2. dear heidi – “overdosin'”
April 9, 2009
did you read the story about lil wayne in this month’s rolling stone? i did. personally, i’ve read a lot of magazine stories about lil wayne and i enjoy every one and every one makes me want to like him more. i think that’s one sign that someone is really good at being a celebrity, that they can continue to be interesting in boring magazine stories and interviews that are all basically the same. in the rolling stone story, lil wayne (his nickname is “weezy,” the reporter said) does all the things he usually does in magazine stories (and, i guess, maybe, that he usually does in real life): he smokes blunts, drinks cough syrup, records songs, and says weird and interesting things.
my google alert about you (i hope that’s not creepy, i just like to keep up with what you’re doing because i care about you) had a post from mtv.com about how you love lil wayne’s music and that, actually, you want to have him appear on your album. (i know your album is coming up soon, oh my god, are you excited?) you give a lot of interviews, so in case you’ve forgotten this one already, you said,
“I just love making fun music, like Lil Wayne,” [you] said. “He’ll do a rock song, and then he’ll do a rap song. I get to choose my own songs. It’s something I love doing. I’m having so much fun doing it, and it’s not too much pressure. It’s more on my own.”
since you’re a celebrity who is famous and gets magazine stories written about yourself, there’s a chance you might actually meet lil wayne at some point and so i feel like you should know some things about him — that might help you talk to him into appearing on your album or at least just make it easier to meet with him. i know that sometimes it’s really hard for me to meet people and if you’re prepared, it might make it easier for you to meet him. (when you’re famous, is it easier or harder to meet people? i wonder about that a lot. because i have this problem with meeting people where i’m not good at it but sometimes i think if i was famous, it would be easier because people would automatically know things about me and that knowledge would make it like we weren’t meeting because they had already met me, in a way, by experiencing this other part of me like by reading Us or something. but then i have also read things about “the problems of celebrity” so i’m sure there are problems, too, i’m not saying you’ve got it easy or anything.)
anyway, there were three parts of the lil wayne story that i thought you might find particularly interesting and since i know you’re busy and probably don’t have as much reading time as you wish you did, i guess i’ll just put them in this letter right here. the first part i wanted to tell you about is how lil wayne talked about selling himself:
Still, as he moved into his 20s, Wayne was hardly a household name, and be began to feel as if his record label wasn’t doing all it could to promote his music. So he came up with a plan of his own — in a blatant violation of the economic law of scarcity, he began working nonstop, recording and releasing countless mixtape tracks
when i read that about him, i thought, that’s you, heidi, that’s what you did, as you “moved into your 20s,” the way you violated “economic laws of scarcity,” the way you gave and gave and gave yourself away for free, more and more, until suddenly you were everywhere and you could start selling yourself for real money, all about the benjamins like in that song. the way you made yourself into a business. i mean, heidi, all of these businesses in america are failing now and bad stuff is happening all the time on the news and people will still pay you money to come to a club or be in a magazine story. that’s amazing, i bet your mom is so proud of you. there is this really good rap by jay z where he says, “i’m not a businessman / i’m a business, man.” well, heidi, you’re a business, m’am. (that wouldn’t really work in the song, of course, since there’s no such thing as a businessm’am, but still i wanted to tell you and sometimes it’s easy to tell people emotional things like being proud of them or liking them if you do it in a joking way, even if the joke is bad.)
i have a secret problem, though, heidi. even though i like reading about lil wayne a lot, even though i like reading about him so much that I would probably read like a 500 page biography of him, i don’t actually like his music. i don’t really like the sound of his voice, i don’t like the rasp of it, the gravely sound to it, the wheeze (that’s where the nickname “weezy” or “Weezy F. Baby” came from, the reporter said). i think maybe the way i don’t like his voice is like the opposite of how most white people, even old or racist or stupid ones who don’t normally like black musicians, how they love louis armstrong and his froggy throat. but for me, because of lil wayne’s vocal tone (and also rhythmic things about how he flows), i find it really hard to listen to him.
it’s frustrating for me — i want to like him so much. i read quotes of his lyrics or descriptions of his songs in magazines (“the surrealism is epitomized by the 2007 mixtape track ‘i feel like dying,’ in which wayne imagines playing basketball with the moon and diving into a sea of codeine…”) and i think, “that sounds like a song i would really like, that’s so interesting and, i don’t know, artistic.” but i don’t like him and it makes me feel so stupid and uncool that i don’t like him. it makes me feel so uncool that i don’t like to admit it to people, it’s embarrassing, but i trust you and i know that i can be honest with you so i’m admitting it to you. i keep telling myself that maybe i should just wait for his voice to grow on me, that it’s just like how i didn’t like bob dylan’s voice at first and now i love it (most of the time), that soon some song of his will come along (he releases a lot of songs, often on “mixtapes,” the reporter said) and change my feelings, but i just keep waiting and trying and i still don’t like it and i can’t and don’t listen to his music. so i just thought i would tell you about that in case you’re just pretending to like him, too, because you think that you’re supposed to because it’s cool, so that you know somebody else has this feeling that you have, too. not that not liking art or an artist is something to be proud of or feel good about, i don’t think that at all, i hate it when people are so self-righteous and proud about not liking you, god, but still sometimes you can’t help your feelings even if you’re doing your best to remain open and unprejudiced.
