Kanye, my brother?

I had always liked Kanye West but the like turned to love on Sept. 2, 2005 when he veered off script at the Concert for Hurricane Relief and spoke the truth: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” His new song, “Stronger,” has been rattling around in my head, lyrics so catchy they are rump-shakin my noggin: “You know how long I’ve been on ya? Since Prince was on Apollonia, Since OJ had Isotoners.” These words are a close second to my all-time favorite Kanye-ism, “The way Kathie Lee needed Regis, that’s the way I need Jesus.”

Fun. Smart. Hip. Not misogynistic. Digable. Digestable. Delicious.

And maybe the other reason I love Kanye West is his name. I don’t know much about my family tree other than my Wests were Scottish and came over on a boat and a lotta years later my grandmother was an only child in Chicago, Illinois and the year she graduated high school, she took a boat trip with her parents and on the deck, cue the sappy music, fell in love with another only child from Toledo, Ohio. He proposed to her on that trip but she declined, and agreed instead to wear his Varsity Football pin on her underwear of all places (this was pre-thong days) because she wanted to “seem” single so she could suss out the boys at college. She dated other chaps for four years but somehow her heart stayed with that boy she met on the boat and when she graduated she got her Mrs. degree and became Betty Boyd West.

I never met Grandpa West; he died at 54 when my pops was a Marine stationed in Key Largo. The last picture of their family together features my father standing between his two only-child parents, reed-thin and twenty, staring a future down that would hopefully someday include the college that had kicked him out three months earlier.

My father then met my mother on the first day of school at Washington Junior High in 1964 or 1965, when, as my mother describes it, the new teachers had gathered for their orientation meeting and he literally walked into a shaft of light and she knew he was The One. I came along a few years later and there were always plans for another little West – one that would be named Robert Duncan if he were a he and Heather if she were a she – but life took a few other turns and I was the only West that popped out of that marriage. I am, in fact, the last West of our family tree, and plan to cling to the name for the rest of my life.

Reading that Kanye was also an only child born to a now-divorced couple gave me pause. His mother was a teacher, just like mine. He grew up middle class and went to a fancy high school, just like I did. He attended art school; I attended film school. He worked with Jay-Z; I dated a Jay Z. I have more in common with a black 30-yr-old rapper than I do with some of my closest friends. And I got to thinking, there’s this project that’s trying to determine connections between all the people with the surname of “West.” They want every West to submit their DNA to see how we all might be related. What if Kanye and I, by some cosmic connection, weren’t only children after all?

I have written too much about the desire for a partner in life, but always a romantic partner. What if the “other half” I’m seeking is a brother or a sister – someone who will, like Jesus, walk with me with me?

Both my parents have two siblings. And while their parents were dying, it was great to have those siblings to shoulder the pain/work/grief. But legendary post-mortem fights erupted on each side of the family, wars over favorite kitchen spoons and stolen retirement funds. Each of my parents has a sibling they don’t speak to anymore.

But I envy the time when they did all get along, the different Christmases I’ve seen photos of, the afternoons baling hay on a farm, the shared cokes at the soda fountain and ill-conceived Halloween paper tigers. I envy the physical recognition found in each other, that they could look into the eyes of their brothers and sisters and see their own DNA reflected.

We all forge families amongst our friends. But I feel a special kinship with other onlies. There is always a bit of revelation and comfort when we find each other, that for a moment, we are part of a larger family of onlies, united in our solo-dom. Our parts are whole.

For me, Kanye is part of this family. Brother, I need ya right now.

10 responses to “Kanye, my brother?”

  1. What I like most about this, Wendy, is the notion of the arbitrariness of kinship ties. Are the constructed? innate? Should they endure at all costs? Do we need them? Can we live without them? Are you more “related” to your relatives than to a dude who happens to share your last name? What does it mean to share a name?

    It reminded me of this earlier post, your first one for TGW, in fact, which in turn reminded me (via a comment I left there) of an idea I had for a post early on but never wrote. So now you’ve prompted me to dig that idea back out! coming soon …

  2. LT says:

    oh, the witty little “jay z” reference. oh, the “not misogynist” in the middle of a string of pop culture adjectives. i am trying hard not to say “fantastic post.”

    and, oh, the humanity: did you hear how pissed kanye was that he didn’t get brittney’s opening spot for the vma awards (which brittney bombed)– and then he came back to say that mtv forced brittney to perform despite her, uh, inebriation…? her complete disinterest? kanye said– on camera– that he refused to work with mtv from that point forward.

    ya gotta respect your artists.

