Hey Mama: Kanye West, Neil Gaiman, and Grief Made Manifest

What awards?  The MTV VMAs this year were all about Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

What awards? The MTV VMAs this year were all about Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

Posted by TERESA

Let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t watch MTV.  I haven’t watched MTV in years.  Sure, it might be because I’m too old to enjoy MTV.  OR, as I think is more accurate, the younger people who watch MTV don’t know any better – and certainly don’t know enough to know that the “M” in MTV stands for MUSIC.

But I digress…

I don’t watch MTV, and I’m not really keen on awards shows, either.  I usually only watch the Oscars every year, if that.  As for the rest, I’m perfectly content to look up the winners the next day and go “Oh, that’s nice.”  So, I wasn’t watching the VMAs this week – I was on my computer trying to write a little, and G-chatting with friends.  All of a sudden, Facebook and Twitter started blowing up about Kanye West, and not in a good way.  They were blowing up about this:

I was so angry after watching this.  To see someone whose music I enjoy and whose talent I respect so much stoop to something like this was appalling.  It would have been bad enough if he had interrupted the winner of an award for which he was nominated.  At least that would have made some sense.  But to interrupt someone on stage – a 19 year old winning her first VMA at that! – to “defend” someone who never asked to be defended in order to right some perceived award show wrong?  It was the fact that this act was so inexplicable that made people furious.  It made me upset, too.

It proceeded to be the watercooler topic of choice the next day as people debated what his act meant.  Whether it was premeditated, or merely the spontaneous, drunken act of a rude, irresponsible douche.  Whether it had to do with race.  Whether it was actually spontaneous, or whether it was staged to garner Kanye, or Taylor, or both publicity.  My stance?  One look at Taylor Swift’s face, and you could tell it wasn’t staged.  At least, not for her benefit.  No matter what’s going on with you, once you lash out at other people, you need to be severely reined in. I thought what he did was inexcusable.  I still do.

Yet, the more I talked about it, the more I realized that there had to be a reason.  People just don’t do things like that.  And then it hit me. Kanye West’s mother passed away a little less than two years ago.  Suddenly, it all made sense to me, because I’ve been thinking about grief a lot in recent years.  But first, watch this:

My own mother passed away 3 1/2 years ago, and it’s only within the past year that I realized exactly what that’s meant for me.

Dad, Me, Mom

Dad, Me, Mom

It’s funny, I started seriously thinking about it after going to my first Neil Gaiman signing here in NYC, when he was signing copies of Blueberry Girl at Books of Wonder.  He was late to the signing, and I discovered later that night that the reason he’d been late was that he got a phone call that his father had passed away in England.  I was both amazed and touched that he’d decided to go on with the signing anyway; to pay us the respect of rewarding us for our time standing in line, and also to allow us to help him feel a little better, which he said on his blog we did.  I was so touched that I wanted to do something, write him something as someone who’d also lost a parent…but I didn’t know what to say.  This set the thoughts in motion, though.  I realized that if I were going to tell him anything (I never did, by the way, and I still have half a letter somewhere that was never sent), the main things I would tell him would be:

Little Neil Gaiman with his grandfather and his father

Little Neil Gaiman with his grandfather and his father

1) Don’t feel guilty about forgetting.  You will.  There will be days when you don’t even think about the person you lost at all.  You eventually won’t be able to remember their face, and will need photos to remind you.  That’s OK.  It’s your mind’s way of saying Hold on to yourself.  Live your life.  Move on.


2) Your grief will manifest in ways you never expected.  It won’t always be clawing-your-eyes-out, sobbing grief.  It won’t always be stoic, honorable grief either.  Sometimes, it will be you yelling at the person behind the counter at Dunkin Donuts, because they accidentally didn’t give you the right change.  Other times, it will be you ignoring your friends, or snapping at them just for being near you whilst having fun and joking around.  You might do something incredibly risky just to see if you can, just to see if you’ll come out of it alive.  This won’t all happen neatly immediately after the death, either.  It will sneak up on you a year later after you’ve quit seeing a therapist because you thought you were all better and really why shell out the money for something you don’t need anymore.

This, too, is OK.  Expect it, so it doesn’t blindside you, but know that you won’t be able to control it no matter what you do.  Your mind, and your body, and your heart are going to demand that you grieve, whether you let it or not.  And if you’re someone like me, who doesn’t like to cry in front of people, who doesn’t like being a burden on those she loves, and who tends to go about things with a stiff upper lip and a “suck it up and deal” attitude, the demands of your grieving will force you to grieve whether you want to or not.  And sometimes, you’ll do very stupid things indeed.