the second interesting part of the story was when lil wayne was talking about his singing voice. he said,
I always knew I couldn’t sing, but I also knew I had a voice that isn’t heard by many, and that I could learn how to stretch it and make songs sound good. Therefore, I practiced that.
as a singer, i thought this quote would be really interesting to you. do you like the sound of your own voice? since we don’t really talk to each other, you know, i have to go with my gut on this one, and my gut tells me that you don’t. i have to believe that you feel it’s not good enough since all the vocals i’ve heard of yours are so heavily tuned. don’t worry, i’m not going to call you out as “fake,” you know i’m not like that. i mean, i don’t use vocal tuning much myself because in the kind of music i make (indie), it’s not very acceptable, it doesn’t fit so much with the sound picture that’s made. but even though i don’t tune it, i don’t like the sound of my voice either and sometimes, almost all of the time, i do things to try to cover it up, like adding layers or using reverb or distortion or other effects. a lot of singers don’t like the sound of their voices and try to do things with machines to make them sound better. before we had machines to change our voices, people had to do things to their bodies to change their voices, like (this is gross) guys used to get their balls cut off so that they could sing higher notes! i know, right! i read that on wikipedia. luckily, now, in the age of mechanical things, there is all of this modern technology to change our voices without pain or injury. a while ago, i read this book written by an engineer at the recording studio of the beatles and he said that john lennon (of the beatles) really, really hated the sound of his voice and was always asking the producers and engineers to do mechanical things to his voice, filters and distortion and stuff, to make it sound better. one time, he wanted to put his vocal microphone in a fish tank (which could have been totally bad because he could’ve gotten electrocuted). another time, he tried to lay on the ground and they swung a microphone hanging on a wire over him, to try to make it sound like his voice was swirling all around. i think if even john lennon, who is totally famous and sold like a bajillion records, even if he didn’t like the sound of his own voice, then it’s okay for you and me to not like the sound of our voices either.
sometimes i wish we were brave, though, you and me. not that i don’t think you’re brave, but in that quote lil wayne is being really brave about his bad voice. it’s almost like he’s proud of it, like he’s not only not ashamed of it and doesn’t feel bad about it, but he’s proud of it, like a red badge of courage, because his bad voice is his bad voice and he is so confident in himself and his artsiness that he can make people like his singing even if it’s bad because he’s that good. i think that’s different than you and me, who are embarrassed or ashamed about our bad voices and so try to cover them up with machines and electronica or just try really, really hard to sing good enough so we can sound as good as other people. in the kind of music i listen to (indie), sometimes singers who don’t like their voices sing really bad on purpose, try to sound “bad” instead of sounding “good.” sometimes that can be brave, but i think a lot of the time it’s not brave, i think it’s the opposite. i think it’s kind of that they’re afraid that other people will tell them that they’re bad singers and so they sing even worse on purpose, they don’t really try their best, so that other people won’t be able to tell them they’re bad because they obviously already know and their badness is part of their “art.” and, i mean, there are lots of different kinds of art and art is what you like and in the eye of the beholder and some other quotes but i don’t like that kind of art most of the time, personally. that is my “taste.” a lot of people say that you are trying to sound “bad” on purpose like that, that you are making irony music, fake music, and i guess that could be true and since i’m not really talking to you like in an interview in a magazine story, i can’t know for sure, i can’t get it “on the record,” but i like to believe that you are just doing your best at making real music (not fake), even though it’s really hard and you’re not a very good singer, because you want to share yourself more with your fans. i hope that’s what’s true and not the other thing.
this writer i like has this essay where he talks about what he calls “the grain of the voice.” it’s a really complicated essay and the writer (he’s dead) was really smart and sometimes i feel stupid reading things he wrote but i keep reading them because he’s so smart and sometimes if i can understand a smart, good thing he said then it makes me feel smart and good, too, it makes me feel like him, like a real smart guy. do you ever feel stupid about not understanding something ? i’m sure you do, everybody does, it’s natural, but it’s a hard thing to admit because sometimes you feel really proud of yourself for maybe reading something hard but then you’re not getting the things that other people get out of it and you think, why them and not me? like it’s not fair. like when i was in school and somebody in my class understood something about a book that i didn’t understand, that always made me feel kind of sad inside and i didn’t like it. but that’s how you learn, i guess, by being stupid sometimes. evolution and everything. anyway, i don’t always understand that dead writer but along with some other things he wrote, i really like his saying, “the grain of the voice.” i don’t really understand it, i just like the sound of it, it sounds very smart and makes me think of those squiggly pictures that your voice makes when it’s on a computer screen in the studio and how your squiggly pictures are different than mine, even if we sing the exact same words.
