Walt Whitman published seven editions of Leaves of Grass between 1855 and 1891. Poems would be fixed and added to the collection with each subsequent edition. In the second he prefaced the poems with a congratulatory letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson when he read the first printing of the book.
Besides a handfuls of other pieces of prose and poetry, Leaves of Grass was his artistic statement which was far from a static monument. It was a work in progress since it was published until Whitman’s death.
Kanye West’s latest album, Life of Pablo, is as curiously shifting as Leaves of Grass. Since its “release”, songs from the album have been edited and new track listings have surfaced. The process of this album is described beautifully in an article written by Joe Carmanica.
West takes a cue from the flux of literary editions and, in the hyper speed of today’s world, has curated many editions of this record. Openness of process flies in the face of a definitive and polished musical product. Life of Pablo exists in the edits.
Towards the end of his life, Ulysses S. Grant cryptically wrote, “The fact is I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun”. What would happen if we could say that as musicians and if our work could say it just the same? Perhaps Life of Pablo is Kanye West’s statement of Grant’s decree.