38 years ago this month, the four original members of KISS did the unthinkable and released four separate solo albums on the same day. Now, Dystopian Dance Party is following in their footsteps, and doing something even less thinkable: we’re reading all four KISS members’ autobiographies and recording our thoughts on them in a series of “Book Club” podcasts. First up is–who else–Gene Simmons, and his 2001 memoir Kiss and Make-Up. The conversation that follows is arguably the snarkiest thing we’ve ever posted on this website (and that’s saying something). You wanted the best, you got the…well, “best” is probably a stretch, but you get the idea. Show notes are below.
Our playthrough of EarthBound on the Super Nintendo continues with some police-involved violence we can actually get behind, followed by visits to Twoson and the very inaptly-named Peaceful Rest Valley. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 here, or follow us on our YouTube channel (or both!). And come back in two weeks as Zach begins his special Halloween-themed playthrough of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood.
Editor’s Note: Well, I can’t say I don’t deserve it: with every passing month, the already-massive project I took on a year and a half ago just seems to get bigger. Earlier this month, Kanye West confirmed that he was working on a new joint project with Drake; meanwhile, his frequent collaborator Travis Scott intimated that we could see the second G.O.O.D. Music album, Cruel Winter, as early as the beginning of 2017. That means that the Kanye West Oeuvre just grew by as many as two chapters (probably just one, though…I don’t think I can bring myself to devote a whole post to Drake, even if Kanye is involved). Again, it’s my own fault: if I had just finished six months ago as originally planned, I’d have had an excuse to stop with The Life of Pablo; instead, I’m seemingly doomed to keep writing about Kanye West albums until one of us dies.
But let’s focus on the present, shall we? Last week marked the four-year anniversary of the original G.O.O.D. Music album, Cruel Summer: which, like its predecessor Watch the Throne, I see as a Kanye West album in all but name. So what better time than now, with the promotional machine already revving up for its sequel, to take a closer look at the record and its place in Kanye’s career? For those just joining the party, you’ve probably gathered that this post is part of an ongoing series discussing Kanye West’s musical body of work, album by album; you should read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 before you read this one. For the three or four other people who have made it this far: here we go. – Z.H.
Whenever I write a new chapter of this series, I have to find a featured image to run at the top of the post. I’ll usually start with a Google Image Search for “kanye west” and whatever year the article is covering; this works better sometimes than others, but in general, what I end up with is a mix of publicity photos, paparazzi shots, album art, music video stills, and live concert photography from the relevant era. This time around, though, when I searched “kanye west 2012,” a strange thing happened. Suddenly, the paparazzi shots far outnumbered the publicity photos and concert photography; indeed, half the images that came up were for Kanye’s ill-fated spring 2012 womenswear line. The majority of the other half were of Yeezy with his then-girlfriend and now-wife, socialite-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-mobile-app-mogul Kim Kardashian. Very few were related in any way to his music.
This is obviously anecdotal evidence, but it confirms for me something that I’ve been suspecting for a while now: that 2012 was in many ways the decisive year in turning Kanye from a “mere” hip-hop star to…whatever he is today. It would be silly, of course, to suggest that there was ever a time when Kanye West, as a public persona, was all about the music; if anything, he’s always been better-known by mainstream audiences for his P.R. snafus than for his beats and rhymes. But from his appearance on the scene in the late 1990s to the 2011 release of Watch the Throne, music was undeniably his all-consuming raison d’être. Looking back at the following year, it’s striking to see just how rapidly that changed. In short, Ye Diddied: he went from being a very successful producer and rapper to a jack of all trades who happens to produce and rap.
To be clear, I’m not bringing this up to mourn the loss of the “Old Kanye”–a sentiment so hoary and clichéd that Kanye made a wonderfully self-reflexive song about it earlier this year. Frustrating as he can sometimes be, I like the “new,” post-Diddy Ye–and in any case, I still stand by my earlier argument that the Kanye of today is only superficially different from the one we (thought we) got to know on The College Dropout. But I think it’s important to draw attention to his apparent transformation, if only because it’s impossible to truly reckon with his post-Watch the Throne output otherwise. Whether or not Kanye himself was fundamentally different in 2012 than he was in 2004, the music we’re about to discuss was; and the reason why was because, for the first time to date, it was just one element in the artist’s ever-diversifying portfolio.
A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 32nd birthday with a visit to the wrecka stow: CD Cellar in Falls Church, Virginia. Check out what I picked up in the video below, including records by Rod Stewart, Grand Funk Railroad, Spirit, Sheila E, Bootsy Collins, Stevie Wonder, and Kanye West. Video by me and Kia Matthews; music by Yeezus.
As we noted before, yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the premiere of The Monkees on NBC. For most millennials, I’m sure, that date passed by with nary a blip on their pop culture radar. Not for me, though; because between 1996 and around 2000, I was a full-blown Monkees fan–nay, a Monkees scholar. I recorded as many episodes of the show as I could from cable reruns; I collected the vast majority of their then-recent CD reissues (thanks, Rhino Records/BMG Music Service!); I carried a vintage-style tin Monkees lunchbox to middle school; hell, I even watched their terrible 1997 reunion special, Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees. At first, my Baby Boomer parents were indulgent: they, after all, had grown up with the Monkees, and had mostly fond memories of the “Prefab Four”’s benign bubblegum hits and pop-surreal TV antics. But by around year two of my obsession, after one too many recited facts from the Rhino CDs’ shockingly extensive liner notes, they were over it. How could any normal person like the Monkees as much as I did? Didn’t I know they weren’t even a real band?
I knew, of course–but, being a generation removed from the Boomer- and even Gen X-era rallying cries of “authenticity” in rock music, I didn’t particularly care. The Monkees were (and are) a fascinating story above all: manufactured as an American answer to the Beatles by TV and record company executives with a desire to cash in on both mid-’60s youth culture and transmedia marketing opportunities, they got stranger and more rebellious as the decade progressed, effectively turning into a microcosm of the very generation they were created to exploit. Imagine if the Archies started smoking dope and protesting the Vietnam War, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the appeal for a weirdo like myself. And, while I’m far from the Monkees apologist I once was, I still maintain that their catalogue includes some of the best pure pop music of the 1960s: they may have fallen short of the Beatles, but they were a damn sight better than the Hollies or the Dave Clark Five.
So here it is: the summation, at last, of my years of research into the Monkees phenomenon. As usual, I stayed away from the most ubiquitous hits; if you really want to hear “Last Train to Clarksville” or “Daydream Believer,” just tune in to any oldies radio station. What I’ve chosen to highlight instead are the genuinely progressive elements of the Monkees’ musical and, to a lesser degree, cinematic oeuvre. Their stylistic roots on both record and screen may have been inseparable from the decade that spawned them, but the Monkees were in many ways ahead of their time; and that, more than anything, may be one source of their continuing appeal to (again, weird) people from younger generations. Hey, hey, they’re the Monkees; and, like them or not, they’re an indelible part of pop music history. Let’s check ’em out.