one last thing about me and you and weezy (i’m going to call him that without quotes, even though i don’t know him, the same way i’m talking to you so privately even though i don’t know you — i guess it’s cause i read all these magazine profiles about him and i feel like i know him now, just like i know you), one last thing we have in common is that our favorite place is the recording studio. you said in that MTV.com report that you “just pretty much live and breathe in the studio.” weezy described the studio in this really amazing and complicated way:
“It’s when you close the door to the world and jump outside of yourself. And you look at yourself and say, ‘You ain’t the best. Show me you’re the best. Show me you can play the fucking guitar without lessons. Show me you can make a hit song and make everybody tell you, ‘I love what you’re doing.’ Show me you can do that.’ And then i come out that door and jump back in my body. I do that every night.”
isn’t that an interesting way to describe it? i love my studio, too. my studio is only a closet which also has all my clothes in it and some stored things and it gets kind of hot in there with me and the computer and instruments and clothes and and i have to put my laptop outside of the closet when i record my vocals because otherwise it’s too noisy, but still, i’ve recorded a lot of songs there and it’s a special place for me. i record the songs there there and i put them out and hope that people will like them and listen to them and the songs will make them feel things that they want to feel. i make real music, i think, not fake music; at least i hope it’s real music, i’m not 100% sure but at least like 95%. you can never totally tell, though, right, it’s like being cool, how your mom tells you that your coolness comes from inside but it’s so obvious that a lot of it comes from whether other people outside of you think you’re cool. or fashion and style, the way in the magazines they talk about “inner style” but really style is something that lots of outer people decide on and then put in magazines like rules or guidelines.
so i’ve recorded one of your songs before (‘”higher,” remember) and i was in the studio yesterday, just jamming around, and i got this inspiration, like, i’m going to record a song for heidi, and then i just did it, like that, two hours and done. that’s what’s really magic about music today, how i can just do that for you, lickety split, just like weezy can. it is a magic technology miracle that lets me record music even though most of the time i feel like i’m just pretending to be a musician, i’m faking it. but in the studio, in my studio, that doesn’t matter, nobody’s telling me what i can or can’t do, i just do it, like in those nike ads. it’s kind of like you said in that MTV interview: in the studio, you’re “more on your own” and “it’s not too much pressure.” i mean, i’m not a great musician or even a good one, but it doesn’t matter, in the studio, i can still make a song for you like anybody else.
i think the reason i decided to make this song for you, even though i already made a song this week and i’m really trying to make less songs (kind of the opposite of weezy), is that i was watching idol the other night. are you watching it this season? i don’t know if you like it or not since we’re not talking. i wrote this story about you last year (you were probably too busy to read it, it’s okay) and in the story i had a part about how you hated idol (and lauren loved it). but that story was about a made up, fake you in an imaginary world and not the real you, of course (although i guess i’m kind of talking to a made up, fake you now, right? but it’s not as imaginary in that story, it’s more like the real, made up, fake you). so anyway, i was watching idol last night. this is the first season i’ve ever watched it and i really like it, even though i think most of the singers suck. i mean, “suck” is so relative, right, though, because the ones that i think suck can still sing a lot better than me, but even though that’s true, i can still say that they suck, i think i’m allowed. there is this saying that goes like “nobody ever built a statue for a critic” and i think that’s interesting and maybe true but if it’s true it’s probably because good, sturdy statues are big and expensive and hard to make and need permits and land to be built and lots of other things, and it’s because of that they don’t have statues, not because critics are never worthy of love. i mean, you’re really famous, heidi, and you don’t even have a statue.
but anyway, on idol, i really like the singer adam lambert who is the most popular one who almost everbody likes. i think maybe the producers are really trying hard to make everybody like him, like the way they give him better lighting (like twilight) and more camera angles and closer close-ups than anybody else, i think they want us to like him because they think he could be really popular and successful. but whatever, i’m unoriginal and stuff and i like him, i think he’s the best and should win, totally. on tuesday night, i was really surprised because the song he sang was this song “mad world” which i don’t like because it was in this stupid (indie) popular movie i didn’t like. but even though i don’t like the song and i had all these negative feelings attached to it, i still really liked the singer, adam, and how he sang it, i really liked his performance and “the grain” of his voice. i think that is one thing about whether a singer is good, if they can even sing a song i don’t like and make it likable to me, that is proof they are good, i think.
but i didn’t want to sing another version of “mad world” since adam’s version was really close to this other version which was actually not even the original, so that actually wasn’t my inspiration. my other favorite contestant on idol, though, is this guy anoop who seems really nice, that is the main thing about him, and what he did on tuesday was he sang this old cyndi lauper song (kind of like that cyndi lauper cover at the beginning of the second season of the hills, that played when you took your pregnancy test, oh my god, you were so good in that scene, that was when i first loved you), he sang this song that was originally sung by cyndi, a woman, and he is a man, and he sang it and all the judges said it was really good and amazing because he “made it his own.” so i was inspired by that so what i did is i took your song “overdosin‘” (is it still on your album? it seems like it’s always changing, how exciting) and i tried to “make it my own.” i don’t know if my version is a good version or better than yours but i’m still happy i made it because i think “making it my own,” i think that is a really important art thing to do and i am really glad you gave me the opportunity to do it. you are always giving me opportunities and so that’s one of the reasons i wanted to write you.