Wordsmith Wednesday: Kendrick Lamar’s “LUST.”

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Our words this week come from Kendrick Lamar’s song “LUST.” from his latest record “DAMN.”

The words are:

“We all woke up, tryna tune to the daily news
Lookin’ for confirmation, hopin’ election wasn’t true
All of us worried, all of us buried, and the feeling’s deep
None of us married to his proposal, make us feel cheap
Still and sad, distraught and mad, tell the neighbor ’bout it
Bet they agree, parade the streets with your voice proudly
Time passin’, things change
Revertin’ back to our daily programs
Stuck in our ways, lust”

On a collection of songs built around breathing life and form into broad human themes, Lamar engages lust not just as a sexual concept but also one of desiring the easy, the pleasurable, the lazily indulgent. The self-centered default. He reflects on this concept in men, women, and himself before dropping the above words at the end of the final verse. These lines reflect something essential and troubling about the recent US presidential election and the national response in the months that followed. After clenched stomachs and disbelief came genuine discussion and community building efforts, energetic and directed and productive. But sustained, unsexy resistance is hard. Legs start to hurt and throats go hoarse. Victories are small and meaningful outcomes require a marathon. Time passes. Normalization begins. Constant engagement and outrage get exhausting and complacency starts to return to those privileged enough to afford it and to some that can’t. Back to the default. So, while it may be human nature to seek the comfort of the self-centered action, real growth requires personal sacrifice for collective progress, less lust and more love. I’m definitely guilty of making the selfish choice in the face of greater injustice, but I’ve also made sacrifices to reach out and pull others up. It’s right, but it’s hard. Damn.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Ross Gay’s “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude”

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Our words this week come from Ross Gay’s eponymous poem “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude” from his 2015 poetry collection.

The stanza is:

“And to the quick and gentle flocking
of men to the old lady falling down
on the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patiently
with the softest parts of their hands
her cane and purple hat,
gathering for her the contents of her purse
and touching her shoulder and elbow;
thank you the cockeyed court
on which in a half-court 3 v 3 we oldheads
made of some runny-nosed kids
a shambles, and the 61-year-old
after flipping a reverse lay-up off a back door cut
from my no-look pass to seal the game
ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods
and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker’s scar
grinning across his chest; thank you
the glad accordion’s wheeze
in the chest; thank you the bagpipes.”

Gay’s ability to shine warmth and love into dirty crevices and tease beauty from everyday experiences is what I believe puts him at the forefront of contemporary poetry. He doesn’t stray away from darkness or sadness, but he also doesn’t wallow; he shows it and says “This is what being alive and being human is” with an inspiring generosity. In a poem in which he expresses gratitude for a number of things from a lone lady on the bus to a patient, listening ear to finding the dreadlock of a murdered friend, I chose this passage because I find the images breathtaking, moving snapshots of human goodness and strength and life. I love the gentle men helping because it’s the right thing to do, I cheer and laugh for the old man proudly patting the pacemaker in his chest. These tiny actions, these little victories are the most beautiful parts of being alive to me and Ross Gay’s ability to show that beauty without overstatement and with a knowing smile is what keeps me waiting on his work.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Cloud Nothings’ “Wasted Days”

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Our words this week come from Cloud Nothings’ song “Wasted Days” off their 2012 album Attack on Memory.

The lyrics are:

“I thought/
I would/
Be more/
Than this”

The simplicity and directness of Dylan Baldi’s words (and delivery) always force me to stare them in the face. Repeated with increasing intensity in the song, these words creep in and wrap themselves around your face, pushing in parts of your skull you thought were solid but still have some infantile give to them. I feel these words in the words and eyes of the people around me at work, at shows, in the grocery store. I’ve looked out my kitchen window many times in the past couple of years with these words spinning in my mind, both in my own voice and Baldi’s. Complacency has always scared me. I’m ever unsatisfied, often unable to take pleasure in any present personal crest because I’m standing in the shadow of the next summit. While I’m disappointed or depressed some days, it’s usually not of any tangible failure, but rather a nagging need to do more, to be more. This mindset may burn me out or it may keep me trudging forward in search of new fixes of fulfillment. Either way, I’m sure I have many more hours standing in front of windows with these words winding around in my head.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Japandroids “Younger Us”

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The words this week appear in the Japandroids song “Younger Us” from their 2012 album Celebration Rock released on Polyvinyl Records.

The lines are:

“Remember that time you were already in bed/
Said ‘fuck it’ got up to drink with me instead”

I remember getting the seven inch this song originally appeared while on summer break back at my parents’ house in the south burbs of Chicago and immediately heading down to the basement record player to spin it. Since then this track has woven itself into my mental fabric, providing the sonic backdrop to Champaign-Urbana nights and the fits of nostalgia that bring back a yearning each Fall for the wide-angle-Future feelings I associate with that time in my life. In these two lines, Brian King provides the perfect emotional snapshot of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, stuck between the bored prudence of maturity and spontaneous stupidity of youth, reaching blindly for one while clutching the strings of the other. These words will always remind me of roaming the streets of Urbana in search of a bus stop or the smothered beat of a house party, semi-cognizant of impending conclusion to this pseud0-reality but choosing the comfort of carelessness instead. This one goes out to my friends struggling keep a passion for life under the tightening stranglehold of social expectation. We’ll always have younger us to remind us to stay crazy forever.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: The Beatles’ “She Said She Said”

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We are excited to have our words provided by Issue 5 guest editor Grant Garland!