Kanye West and his mother

Kanye West and his mother

It became crystal clear to me what was happening when Jay Leno brought up his mother, and Kanye said “Obviously, I deal with hurt….and so many celebrities they never take the time off…I’ve never taken the time off to really…you know, music after music, and tour after tour…it’s just a shame that my hurt caused someone else’s hurt, my dream of what award shows were supposed to be caused…and I don’t try to justify it, because I was just in the wrong, that’s period.  But I need to, after this, take some time off and just analyze how I’m gonna make it through the rest of this life, how I’m gonna improve.  Because I am a celebrity and that’s something I have to deal with.”

He was going through exactly what I was going through – not making time for grief, perhaps getting more drunk than usual more often, lashing out at people who not only didn’t deserve it, but had nothing to do with anything – except he had the added bonus of having a camera turned on him when he did it.

I’ll say it again.  Kanye West’s mother passed away a little less than two years ago.

Two years went by before I went to that Blueberry Girl event and only started to be able to articulate exactly what I’d been doing and what had been happening to me since my mother’s passing.  It seems as though Kanye’s just received his wake-up moment, too, and hopefully he will take that much needed time off and take the time to grieve.

We all wish and hope to go the Neil Gaiman route: be gracious and together in public, grieve in private, and keep our personal grief separate from the way we treat people.  Perhaps it’s something that comes with age?  Gaiman is in his late 40s, and while that’s still young to be losing a parent, one might be more emotionally equipped to deal with it when it happens at that age.  Kanye and I are both in our early 30s and at a time in our lives when we are just starting to do the things that we hope will make our parents proud of us.  To not have them around to see it can truly be devastating.

So while the act itself remains inexcusable, its motivation is understandable.  At least to me.  And I hope the internet will die down a little bit, and not continue to be hard on Kanye.  Because just as it’s inexcusable to lash out at the expense of a 19 year old girl’s feelings, it’s equally inexcusable to get your internet jollies by electronically stoning a man in pain.

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 12:09 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Housing Works (as does Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer!)

Photo by Kathryn Yu

Photo by Kathryn Yu

Posted by TERESA

Teresa the Celebutante Week continued on Wednesday, June 3rd at SPIN magazine’s benefit for Housing Works Bookstore in SoHo NYC, featuring Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.

One of the things I love most about events involving my favorite artists is the standing in line.  I know, that’s supposed to be my least favorite part.  But I love striking up conversations with strangers, because I know that there are at least some things we have in common (we like the same author/musician/actor/artist after all), and chances are good that there’ll be a lot more.  Before the crowd was allowed to enter the bookstore, I got to talking with one of the writers I follow on Twitter, Chelsea Summers, and a lovely friend of hers, two young female friends who’d come all the way from Denver and Pittsburgh because they are huge AFP fans (one of them had won 2 VIP tickets in a Housing Works online auction), and one adorable scientist dude who is a huge Neil Gaiman fan.  (too bad he was married.  I would’ve totes flirted more had he not been)  The conversation was a lot of fun, and included comparisons of microscopes, best routes to Michigan, and AFP sex gossip! (I won’t say who had that info)

However, there are two kinds of people you can meet at events like these.  Cool people who are interesting to talk to, like the folks above….and people who are so wrapped up in what THEY like that they have no time or patience for anyone who won’t allow them go on ad nauseum about it.  Case in point: red-head standing next to me once I got into the store and had found a place in the crowd in which to stand.  I thought she seemed nice at first, which is why I struck up conversation in the first place, but she became obnoxious really quickly.  We got to the point in our chat where we discussed whether we were NG fans, AFP fans, or both.  She went on and on about how she was an AFP fan and proceeded to list the entirety of concerts and events she’d attended and what happened at each.  Then, when I started to talk about how I was a Neil Gaiman fan first and came to AFP’s music through him, telling her about Sandman/American Gods/etc, she cut me off by saying “Yeah, I really really don’t care about him.”  Um, thanks.  Apparently, you don’t care about listening to me either.

It reminded me of when I went to see Alanis Morrisette and Tori Amos in concert at Jones Beach years ago.  I was a fan of both, but I was more excited to see Morrisette because I was more familiar with her stuff.  The Tori fans eyed the Morrisette fans as if they were an abomination (you could pick them out in their military fatigues, dark spiky hair, tattoos, Goth skirts.  The Morrisette fans were mostly in Indian-inspired fashions, or broomstick skirts and had henna tattoos), and then after Tori performed left before Alanis started.  I never understood that mentality – loving your favorite artist at the expense of all others.  Everyone has favorites, but does that mean you never expose yourself to anyone else’s work ever again?  Crazy.  What I love about any art form is that if you follow it or the artist closely enough, it will lead you to other interesting things….but I digress.

