Last weekend, Kanye West performed one of his famed Sunday Services close to home. Thousands attended the event at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, where the musician recently bought a ranch.
The Sheridan Press shared the Cody Enterprise’s coverage of the Sunday Service on Facebook, asking, “Should Kanye come to Sheridan?”
The post had the most interactions of the week. More than 300 people (and counting) responded.
Many comments were a simple “no.” Others were straight-up offensive. Some said they did not like his music. Some worried about his effect on small Western communities.
“Welcome to Californiafication of the West…” wrote one Facebook follower, espousing a sentiment expressed by still more commenters.
Positive comments were sprinkled among the negative: “Yaaaaa! And do a church service just like the one in cody,” enthused one person.
“I say yes. Welcome to Wyoming,” typed another, garnering 25-plus emoji approvals from like-minded followers. “Lets show the world we can be friendly, even to outsiders.”
I appreciate this open, you-do-you, live-and-let-live response, an attitude on which Wyomingites pride themselves. Unfortunately, it was in the minority.
But I admit that, back when I first heard Kanye was expanding his Wyoming exploration from Jackson to Cody, closer and closer to Sheridan, my natural reaction was an emphatic, “Noooo.”
Luckily, I was with open-minded friends, who checked my response, asking, “Well, why not?”
The surface of my answer was about Kanye himself. Don’t get me wrong: I loved his work when I was younger. The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation — his early albums were the soundtrack to high school and college. I saw him in concert a couple of times in my 20s. He really is a once-in-a-generation artist. But at a certain point, I had to stop listening. For some, Kanye’s genius outweighs his eccentricities (read: megalomania and misogyny). Not me anymore.
However, if I’m honest with myself, more of my “no” came from a less analytic and more selfish part of my heart. Somewhere on the border between my unconscious and conscious mind, I harbor a deep-seated sense of ownership of my home state. A similar bristling is aroused when any East Coast friends claim to know Wyoming after having visited Yellowstone once or twice. I almost prefer the joke “Why-oming.” Because I do know why — the mountains, the plains, the hills, the sagebrush seas, the ridges, the small Western towns. It feels like mine, and I do not want it to drastically change.
But there is no one version of the state. My Wyoming is different than a cowboy’s Wyoming is different than a climber’s Wyoming. Kanye has his version of the state. I don’t have to love him to accept and even welcome it. To avoid new perspectives is to be isolationist. To want to keep Wyoming a secret is selfish. The fear that what makes Wyoming special may be lost or overrun by an influx of new residents is perhaps not without merit, but to pre-judge every outsider as an intruder is an expression of a close-mindedness that does not speak well of Wyomingites.
Seeing the outpouring of negative comments on the Facebook post underlined my disappointment in my own initial reaction. Racism factored into some of the reactions, explicitly or not. Others seemed to dislike his music, persona, politics, lifestyle, religion, discussion of mental health and the simple fact that he comes by way of the weirdly dreaded California. (I haven’t even mentioned the reaction to Kim Kardashian, his reality-star wife.)
With this disruption, Kanye brings with him conversation about all of those elements — plus tourism dollars, an important step in the much-needed diversification of the Wyoming economy.
For a state that wants the world to have more cowboys, we all could be more welcoming to our new fellow resident.