I couldn’t picture leaving her side
Even if I hated Kim, I grit my teeth and I’d try
To make it work with her at least for Hailie’s sake
I maybe made some mistakes
But I’m only human, but I’m man enough to face them today ♫

In Going Through Changes, he speaks about struggle with drugs, relapsing, cancelling shows, all while trying to take care of his child.

♫ And it hurt sore, fast forward, sleepin’ pills’ll make me feel alright.
And if I’m still awake in the middle of the night,
I just take a couple more, yeah you’re motherfuckin’ right, ♫

I have no idea what any of that is like, but he does eventually make a recovery.

♫  Wake up in the hospital, full of tubes, plus somehow I’m pullin’ through.
Swear when I come back I’ma be bulletproof. ♫

I can’t relate to that. I was blessed to have a faithful and loving mother and father. My family experienced financial difficulty when I was a child, but it was nothing like the chronic poverty so many are buried in today or what Eminem had to go through.  I’ve never dealt with any substance addiction and in that moment of listening, a sudden overwhelming feeling of gratefulness comes over me.  I feel convicted that I never appreciated the things I have and also the not ever had to experience such awful things.  I get reminded of the times where someone was going through something I never experienced and I couldn’t even see where they were coming from.

When I was younger, I scoffed at the idea of depression. Yeah, really.  Cheer up dude, its not that hard.  I cringe at my own ignorance.  To be honest, I thought it was someone just looking for attention, but once I found myself laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, refusing to leave all day, questioning my worth in everything and how many people would come to my funeral if I was found dead in a puddle of blood in my bathroom, I started to understand that this is something much different.

♫ I’m just so fuckin’ depressed, I just can’t seem to get out this slump
If I could just get over this hump
But I need something to pull me out this dump, ♫
(Beautiful)

Personally, I’ve been completely disconnected from some things some people go through and I never ever properly understood things from their point of view.

♫It’s like the boy in the bubble, who never could adapt, i’m trapped
If I could go back, I never woulda rapped
I sold my soul to the devil, i’ll never get it back
I just wanna leave this game with level head intact. ♫

The harsh things that contrast my experiences allow me to gain empathy for others and I can feel a desire to be more compassionate.  Being fortunate has, in a way, handicapped my ability to easily relate to a suffering person in need.  I’m reminded of myself talking to someone about heroin, at the time I just couldn’t wrap my head around it, who on earth would consciously do that to themselves?  As a guy who hates needles, it was even that much further off from what I considered any realistic decision in any situation.  So my sensitivity and sympathy to those sitting in an addiction was minimal if anything at all.

In a way, Eminem helps me understand.  I learn from Eminem.  I start to see where his point of view is and I can, in some ways, relate to what’s going on not just with him, but with others in my life.  I guess one would suggest that listening to his music is like him forcing you to walk a mile in his shoes. It allows me to be more gracious to those different than me.  Forces me to rethink everything.

♫  But now the medications taken over and your mental state’s
Deteriorating slow and I’m way too old to cry, that shit’s painful though
But Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo
All you did, all you said, you did your best to raise us both
Foster care, that cross you bear, few may be as heavy as yours
But I love you Debbie Mathers, oh what a tangled web we have cause ♫
(Headlights)

Now looking back and taking heroin back into account, I’m reminded of a firsthand account of  a recovering heroin addict that I recently read on Reddit.

Many people try heroin, just like anything else, and do NOT get addicted. Those who do get addicted tend to get addicted because they’re in intolerable pain for one reason or another.  Heroin is a superlative pain killer. It doesn’t just kill physical pain like ibuprofen, it also kills psychological pain, emotional pain and the pain caused by social phobias.  When a person who is suffering without any idea how to stop suffering meets heroin, something amazing happens. Suddenly, and for no good reason, the suffering is gone! Where did it go? Heroin killed it! Who would’ve thought anything at all could kill so much agony!

When I first tasted heroin, the first words out of my mouth were these: “So this is how normal people feel!”

Anyone overhearing this might’ve correctly predicted that a long and intimate relationship was about to begin between a sorely crippled and lonely person and a molecule able to quash all pain.  It’s important to note that when I tried heroin, so did many of my acquaintences – mostly all college students. Of all of them, only myself and the person who was to become my SO became addicts (for the usual reasons – see above). The others played around with it just like they played with cocaine and marijuana but only those in terrible pain without solutions became addicts.

If you want to understand addiction, go to the source. Look up the Rat Park experiment and the findings of Bruce Alexander. Read, cover to cover, Alexander’s latest book: The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit.  No substance can get someone addicted. Substances don’t sneak into people’s lives and hook them while they sleep or other propagandist rubbish to that effect.

Addiction is hard work and requires persistence, a willingness to spend endless hours pursuing the goal, putting up with nausea and sickness in order to develop a tolerance and so on. It doesn’t “just happen”.  In spite of my immediate delight with heroin and vow to use it as much as possible, it took over 6 months, and really closer to a year, of consistent use before the body became physiologically addicted. That said, addiction is rarely only physiological in nature. More often than not, it is caused by social factors.

Read Alexander’s book if you want the whole story. It’s amazingly insightful about the lives of average human beings all over the world who are replacing a true sense of belonging and participating in a social context with an addiction to work or to exercise, or to money or to sex or to gambling or to shopping…. the list is endless and the point to come away with is this:

Addiction is a symptom. A symptom of a big fat problem. Addiction is NEVER the source of the problem – only an inept attempt at a solution. It is very sad.

 

Instead of standing in my corner of scoffing judgementalism that I used to, I find myself much more empathetic and I attempt to understand other’s problems just a little bit more.  That has made me(at least I think) much more capable in consoling and helping those who are in some type of pain.  I may not be able to identify with all that Eminem says, but sometimes I wonder if what really makes us different is not our personalities, but our histories and circumstances.  If I was in a drastic and painful enough situation, I would probably find myself wrapping a belt around my arm in desperation to find a vein.

I appreciate Eminem’s honesty and from that I can say that I have learned to offer a little bit more grace to others.