  3. jeremy says:

    i too relate to “other onlies” like yourself (if not kanye) and wonder about the diasporic nature of (some) biological families, what pulls them apart–and, of course, what brings them back together again. (as many of you know, i think about this topic often, perhaps too often… though, on second thought, perhaps not often enough). anyway, thanks, WW, for being one of the other onlies to write about families and onlies (i’m quite enamored of that binary now: only/family) on this here site.

    insightful, as always.

  4. geri says:

    oh, oh, i’m an only too! well, i guess not technically since i have three older half-siblings, but they’re all so much older than me that as i was growing up they seemed so far removed from my life. plus, the fact that the three of them were/are so close made me feel like an outsider; as a result, i think i craved a sibling around my own age even more.

    kudos for finding a way to make kanye, katrina, and only children connect.

  5. Miller says:

    shit! pretend that last comment was made me. of course the one time i write something sorta-critical of my family is the one time i slip…

  6. ruben mancillas says:

    I’m an only too.

    (So is Adriean but I’ll let her speak for herself).

    I grew up defensive about being an only, it was all I knew and had nothing to compare it to obviously but dealing with the assumptions that I was automatically “spoiled” or otherwise socially deficient galled me to the point that I no doubt reacted by playing to the very stereotypes I rebelled against.

    Adriean and I were eager to raise an only ourselves…but you all know how that plan worked out. Now we’re excited about seeing how this whole extended sibling/family/kinship model really works.

    Wendy, it’s almost fantasy basketball season (as anyone who had the good fortune to date Jay Z must know) and I wanted to add to your list of potential peeps. David West plays power forward for the New Orleans Hornets and Delonte West is a combo guard who was just traded from the Celtics to the Seattle Supersonics.

  7. PB says:

    I am thinking a million things right now – how grateful I am for my family of choice, how I have this laminated photo of Kayne with his shoes on fire and looking so hot in all other ways as well, how your writing style drops all these images like swirly multi-colored beads and doesn’t feel the need to explain because they just stand on their own just fine thank you, but mostly I love the name West.

    When we were pregnant with our 2nd son (before ultrasounds were standard) we assumed he was a girl because we had one boy already. So we were in the hospital with our little male baby looking at some lame boy names and a discarded cool girl’s name. We decided on an old family name of my husband’s – a great great great guy who founded a town – dropped the fancy-pants first name and ended up with walker west. walker is a fantastic name but we are all facinated by west – a direction that denotes movement, expansion, growth, possibility, death, the sun, the gods, heaven, mountains, it sounds like wind through your teeth, the outside, strength. West fits my son like dna, but his personality could join you and Kayne as well.

    That’s what is so brilliant about this post – family – idenity – as inherited as a name, as chosen as life.

  8. Kate The Great says:

    When asked how many kids are in his fambly, the hubby says, “I’m the first of one.” Comparatively, he grows quietly observational when among my family of eight people, and I have to glance back amidst all the happy chaos and poke him to make sure he’s not too bewildered.

  9. MF says:

    When I think about my brothers and sisters (all eight of them!), I often think what a motley crew we are. Nine totally different people. We wouldn’t pick each other as friends. We wouldn’t socialize except for our our status as family. I often wonder what keeps us together.

    Sometimes it makes more sense to me that my family would all dissipate into each person’s own life, pick friends, have his/her own family. A literal “flying of the coop.”

    BW highlighted “…the notion of the arbitrariness of kinship ties. Are the constructed? innate? Should they endure at all costs? Do we need them? Can we live without them?”

    In my family, I’d say the kinship ties are more constructed than innate. And somehow, despite some great odds, they have endured. Do I need them? I don’t know. Do I want to live without them? No. Definitely not.

  10. Bryan says:

    i’m reminded of one of those james clifford-ey 90s cultural anthro lines: if roots are constructed, why can they hurt so much?