I’m of the mind that once artists release their work, it doesn’t really belong to them anymore. The public gets to interact with it, criticize it, love it, hate it, own it. So I feel like I own Marc Chagall. And Radiohead’s Moon-Shaped Pools. And Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, which I just saw. And Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands, Part 1.”
I’m drawn to hip hop. I suppose it appeals to the mild rebelliousness I have in my veins, plus I’m moved by its origins, which is why I adored Straight Outta Compton. But really, there are few things as cool as hip hop. I doubt I’d choose to listen to it as I run errands, but when my older daughter is riding with me, it’s what’s on. Few things make her happier than riding in the car, window rolled down, dancing to hip hop.
I asked her about “Father Stretch My Hands, Part 1” recently. I didn’t know it was Kanye, but I couldn’t get the intro out of my head. “Ahhhh,” she said, “I’ll play you the clean version. You don’t want to hear the original.” Shouldn’t I be saying that to her?
I’m not easily offended by art. Obviously.
I’ve been playing the song today. I read the lyrics, and yes, some of it is nasty. But if you get caught up in the nasty, you’ll miss the extraordinary beauty. I don’t know or care what West’s intention was; I read it as a contemporary psalm, a provocative prayer.
The song opens with a call to God, acknowledging he is Source (“You’re the only power that can”). It continues with a turn to a lover (“Beautiful morning, you’re the sun in my morning babe/Nothing unwanted”). The hook repeats, “I just want to be liberated.” A long verse follows with a graphic recollection of an event the speaker regrets, but he says he doesn’t “wanna talk about it.” Again, the song circles around to his lover, to his desire to be liberated.
He’s let his ego run wild, seeking pleasure that is ultimately empty, “pleasure” that not only drives him away from the arms of his lover, but also separates him from the Source.
The song makes me think of the “surrender” we talk about so much in yoga circles; liberation/freedom is in surrender. I get it, but I don’t really get it. I think I’m getting closer. I think I have moments. I know what it feels like to not surrender. It feels like fear, mostly, and destructive desire, which is what West describes.
“Father Stretch My Hands” is a beautiful request for intervention. Please, Father, be present in my ego-driven madness. Bring me back to the beautiful morning and into the calm and the arms of the one who loves me.
You may think you’re better than Kanye West, but he’s seeking what you are seeking.