In Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, the main character is subjected to a certain kind of rehabilitative torture called the Ludovico Technique. His favorite piece of music was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. The torture consisted of forcing his eyes open while he watched violent images in a way that eventually made him feel deathly ill whenever anything of a violent nature was presented before him. An unintended consequence of that fact was that Beethoven’s 9th was played during a sequence of his rehabilitation. He therefore became as averse to his favorite piece of music as he was to violence. At the end of the movie, one of his former victims attempts to exact revenge on him by locking him in a room with Beethoven playing. The main character, whose name is incidentally the same as mine, throws himself out of a high window. He had to stop hearing his favorite song—and death was the only option. He survived.
The word claustrophobia defines “an extreme or irrational fear of confined places,” according to Apple’s Dictionary. Such a fear doesn’t seem so irrational once you have spent upward of a few hours inside of a closet, listening to a song that has been playing on repeat for the entirety of your stay in said closet. [Editor's Note: It is technically a small, windowless room meant for phone calls. No clothing is actually hung in said "closet."] A few days ago, one of my editors and I agreed that it would be a “great” idea if I were to listen to Kanye West’s “All Day”—all day. [Editor's Note: This was said partly in jest and was met by the following response from Mr. Russell: "LOL I'M DOWN." Also, "all day" meant a full work day.] I convinced myself that it would be both funny and harmless. The worst thing that could happen, I assumed, was that I would stop liking the song.
The following is a copy of the notes I took during the experiment, accompanied by interpretations made after the day in question. Each number refers to how many times “All Day” has played in full by the time of each note’s writing.
1. song is fire.
So far, so good.
2. I immediately regret this decision.
The gravity of my undertaking begins to dawn on me. A terror begins to settle in my abdomen.
3. Is it bad to ride around listening to Sade?
This still seems to be a valid question that went unanswered in my own mind even after dozens of plays. Is Kanye condemning the type of person who rides around listening to Sade? And why? I immediately think of Drake, who has without a doubt, thoroughly enjoyed the act of riding around listening to Sade, as have I. At this point, I'm coming to terms with the idea that riding around listening to Sade—feeling free, mobile, and at one with the sounds of the smooth operator—represents the antithesis of my current situation, which is listening to Kanye at his most abrasive, while stationary.
5. At this moment, I wish I could disperse.
This refers to what I believe Allan Kingdom is saying on the song: "At that moment, I dispersed." I wasn't sure which moment he was referring to, but all I could think about was being unable to do the same. Five plays in, prepared to throw in the towel.
6. I must look fairly sus right now in this closet.
This refers to Kanye's "looking real sus right now" lyric, which at this point I had heard half a dozen times in succession. It only further illuminated the pathetic nature of my current situation, as people routinely opened the door to laugh at me, then continue about their respective uninhibited days.
7. How long does it take for a closet to run out of oxygen?
A moment of sheer panic. Will this room run out of breathable air? Will I suffocate listening to "All Day"? Will I meet my end before even hearing the full album? Then I notice a small break between the bottom of the door and the floor of the outside world. I may live to hear the next single.
8. oh no.
9. it’s lit!
I suppose it must have been. I believe you, past self.
10. Wow Paul is taking no prisoners with this whistle.
This continues to hold true. Paul McCartney undoubtedly brought "All Day" to new heights when the song resolved into the pure, dulcet tones of his guitar and whistle. He snapped.
11. I’m starting to feel the way Theophilus London’s voice sounds.
That primal yell during the opening melody, that's Theophilus, I believe. That sound, that cry incarnate, was what my consciousness had crystallized into at this point.
12. When I’m 64.
Back to Paul. Back in Beatles times, Paul had a joint called "When I'm Sixty-Four," in which he listed a bunch of shit that he wondered about still existing when he became old as fuck, a.k.a. 64 years old. Dude turned 64 like eight years ago. With all that foresight, I was thinking, none of us could have imagined that he would one day share composition credits with French Montana.
13. Paul whistle the brief refuge. The elevator music between levels of my brain decay.
I began to look forward to Paul's whistle, it was like the five-second break I had between sessions of the song's incessantly pounding power chords and rhetorical questions. It gave me a moment to recuperate.
14. it’s not lit.
I suppose it must not have been.
15. blacked out.
I finally begin to start getting lost in certain sections of the song. I forget the song is playing for a moment and it jerks back to the forefront of my consciousness somewhere around "looking real sus right now."
16. is this what it feels like to wear Kanye adidas?
I might never know. Apparently all of that shit is wild expensive.
17. Starting to twitch every time I hear “South Side.”
I start to get this tic whenever the "SOUTH-SOUTH-SOUTH SIDE" part comes in. I feel like the drums are attacking me.
18. this song sucks.
I retract this statement. I was not in a state to be judging song quality.
19. this song slaps.
See, I came right back.
52. Wait This is hot.
What happened in the last 30 plays is a blur. All I know is that I started drinking whiskey and eating the turkey sandwiches that my grandmother had sent with me on my trip from Boston earlier that morning. Needless to say, it was lit.
56. I AM IN A PIT OF DESPAIR.
The whiskey is gone. The turkey sandwiches are gone. I've listened to Kanye West ask me how much time I'd spent at the mall over 50 times. The answer to all of his questions, in my case, was no time at all.
59. Tries to mimic Paul’s whistle.
At this point, I must have been in the middle of what had turned into an extended out-of-body experience, because apparently I wrote a note in the third person. I'm watching myself.
I've turned off the lights. I'm holding my knees to my sternum, fully reverted to the womb.
86. “Do you.”
Someone comes in, sees me, says "do you," and leaves. I mumble something incomprehensible.
104. God help me.
I came out of the experiment in a daze, as expected. The idea of hearing "All Day" even once more, or even just the opening melody, made me feel nauseous. I wanted to be submerged in a sensory deprivation chamber. I wanted anything to clear my mental palate. The only thing left to study was my reaction to the song, given some amount of time to reboot. Later that night I was DJing a party, and for the sake of science, I placed "All Day" at the end of my set. Part of me got slightly more nervous as each song advanced one closer to it; another part of me was excited.
I got to the first notes, and reverted almost immediately to Drake's "10 Bands." Was I doing it to instill a sense of suspense for the people who had come all the way out here in the snow to hear the Kanye song in public for the first time? Or was I just afraid of falling apart? I overcame my fear, put the song back on once Drake had finished enumerating bands, and so help me God, it was beautiful again.
Alex Russell is a writer living in New York. Follow him @alexrussellglo.