Let They Who Is Without Procrastination Dunk The First Ye
A quick reminder about how much we frickin' love unfinished things
Alright, Sternal Journalists.
I think I delivered a pretty thrilling Sternal Journal Interview last week, and I’ve got a hopefully interesting idea for next week, so this week? I’m taking a chance on something always self-indulgent:
Talkin’ about Kanye!
Specifically, I want to talk about the way in which people talked about the ~~~unfinishedness~~~ of DONDA—his tenth studio album, released this week.
Kanye discourse is an entire pop-anthro-psychological conversation topic and practically even a whole method of conversation. Which is to say anything of or pertaining to Ye is incredibly well-trodden, and we (I) at the Sternal Journal do our (my) best to avoid such topics. The day the Sternal Journal is only telling you some shit you already know is the day I should close up shop.
But I just cannot stop thinking about and wondering why people have such an issue with the fact that he first shared unfinished music at multiple listening events, and then released the album when, by many fan and critic assessments, and his own admission, it might not actually be finished finished.
For starters, what do you mean finished finished?! Finishing art is for chumps. Put more nicely and eloquently by Leonardo da Vinci or one of like many other people: “Art is never finished. Only abandoned.”
If you’ve ever been a creative person or comforting a creative person, you know that even with the projects someone is most confident about, there’s a level of walking away from it (knowing you could one day return to tinker!) involved in the “conclusion” of any piece.
Plus, he might still finish it! The Life of Pablo was Kanye’s last widely beloved (citation desperately needed, Sternal Journalists—maybe I just loved it so much?) album, and he was still making tweaks to the streaming version as late as four months after the release.
The problem here, if there even is one, doesn’t lie in Kanye’s Kanye-ness1. It lies in the fact that we’re still barely a decade into streaming, which is the biggest infrastructure shift in distributing and consuming music since like the invention of the gramophone.
When you give artists another opportunity to experiment, they’re going to experiment. Get used to it now so you don’t have to find an excuse for why you don’t hate it when HAIM eventually does something like this (which I look forward to very much).
Not to mention the fact that many comment-folks have pointed out that they actually want more unreleased, unfinished Kanye tracks, specifically Chance’s original versions of “Waves” and “Famous” he showed to Zane Lowe on their cute playdate:
You and me both, Michael! And you know why? We as a culture love unreleased things. Because they are often times either good and just didn’t fit into the greater vision (above), or bad and therefore funny or endearing (all of Jackie Chan’s stunts and bloopers). Both things we all cannot get enough of.
Truly, do you know anyone in 2021 who doesn’t want to know the story behind something, or light up at hearing about what could have been in a movie, book, or album they love? We’re obsessed with process.
That’s what almost all podcasts are, after all. Whether it’s The Daily interviewing journalists about stories they already had to write for work and now Michael Barbaro is bothering them, or binge-casts like Office Ladies rehashing everything they can remember or discover about the show they starred in, we crave knowledge of the unfinished.
And we don’t just like the stories. Sometimes, we do stuff with it. I mean, look at this story about a composer who built an AI to try to finish Beethoven’s 10th symphony. If ol’ Beethy had finished everything he ever started, leaving them never to be tinkered with by anyone, would the world be better? Maybe not by much! He had nine other symphonies and a bunch of like quartets and things. Isn’t it a little bit cooler that he left this thing that a future scientist saw as a puzzle and as inspiration?
Because the real danger of scolding Kanye’s unfinishedness isn’t that Kanye doesn’t get a fair shake out of it. He’ll be as good as he was gonna be. No, the danger is that we put into the zeitgeist the idea that things must be really completed (a state that, again, does not exist) and we scare people away from ever trying to start.
“No Friends In The Industry.” Song. This is obviously my favorite song off of Drake’s new album, Certified Lover Boy.
“Slow Motion Doves.” Song. This synth-y dancehall-y jam from my friends and idols The Shadowboxers has been stuck in my head for DAYS even in a week of so much new music.
“family ties.” Song. Lotta music this week! This collaboration between Kendrick Lamar and his cousin, rapper Baby Keem probably didn’t get as much love as it should have because of all of the other hoopla this week, but boy is it fun and good.
Mentally Al. Documentary. I watched this documentary about alternative comedian Al Lubel on a total whim, but I loved it. If you think about comedy or dreaming or parenting or finding your place in adulthood, this will give you more to think about it. A tender and brilliant doozy. Available on Amazon Prime and other VOD places for $4.99.
Paris is Burning. Documentary. I’ve been meaning to watch this documentary about the Harlem drag ball scene for quite a while, and I finally got to on a plane. It’s amazing. Watch it. I’m still thinking about the last five minutes. Watched it on a plane, so I don’t know where it’s available.
And that’s all, folks! Go start something without worrying about finishing it!
(There are of course Kanye-ness problems associated with the album, inclusion of at least inflammatory Da Baby and allegedly abusive Marilyn Manson features being one of the main ones. Just because I think he should be able to release an unfinished thing without people making a stink doesn’t mean I think he should be co-signing them.)