Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kanye Wagner

I don't know when this happened, but by late 2011/early 2012 I had started to develop a suspicion about the musician, rapper, beat sampler, fashion designer, "artiste," and temper tantrum thrower named Kanye West that over time has hardened into a theory. His unruly behavior, his megalomania, his grand posturing, and his quasi-religious sentiments of martyrdom reminded me of another pompous, self-obsessed musician from another era altogether: the German composer Richard Wagner.

Is it possible that Kanye West is simply Richard Wagner haunting us from the grave? Are they musical, metaphorical, metaphysical brothers of another mother?

Hear me out. Both of them were/are absolutely convinced of their genius and both argue/d that they have revolutionized music forever. Both insist that music must be an experience, aurally, visually, socially, spiritually, metaphysically. Both of them make great lenses to view historical and contemporary conversations on race and nationalism (more on that later). Both have had public affairs with married women, and had children from those affairs. Both were/are weirdly obsessed with fashion. Richard Wagner wrote lengthy letters to his Viennese milliner to ensure that his sartorial designs were exactly to his liking.

Here is one of his writings to Fraulein Bertha in 1865:
Can you let me have a good heavy satin of light brown by Sunday, two also of dark pink? Is the enclosed shade to be obtained of good quality at from four to five florins? The blue I should also like, but rather lighter than darker. Has Szontag a good assortment of the red or carmine heavy satin with which you lined the white dressing-gown with flowered pattern. Please let me have pattern of the enclosed six shades and materials, and also let me know if you accede to my proposal for a yearly account. This will be most, convenient for me, and in this way I shall be able to employ you continuously. It is to be hoped you still have my measure.
Awaiting your reply,
-Truly yours,
“P.S. — Do not change pattern No. 2, the dark pink for light pink, but for a pink as dark and fiery as possible.”

And in September 2010, Kanye West also discussed his penchant for certain colors and fabrics:
“How many times have people taunted me because of a color that I had on or how tight my pants were? It’s nothing. I’m at the point now where I can go to ABC Carpet and spend five hours picking out sheets, ‘cause I love colors, like teal and taupe and salmon … When I visited Wayne at Rikers Island, I had a suit on with some slippers, and the guard said, ‘Man, those shoes are amazing.’ And I said, ‘Yes, they are. I’m Kanye West.’" (Taken from:

Here's a list of paraphrased statements said by either Kanye West or Richard Wagner at various points in their lives. Can you guess who said which?
1. My persian carpets must have cherub imagery on them. Why is this such a difficult matter to attend to?

2. I write music with an exclamation point!

3. I believe in God, Mozart, and Beethoven.

3. I always seem to misspell the word "genius." Oh, the irony!

4. There is no astronaut training for celebrity... even though this whole life is so outer space!

6. Wherever the fish are, that's where we go.

7. When I die, I want world leaders to weep at my funeral.

8. I prefer dogs to these doglike men.

When someone yelled to Kanye West that he had no talent, he quickly responded, "I'm Kanye West. That doesn't make any sense!" Wouldn't Richard Wagner have offered the same retort?

The Atlantic magazine came out with a piece in May 2012 calling Kanye the "American Mozart": (

The author describes Kanye as "intense, emotional, frequently out of control," and calls him "a narcissistic monster who tore a massive hole of self-regard in the American cultural quilt." But how is this not Richard Wagner? How did the author miss this connection? Kanye is, above all, the American Wagner, not the American Mozart.

What I'd like to offer at some point on this blog is a list of activities/statements that Kanye needs to tackle/make in order to complete the transformation into Wagner. First up, he needs to build his own musical temple. I'm really surprised no one has suggested this to Kanye yet. Honestly. I'm surprised that no one's said, "you know what would be great? If you built a musical temple far away from any metropolis or cultural center. People would have to make pilgrimages to listen to your music as you intend for it to be listened to in a building that you designed to best support your musical endeavors. The building would combine your visual and musical needs, and you'd be in complete control of who participates in your aesthetic vision. Wouldn't that be great?"

This post will be the first of many on these two figures. Both seem to fascinate and appall Zoe and me at the same time. We're drawn to spectacle, to drama, to bombastic, quasi-delusional personalities who tend to shout at us like prophets/prophetesses in the wilderness. We eat up their words like they're little pieces of rich, chocolate cake laced with a diarrhetic. They're delicious now but we'll probably pay for devouring them later.


  1. So does that make KK the equivalent of Cosima? Do I have to comb through those diaries and see if it feels like an episode of 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians'? Please say no.

    1. Well, *someone* has to comb through Cosima's diaries for mushy and insane thoughts about her beloved. This post on KK isn't going to write itself, Zoe.

  2. The difference is Wagner knew how to compose and play music not just being edgy, any one with draids and grillz can be edgy