Tag Archives: outkast

The Art of Storytellin’

19 May

A great deal has changed in my life since the last time I posted regularly on this blog, which was nearly three years ago. When I started this blog, I kept the general rule of not talking about my personal life. I figured that my readers fell neatly into two camps: 1) friends who knew me and would find autobiographical information redundant, and 2) total strangers who couldn’t care less about the man behind the post, faceless internet junkies lured here by the promise of a concert review or a silly list they might have stumbled upon during a meandering search engine session.

But it’s time to toss that arbitrary restriction aside because I’ve come to the realization that having an idea of why I’m posting what I’m posting probably makes the posts more interesting. And why the fuck was I pandering to my audience anyway? Let’s talk about me. Back in the days of old, I was a journalist for a smallish community newspaper who needed an outlet for writing swear words without repercussion. During my hiatus from WordPress, I quit journalism and decided to go back to school. Having recently completed my first year in a Creative Writing MFA program, this blog called out to me as a way for me to bolster my writing regiment. Since I’m attempting to write everyday, it seems selfish to keep all these words to myself. Why not share a little bit with the world wide web?

My focus has shifted from reporting to storytelling, with the ultimate aim of one day finishing one of those odd paper-stuffed objects pictured above. Although reading novels and short story collections is essential to my growth as a fiction writer, I find myself frequently finding inspiration in other forms. Today, a hip hop track and an internet short stimulated my muse. Allow me to share. That’s what cyberspace is for (other than porn, of course).

“The Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 4” – OutKast

If you’re a fan of Andre 3000 and Big Boi (or just transcendent rap in general), you might recognize this as a follow-up to Parts 1 and 2 that appear on Aquemini. Even though I’m a huge fan of a group, I was unaware of the existence of Part 3, which appears on Speakerboxxx / The Love Below as “Knowing”, and Part 4, which was released in 2007 as part of DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz: The Album. If you have four songs that reference the art of storytelling, you better damn well be a good storyteller, and OutKast holds up their end of the bargain like a burlap sack with a dollar sign scribbled on it.

Ever since I’ve started grad school, I’ve felt this strange gravitation towards hip hop. In spite of the fact that I’ve plowed through the pillars of literature, it hasn’t prevented me from being taken aback by the wordplay laid down by the finest MCs in the game, and I can honestly say that their intellect and insight and often sticks with me longer than the established authors that I’m supposed to appreciate. I could type out all the lyrics to “The Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 4”, but I think the first few lines should give you the idea:

So I’m watchin’ her fine ass
Walked to my bedroom, and thought to myself,
That’s the shape of things to come
She said, “Why you in the club, and you don’t make it precipitate, you know, make it rain when you can make it thunderstorm?”

Well, ‘Dre, you managed to drop an allusion to H.G. Wells and put a fresh spin on the tired rap cliche of “making it rain”. Being that prolific with language is certainly something I wish to emulate. The fact that OutKast isn’t taught in college poetry classes is an American travesty.

“Successful Alcoholics” – T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan
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Clocking in at 25 minutes, this video is more like a brief feature film and less like the traditional fare on Funny or Die. But if you have the time to watch it all, it’s unquestionably worth your while. Although the presence of T.J. Miller (who I’d only encountered playing douchey guys in terrible comedies) had me skeptical, I couldn’t resist the allure of Party Down goddess Lizzy Caplan.

As expected, Caplan kills it. Her wry smile sells the humor while her outspoken eyes bring the pathos. It says something that her shirtless scene wasn’t the highlight for me (not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it). What surprised me was Miller. Somehow his performance is off-the-rails, yet totally believable and pitch-perfect for the script. Which he wrote. Which is quite an accomplishment.

Even without the visuals, “Successful Alcoholics” would make a great short story. In fact, it’s exactly the type of story that I’ve been aspiring to write – one where laughter comes to the front door so that heartbreak can sneak in the back entrance. Miller’s script is both hilarious and tragic, and, although I’m reticent to compare a goofy looking actor to some of the more brilliant fiction writers of our age, “Successful Alcoholics” echoes some of my favorite stories by Kurt Vonnegut, T.C. Boyle, and George Saunders. No matter the credentials, artful storytellers leave us with the kind of hangover we expect after a night of being blackout drunk. But counter to the reality we’re used to, our Advil-popping asses still end up remembering every  last sobering detail.