808’s and Heartbreak
Chased the good life my whole life long
Look back on my life and my life gone
Where did I go wrong?
I have a theory about humanity. It’s a theory I developed over the past few months and I’m feeling pretty confident about it. But it could be wrong. Either way, I’m going to tell you about it.
But first I’m going to talk about Kanye West.
Now, when I mention Kanye West, you likely think about man crazy enough to interrupt an acceptance speech and father a child with Kim Kardashian, and that’s fair. But I want to jump back to before he completely lost his mind in front of the entire world. I’m jumping back to 2008, when I was a senior in college and facing plenty of drastic and scary life changes. That year, Kanye dropped his album “808’s And Heartbreak”, an album that differed quite a bit from the style of his previous albums. The entire tone of 808’s carried the message that the album title hinted at: heavy use of the 808 drum machine and a tremendous amount of pain. In fact, it was that pain that caused many critics to say that it was too dark to really enjoy commercial success.
They were fairly correct. Sure, it sold a lot of copies and inspired many rappers to take more introspective tones in their work since then, but all in all, most people felt as though there could have been more to it. To them, lyrics like “My friend showed me pictures of his kids/but all I could show him was pictures of my cribs” were lacking some sort of flash or bravado that they expected out of Kanye. In the midst of that, they totally missed the point of the lyrics he wrote.
I’ve always wondered about that album. I’ve always wondered if there was much more in there than we all saw at the time. Maybe the success of his first three albums was wearing on him. I was dealing with a lot of disillusionment at the time, and in that I could connect with the message of disillusionment tucked into Kanye’s words. When he writes entire albums about how success and fame is annoying him and driving him crazy, well, maybe there’s more to it than just rhymes about how it’s “Amazing” that people show up just to watch him perform. Maybe there wasn’t enough in all of that to keep him from losing his grip on reality.
Maybe it wasn’t just an album to him. Maybe it was a cry for help, and we all missed it.
Obviously I can’t know the mind of Kanye West. At this point, it seems he doesn’t know his own mind. Regardless, what we’re left with today is a man who put out an album about feeling broken, was told “Eh, we don’t want that,” and since then snapped. Now he’s a punchline for society: the hubris that doesn’t seem to realize how silly he comes across.
But that’s just how this world works, right? We don’t believe in having room for error. Michael Phelps can win every gold medal in the world, but if he tries to cut loose at a party, we spot him hitting a bong and now he’s scum. And how dare somebody like Tim Tebow have success? Win a Heisman trophy, win championships, and be a high quality person? How dare he? So we waited for him to fail, set him up to fail, and then pounced on him when he did.
It’s a “one strike and you’re out” society we live in. Yet we’re astonished when people admit to having a fear of failure, and even disgusted when they actually do slip up. We push Justin Bieber into the public eye and our silly standards over and over and over again and yet we’re surprised when he self-destructs. Surprised, and so terribly entertained.
Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will ridicule and marginalize and shun you. That’s the message we’re taught our whole lives. Pain is weakness leaving the body. And weakness is the worst thing we can show.
My theory is that we all know that’s not really how it should be. It’s just what we strive after, because it’s all we know. We’re told that maybe that next business deal or athletic accomplishment or sexual conquest will be the one that makes this world make sense, so we keep aiming for that next level of success that will keep us going. Women should look and dress a certain way, otherwise they are a failure. Men should accomplish these certain things, otherwise they have no value. The biggest crime against society is to fail, and until somebody tells us otherwise, we’re going to be terrified of it.
But what if somebody told us that it wasn’t that way? What if, heaven forbid, it was okay for us to feel our brokenness and accept it?
I believe that people want, whether or not they realize they do, to find a place or a relationship where they are allowed to be broken. We desperately want to find somewhere where we are welcomed with open arms. Where somebody looks us in the eyes and says, “You’re alright.” Where we don’t have to run, and we don’t have to worry about failing.
What makes Christianity so unique is that at its core, it is built upon realizing our brokenness, accepting it, and understanding that that’s the way it should be. It’s not our success that gets us anywhere. In fact, it’s our failures that bring us to where we should be. And that’s alright.
I don’t know where you are right now. Maybe you’re feeling on top of the world. I have days like that and they’re great. Maybe you’re feeling so exhausted, and I get that too because that’s how I’ve been this entire week. Maybe you’ve even grown as cynical as I have, and in that case, I’m here to let you know that hey, it’s alright.
My theory is that we just want to be allowed to be broken, because being allowed to be broken puts us on the path to being healed. It’s the place and the path where we don’t have the answers and we don’t actually need them. And it is a messed up place, filled with many tears and many moments of frustration, but at the end of the day, it’s a safe place.
It’s all we want, even though we likely don’t realize or admit that. And perhaps even more than that, it’s what we need. Maybe now more than ever.
Build me a home
inside your scars
Build me a home
Inside your song
Build me a home
inside your open arms
The only place I ever will belong
– Jon Foreman