Jay-Z’s “Decoded.”

After reading Michiko Kakutani’s review of Jay-Z’s autobiography, “Decoded,” I am more convinced than ever that what we are seeing in him is less a powerhouse rapper and more a artist of talent so great we can’t measure it during his lifetime.
I am reminded of a story told by John Chancellor to David Letterman back when Letterman was hosting Late Night (oddest introduction to a Jay-Z related thought ever, but bear with me).
During his time as a foreign correspondent in Europe, Chancellor and a number of other American reporters headed to a restaurant for dinner. As they ate, more of their colleagues arrived and joined them. And then more. And more. Tables were pushed together. More food ordered. Liquor, well, how could there not be liquor? At the end of the evening the check was brought, and the dozen or so poor, American reporters realized that among them they didn’t have enough money to cover the bill. As they looked at one another and tried to figure out what to do, an older gentleman at a nearby table called over the waiter, scribbled something on a napkin, said something to the waiter who nodded and returned to the reporters’ table. Taking back the check he told them that the bill had been covered.
The reporters, understandably confused, asked how.
The waiter held up the napkin, a formless scribble on it with some kind of signature below.
Still not understanding, the reporters asked again, how?
The waiter gestured to the man at the other table and said, “That gentleman is Pablo Picasso. And this drawing has just paid for your dinner.”
Picasso saw a group of people having fun and didn’t want money to keep them from losing the moment. Did the drawing pay for their good time? No, Picasso’s presence paid for it, his body of previous work paid for it, the weight of his talent on history paid for it.
I feel like Jay-Z is that kind of artist. Even when he’s not doing what he’s known for, he’s doing it. During his life he’s given acclaim and people try to use him as a foil or a jumping off point or a yardstick. The reality is that it will be generations beyond us that measures his real success and failure. For us, all we have is the weight of his talent on history. We see it, we feel it. I have a lot of respect for it.

Numb playlist at Largeheartedboy

I was very excited to be contacted by David at Largeheartedboy.com. He asked me to write up a playlist for Numb. It was an interesting and more-difficult-than-I-thought-it-would-be experience. In the end, I’m very happy with the list of songs I came up with, and hope it gives readers another way into the book.
A sample from David’s site:

Ferrell skews celebrity culture throughout the book, and his dark comedy balances well with the various grisly scenes. The author’s true talent is shown in Numb’s complex character and his interactions with others, which often left me far more uneasy than any of the bloody sideshow tricks.
In his own words, here is Sean Ferrell’s Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Numb:

Music both motivates and shapes my fiction. It’s known that listening to music that moves you, regardless of the type of music, can alter our emotional state. More than that, I use Pavlovian conditioning to jump-start myself: certain pieces of music make my writing-brain start drooling. It is one of the ways I can take myself from a listless, out-of-writing-shape mindset and into a productive state of mind. And with playlists easily created and edited on the go, I find myself shaping characters and scenes in my iPod before they’re in my laptop.

Check out the entire post here.