Obnoxious redhead aside, the vibe in the room was great.  Moby was there so, you know, that was intersting.  And of course Kyle Cassidy, photographer extraordinaire who photographed much of the Who Killed Amanda Palmer book NG and AFP were there promoting, was there. Although, how HUGE a nerd am I that I got all giddy and excited when I saw that Merrilee Heifetz was there? 

Me: OMG, Merrilee Heifetz is here! 

Obnoxious Redhead: Who? 

Me: She’s like this huge literary agentohnevermind…

Photo by Kathryn Yu

Photo by Kathryn Yu

The event itself was amazing.  I’d never heard AFP perform before, and she totally won me over.  As I told her later, she plays with a passion that I love, as if she’s attacking the piano.  She is an artist that I definitely appreciate more live.  Her recordings are great, but they’re merely placeholders between live gigs as far as I’m concerned.  She played a Dresden Dolls songs that I fell in love with, called “Perfect Fit”, and a solo song called “Dear Old House That I Grew Up In” , both of which I related to in surprising ways and almost made me cry.  She ended with a cover of a Tegan and Sara song called “Dark Come Soon”, which was lovely and also made me want to investigate Tegan and Sara stuff more.

Photo by Kathryn Yu

Photo by Kathryn Yu

Alternating with her was Neil Gaiman, who read some great stories from the WKAP book.  I could listen to that man read the phone book.  The highlight, however, was when he graced us with an awesome story he’d never made public before, about a guy who’s making a living as a living statue, falls in love with a passerby, and stalks her, ending up very very still in her apartment.  It was SO CREEPY!  Loved it, and can’t wait for it to end up in a collection somewhere.

After the performances/readings, we were treated to a very enjoyable session of “Ask Amanda/Neil” in which Amanda and Neil asked each other questions submitted in advance by the audience.  It was during this Very Special Q&A that Neil announced that they are dating.  A fan asked “So Neil, when are you going to admit that you’re dating Amanda Palmer already?”  Amanda chose that because she wanted to “see what [he’d] say.”  He smiled sheepishly, looked to Amanda for approval, and when it was clear that she had no problem with making an announcement said “We’ve been dating for months, actually.”  The crowd cheered!  Mostly because it’s been so OBVIOUS to so many of us for so long that we were simply relieved that we could talk about it openly without seeming like we were just speculating or spreading rumors.

Because clearly, what was important about this revelation was giving the fans the ability to gossip freely and with clear consciences.  Heh.

There was also the auction of one of the only copies of WKAP available in this country (Neil’s reading copy with his notes in it, PLUS doodles in it by the creators, PLUS additional copies of naked AFP photos) that went to one very generous gentleman for $1300, which all went to Housing Works.  And then, of course, there was the long-ass line to get things signed.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected, given the lines I’m used to standing in for Neil Gaiman.  I spoke with Kyle Cassidy and Beth Hommel (AFP’s assistant), both of whom shot photos for the WKAP book, before getting into line, and I asked them to sign a page in my sketchbook that I would then get signed by AFP and NG and put into my pre-purchased copy of the book when I get it next month.  They were both so sweet!  Really good people.

Got to Amanda Palmer and told her that I was a new fan, and she was very nice.  When she signed the page in my sketchbook, she scrawled her greeting and name AAAAAALL over the rest of the blank page, leaving no real room for everyone else…Got to Neil, and I told him that, while I’d met him several times before, I’d never gotten a picture with him, and I asked if he would mind taking one then.  He was extremely nice about doing it, despite my camera being stupid and not going off when it was supposed to.  This dude I’d made friends with in line behind me took it, and I finally have my photo (below).  Huzzah!  Then, instead of finding space on the page I’d told him I was putting into my copy of WKAP, he turned the page and drew me an enormous skull and crossbones made out to me and signed at the bottom.  (this is important for an upcoming entry)

Photo by Random Dresden Dolls Fan Dude Behind Me In Line

Photo by Random Dresden Dolls Fan Dude Behind Me In Line

It was a wonderful and fun evening, made more wonderful by the fact that I’d see both AFP and Neil Gaiman again later in the week!