This Wordsmith Wednesday highlights the lyrics of “She Said She Said,” my favorite track from the iconic 1966 album Revolver by The Beatles. Anybody familiar with the Beatles discography can notice the psychedelic tendencies that begin to flourish on Revolver’s fourteen tracks, the well-documented result of the introduction of LSD to the band. The song is a McCartney-Lennon collaboration, John Lennon penning the lyrics after the band famously took acid with actor Peter Fonda in LA, during their tour of America in 1965.

The words themselves are:

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born

I said, “Who put all those things in your head?
Things that make me feel that I’m mad.
And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”
I said, “No, no, no, you’re wrong.
When I was a boy everything was right,
Everything was right.”

I said, “Even though you know what you know,
I know that I’m ready to leave
‘Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

As I mentioned, the specific origin of these lyrics is well documented, down to the moment Peter Fonda spoke the opening line to George Harrison, referencing an accidental gunshot wound Fonda suffered as a child. LSD trips aside, the words are about life changing revelations, and perhaps the human tendency to resist such revelations. Lennon changes the “He” to “She” disguising the song as a love song, maybe because love is often the source of many of his revelations. The first stanza sounds to me like a lover, or somebody trusted (those are almost interchangeable in my mind), revealing knowledge of the afterlife to the speaker. “And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born” says that the speaker feels like they don’t exist, or that knowing the afterlife might make this existence seem meaningless. The second stanza, with its forceful question “Who put all those things in your head?” is the resistance to the revelations being presented. “Things that make me feel that I’m mad,” however, invites an admission of an already present tear in the fabric of the mind. The third stanza is an interaction between the two, a back and forth that reveals the speaker to be nostalgic for childhood, when “everything was right.”

Unpacking this bag one phrase at a time was very eye opening for me. It showed me why it has taken me so long to listen—and I mean really listen—to the Beatles. Everyone in my generation was likely made familiar with the Beatles at a young age (my parents were not fans, I don’t hold a grudge), but it wasn’t until their entire discography was finally made available on Spotify that I found the time to return to it as a young adult. I found that songs like “She Said She Said” suddenly seemed oddly profound to me. Words that used to feel too simple and not provocative enough suddenly struck me somewhere deep down. When I retrace my life—it doesn’t take long, I am young, after all—I can still place the moment that literary writing clicked for me. It was when I finally learned to realize that simple events can often be monumental. I’ve spent the last several years examining the quiet moments that have had profound effect on me. I have resisted many of those moments while they were occurring, attempting to trudge on the same path, to remain the same as I used to be “when I was a boy.”

It probably is no coincidence that as a twenty-seven year old I suddenly relate to words John Lennon wrote at twenty-five. Our experiences were obviously not similar, him likely having these types of conversations and revelations while hiding out from swarms of admirers at a Los Angeles mansion, and me usually having them in the drive-thru at Taco Bell on a Thursday night. But when the song comes on, and I sing the words, I am aware of myself and my longing for some sort that feeling—the feeling I used to get as a child—of everything being right.

– GG

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Nas’ “One Love”

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Our words this week come from Nas’ track “One Love” off of his 1994 classic, Illmatic.

The lines are:

“But, yo, guess who got shot in the dome piece?
Jerome’s niece on her way home from Jones Beach
It’s bugged, plus Little Rob is selling drugs on the dime
Hanging out with young thugs that all carry 9s
And night time is more trife than ever
What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together?”

The textual cadence of these words is only a shadow of the spoken delivery, but the internal rhymes and crisp colloquiality of Nas’ lyrics are undeniable. Illmatic is full of dense, image intensive verses but the stylized envisioning of letters to jailed friends found on “One Love” has always stood out to me. The conversational relation of urban tragedy/reality is presented with such familiarity and frankness that I instantly relate to the unnamed recipient of Nas’ news. I feel the sadness of a little girl from the neighborhood being shot dead while walking home. I feel the anger of knowing another young kid from the block is getting involved in the same nonsense that killed that innocent child. I feel the guarded closeness between separated male friends, the commrodary of shared struggle. The clear-eyed bitterness and empathetic realism in Nas’ lyrics on Illmatic is part of the reason the record is a masterpiece, but the unique creative vision and flawless execution on “One Love” make it a touchstone for urban storytelling in my eyes/ears/mind.

– NR

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Beat Happening “The This Many Boyfriends Club”

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This week’s words come from the Beat Happening track “The This Many Boyfriends Club” off their 1988 album Jamboree on K Records/Rough Trade Records.

The lines are:

“It makes me mad
When I see them make you sad
Sometimes I wanna be real bad
And shove those words back down their throat”

Calvin Johnson’s raw and thoroughly Calvin Johnson-ish delivery of lyrics so simple over dissonant guitar seems to distill emotions down to their pure/childish/truthful cores. Anyone who’s ever loved someone, be it a friend/family member/romantic interest, has likely felt this immature but nonetheless very real impulse to cause harm, physical or otherwise, to people causing pain to the one they love. These words are devoid of decorum or self-consciousness or pretense. They are aggressive in their vulnerability, complex in their plainness. This is someone clenching their fists in the bar’s gravel parking lot. This is a parent wiping tears from a bullied child’s face. This is “I LOVE YOU” written in kiddish scrawl on a folded sheet of classroom loose leaf. And we love you a lot, Lori.

– NR

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