Sunday, 21 June 2009

Western Philosophy

For years, I've resisted the seemingly natural, universal human emotion that is Hating Kanye West.

Sure, he's arrogant, even more so than other rappers - but, I figured, with good reason. While he's not the genius he clearly thinks he is, he is still capable of genius. Last year's 808s and Heartbreaks, for example, is not only one of the most emotional and experimental hip hop albums, but one of the most affecting works of pop ever. Even my parents love everything he does (apart from "the language"), so *hearting* the man my mum calls "Kanny" is a family affair.

Even if I could find it in me to hate Yeezy, it would be a pointless pursuit. As he explains in his book Thank You And You're Welcome, "I would rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I'm not". And "love your haters - they're you're biggest fans".

But this book could mark a turning point in my feelings towards West. According to him, this "entertaining volume of 'Kanye-isms' - the creative, humorous and insightful philosophies used in creating my path to success... captures the same wit, playful irony, and piercing insight found abundant in my lyrics". Well, if you usually turn to Dr Phil or Tyra Banks for your piercing insight, there's every chance that these 50-odd pages of trite self-help slogans could be your path to enlightenment. The only thing stopping the rest of us free thinking, sentient beings from ramming this book up the author's ass is the fear that it's so unsubstantial that he wouldn't even feel it.

You can "read" sample pages here or even buy a copy from Kanye's website, if "believe in your flyness... conquer your shyness" sounds like the kind of homespun homeboy philosophy you can embrace, so I'll focus on what I found to be the most disappointing spread, entitled "Embrace your flaws". Here West recounts the story of having eight teeth removed and braces fitted as a child, to illustrate the point that "I don't believe in accepting a changeable condition... sometimes it takes a little polishing to truly shine". One wonders whether his mum, whom the book is dedicated to, was thinking exactly the same kind of bullshit while she was wheeled into the cosmetic surgery operating theatre where she died.

Kanye's feelings of guilt and culpability about paying for the combined breast reduction and tummy tuck that killed his mum are well documented. In fact, it is his exploration of these emotions on ...Heartbreak that made it a masterpiece, and songs like Pinnocchio Story that led me to believe that the artist had completely re-evaluated his life: "There is no Gucci I can buy/There is no Louis Vitton to put on/There is no YSL they could sell/To get my heart out of this hell/And my mind out of this jail". But it seems that silver-lining benefits like self-awareness, sensitivity and an awareness of reality were temporary and short-lived.

After all (page 21), "You should be happy right?"

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Mike Tyson: The Saddest Man on the Planet. Part 2

Read Part 1.

It doesn’t take long for me to remember why Tyson was an easy character to like when he first entered boxing. Despite growing up in a rough neighbourhood and being involved with crime, just as I did, many people loved the rag-to-riches story of Tyson. Early footage of Tyson shows a man who is supremely confident that one day he will be champion of the world, and yet is softly spoken and a little in awe of the celebrity status he has earned.

At the height of his career, Tyson was a household name the world over. In his first year of being a professional boxer he had the impressive win record of 15-0. Having become the undisputed heavyweight champion on the world in 1987, many pundits predicted that he would go on to break all the record books, including Rocky Marciano’s record of 49 wins and no losses.

Having exhausted the many Tyson knockout video montages on YouTube, I find that the loss to Buster Douglas, the rape conviction and post jail decline have all been eroded from my mind and Tyson is once again my hero. Despite being 29 now, there was something electric about Tyson in his youth. I guess this is partly as it doesn’t seem real, just like when I was kid: Iron Mike Tyson, a small heavyweight who would inject fear into opponents, despite many of them being much bigger than him; Kid Dynamite, a hard hitting heavyweight who would destroy fighters in minutes, even seconds.

As an adult looking back it doesn’t seem real for different reasons. For a start it was the late 80s and explosion of consumerism, Tyson advertised cereal and trainers, and he even had his own video game. Dressed in fur coats, owning countless cars, Tyson had the appearance more of a hip-hop star than a professional athlete. Still hungry for more, I started to search the net for interview or television snippets.

It is here I find the most enlightening footage, a rude-awakening from my journey down memory lane. The Tale of Tyson Douglas – HBO’s half hour documentary on Tyson’s first professional loss, which left me heartbroken as a kid. Buster Douglas was only a warm-up fight before the highly anticipated Tyson/Holyfield fight. There was only one bookmaker giving odds on the fight and they had Douglas at 42-1 to win. The result of this fight sent shockwaves around the world, even threatening to eclipse the news of Nelson Mandela being freed after 27 years in prison.

Up until that moment I still believed the propaganda of Don King post fight. King appealed against the decision, claiming that when Tyson knocked Douglas down in the eighth round, the referee took a long count. Some news channels would back this up, having a timer in the corner, over-lapping the knockdown to show how long Douglas was on the canvas for – 12 seconds. Whilst the count was long, King’s appeal was rejected, with the Board of Boxing ruling that the referee’s decision was final. For the eighteen plus years, I always thought Tyson was cheated that night in Tokyo, and it was the start of his decline.

However, the documentary presented evidence that despite the count being long, the result was the right one. Firstly, no one in the Tyson camp, including the champion himself, was prepared for the fight. It was rumoured that Tyson hadn’t trained for the fight, but was instead living-it-up in Tokyo. Having parted company with trainer Kevin Rooney, the last remaining connection to the old training camp set up by Cus D’Amato, his new team were ill prepared – when Tyson got cut above the right eye, not only was there no cut-man in the corner, but no end swell, a basic piece of equipment used to stop the swelling of cuts. The other side of story is that Buster Douglas fought the best fight of his life that night. In a tearful post-fight interview, Douglas dedicated the win to his mother, who had passed away a few weeks earlier, saying it was she who gave him the strength and determination to beat Tyson.

Read Part 3.