G-Eazy wants to be a saint.
Now I know next to nothing about him. I only know of him through a former student of mine who sent me the title track of his new album to listen to.
Its title is striking though – The Beautiful and the Damned, but not original. F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Beautiful and the Damned in 1922 just prior to publishing his magnum opus, The Great Gatsby. Again I must disclose my ignorance of both works so as to construct the limits of this post.
This post is mostly for this student whose questions about faith tend to take the form of discussing pop culture figures that he idolizes (his words, not mine). From them I hope he hears echoes of rich truths bouncing off the canyon walls of human experience.
Here I want to trace that echo to its source. To get there will take us through this striking song.
The song revolves around G-Eazy’s central struggle with himself. It is a classic, if cliché take on the Jekyll-Hyde problem – how does great good and great evil seem to inhabit each of us? In his pursuit of fame, Gerald Gillum finds himself captive and captivated by the “dark cliché” of life as a rockstar. It is the fast-paced life that he always wanted, but it is now a life that traps him. Like Bruce Banner, he finds himself stuck in an alter ego of his own making, Gerald Gillum has become “G-Eazy”.
Yet this fame is not all that it he hoped it would be. “All the sex, drugs, and boozin” leave him wondering “what I’m losin”. Yet the tension that he feels is not something that came from his fame – “cause I been this way, it’s not a new thing”. Rather fame makes the tension all the worse while offering redemption. If he can’t escape the tension, fame at least offers eternal life, because “a legend, he could never die”. Yet even this hope rings hollow in a song wrestling with the costs of fame.
The great irony of the song is that despite claiming to be a “devil with a halo, an angel with some horns” the portrait G-Eazy paints of himself is a man troubled by his demons, a devil deceived and not an angel in anguish. There is no mention of generosity, compassion or even genuine love in his life. It leaves this listener with the question, what again is good and redemptive in G-Eazy/Gerald’s life?
But let me ask a slightly different question. What explains G-Eazy’s war within himself? His popularity at least as it is manifested to me through my student indicates that his experience resonates with others. Why?
As I alluded to it earlier. G-Eazy wants to be a saint, but he knows that he can’t be. Doubtless he would never express it this way but as one writer put it frankly, “There is one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint”. Read through the lyrics of The Beautiful and the Damned (It is explicit). If given a simple choice to continue in his destructive habits or be transformed into “a better guy” which would he choose?
It’s not that easy, Gerald, nothing is.
Gerald Gillum is haunted by the fact that he is made in the image of God. He was created to be like God, but cannot escape a world where he is his own God, a world where his desires rule him, where pleasure is his prison, and all good things are grim. He knows that he was created for better things, but his desires for his vices keep him from them.
So his solace is his fame. His salvation is attention. Which is what explains these deeply personal struggles playing in the ears of millions of fans rather than the ears of a close friend or confidant. The dark irony of The Beautiful and the Damned is that Gerald’s confession to these vices simultaneously perpetuates the very system that enable them. As long as G-Eazy lives, Gerald will continue to die from his vices. Thus the song itself while clothed in authentic confession betrays a truth that Gerald is not yet ready to confess. G-Eazy does not exist. There is only Gerald Gillum.
Only Gerald Gillum is trapped. He cannot live up to the law that he should be a better guy, a better artist, a better person than he is. It plagues him with anxiety and insecurity – “thinking too much like you usually do”
Now this problem is not unique to Gerald Gillum. Hundreds of years before Gerald Gillum, another introspective writer tackled this tension with a stunning solution.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
I don’t know if Gerald has ever read the Bible (this passage is from the book of Romans). If he hasn’t, I’d love to read it with him. He seems haunted by it.
He may even find the person he is looking for.