Flavor of the Week: Kanye West, Norman Mailer, Catherine Barnett . . . and the Magic Rabbit
Date posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Weekly picks from the office.
Editor’s note: Welcome to “Flavor of the Week,” a new feature where, every Wednesday, we recommend stories, books, articles, poems, films, videos, events, activities, and more and more and more.
“Clique,” by Kanye West, feat. Big Sean and Jay-Z
At different times throughout their careers, Kanye West and Jay-Z have both been heralded for inventive lyrics, creative wordplay, and the sort of style that sets them apart from the crowded house of mainstream hip hop. Kanye’s latest single “Clique” features none of these qualities. Don’t let that deter you, though, because this track if fun. Following suit with some of the more ostentatious tracks of Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne collaboration, it’s an unironic celebration of, well, money, cash, and hos. “Clique” doesn’t hold up to the litmus test of any of the rappers’ best works, but with stripped-down products and straightforward swag lyrics, it’s the perfect jam for the gym or your dreaded morning commute. Where else are you going to hear someone rap about George Tenet, Spike Lee, and Kim Kardashian’s sex tape all in one verse?
—Mike Dell’Aquila, Contributing Editor
The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer
The gold standard of the American true crime genre has always been In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s 1966 book about the 1959 murders of a Kansas businessman, his wife, and two of his four children. It is a success because, by exploring the lives of the victims and the psychological dynamic between the two killers, Capote was able to approach a reasonable (by which I mean incredibly complex) understanding of not just how the murders happened, but why. 13 years later, in 1979, Norman Mailer published The Executioner’s Song, a book about the life, trial, and execution of Gary Gilmore. It’s an astonishingly in-depth narrative (1,000-plus pages to In Cold Blood’s 343), but, technically speaking, the only creative aspects of the book are, in fact, technical (Mailer’s structure and sentences), as the content comes from extensive interviews with Gilmore and with those around him. Appropriately, Mailer called his book a “true life novel”; strangely, he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. And though one can’t help feel that Mailer exploited some sort of genre loophole here, it is precisely this exploitation that blurs the barrier between fact and fiction to create, in conjunction with Mailer’s simple, direct sentences, a surreal atmosphere capable of carrying the reader for dozens and dozens of chapters.
—Nathan Schiller, Editor
The Game of Boxes, by Catherine Barnett
Last week, the Academy of American Poets named the winner of the 2012 James Laughlin Award: Catherine Barnett. The award is for a poet’s second book, which is for Barnett, The Game of Boxes. Comprised of three sections—“Endless Forms Most Beautiful,” a sequence of poems centered on a chorus of children who speak collectively about their discoveries through and apart from “the mothers” and “the fathers”; “Of All Faces,” a serial love poem entitled “Sweet Double, Talk-Talk” about erotic love in adult life; and, “The Modern Period,” which includes gorgeous urban pastorals—the book is by turns lush and spare, classical and modern, restrained and effusive. Lately, it seems that all poetry is fast and furious, appearing in a journal online as fast as the writer can hit send. Here is a collection that argues for patience, restraint, and, ultimately, the book.
—Justin Sherwood, Associate Editor
“The Magic Rabbit,” Yura Demidovich, 2009 Junior Eurovision Semifinals, Belarus
Three years ago in June, the audience of the 2009 Junior Eurovision Semifinals in Belarus witnessed a very strange performance. Yura Demidovich, a blond, wide-eyed (I don’t think he blinked once), 12-year-old boy who listed his favorite books as the Bible and Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita in the contest’s application, stepped onto the disco-lit stage with five backup dancers—kids his age donning white collared shirts, bowties, plaid gray-and-white vests, black pants, black shoes and . . . white gloves—and started to chant the supposedly Latin (though no Latin speakers could actually discern what they were) words: “Etis Atis Animatis,” before breaking into a rap about a magic rabbit who lives alone in the forest, sings sad songs, wears eye-glasses, learns Latin, plays the violin, writes poetry, draws zeros in chalk (draws zeros in chalk?!) and misses his mother . . . misses his mother . . . misses his mother (the words echo). Shortly after the rapping, he transitioned into an eery operatic rendering of the mysterious “Latin” words.
Between the rapping, the chanting, the opera, and the strange (as if possessed) five children moving in the background to what sounds like Harem music, sometimes attempting Britney Spears-esque head throws on all fours, and other times fully erect, arms to the ceiling, chanting all at once with vacant looks in their eyes, the performance was not like anything anyone had ever seen. Within days, the video of it went viral in the surrounding regions (particularly Russia) and videos about the video—setting the song to The Omen, analyzing the supposedly satanic undertones of the words and the choreography, and trying to figure out how it is that Yura Demidovich can go so long without blinking—also appeared on the web. There was even a segment about it on Belarussian TV, with the judges of the contest, as well as other participants, discussing their opinions of this “unusual” contest entry (“Why, I don’t like it at all . . . it’s so . . . bizarre,” one of the judges said and shook her head back and forth). The strange Demidovich, however, went on to win the contest in September—and rightfully so, not many 12-year-olds can write this kind of song.
I recently remembered and revisited this absurd number, and am unable to pass up the chance to share it with our readers (you don’t have to speak Russian to appreciate the spectacle, and please, enjoy the 30 second intro video of Demidovich riding a cartoon sports car for what it is, the song will come soon enough).
—Masha Udensiva-Brenner, Editor[pinit]