Kanye, Out West – The New York Times

CODY, Wyo. — It’s surprising that a global celebrity who frequently self-identifies as the greatest artist living or dead has become an everyday presence in a tightly connected town of about 10,000 people. It’s more surprising just how much the town’s leaders want him to stay.

There Kanye West is at the McDonald’s, the Best Western and the Boot Barn. He hangs out at the Cody Steakhouse on the main drag, where he met one of his intern videographers, a student at Cody High School. His ranch is close to town, and to get where he needs to go, Kanye drives around town in a fleet of blacked-out Ford Raptors, the exact number of which is a topic of local speculation. Gina Mummery, the saleswoman at the Fremont Motor Company dealership, would only say that she sold him between two and six.

Kanye started taking trips to Wyoming regularly in 2017, shortly after he was hospitalized for what was characterized on a dispatch call as a “psychiatric emergency.” He spent lots of time making music in the state in 2018, holding an incredible listening party for his album “Ye” in late May in Jackson, a town famous for its skiing, fishing and ultrawealthy residents.

It can be hard, with Kanye West, to separate concrete plans from jokes, fancies or outlandish aspirations. For now, the people of Cody have to wait and see what develops.

The Cody Enterprise, which publishes in print twice a week, has refrained from printing local gossip about Kanye, even though its building sits several lots down from the celebrity’s commercial property on Big Horn Avenue.

But where the paper’s reporters have been circumspect, its columnists, letter-writers and commenters have flooded the Enterprise with their takes on the Kardashian-Wests. The conversation was kicked off by Doug Blough, a regular columnist for the paper, who worried that the celebrity couple would clog the town with “paparazzi, movie stars, directors and Victoria Secret runway models.”

“I’m sure you’re heard the hubbub and hoopla going around our little town this week,” he wrote in September. “If not, here’s a couple hints: He’s a famous, self-absorbed rapper who thinks homeboy Donald Trump is the cat’s meow, and she’s got a keester that knocks cans off grocery store shelves.”

The condemnation was swift. One letter-writer chastised the paper for allowing Mr. Blough to “make fun of a new family in our community,” saying she wanted her 75 cents back.

“We do not know the hearts of famous people or non-famous people moving to our town,” she wrote. “People who move here, do so because they are attracted to this way of life that we all hold dear. Mutual love for freedom, tolerance, nature and wide open spaces, draw us to Wyoming and keep us here.”

In December, The Cody Enterprise reported that construction of a meditation center on Kanye’s ranch was thwarted by birds. The structure, proposed to be a 70,000-square-foot concrete amphitheater, was complicated by a statewide order to protect a threatened species called the sage grouse, a grass dweller with the stature of a chicken and the strut of a peacock.

“Economic development is a marathon, not a sprint,” Mr. Klessens said. “That’s why when things fall apart, it’s such a blow.”

Two months later, he received a phone call from a New York number that he didn’t recognize. The person on the other line asked him if he had a moment to speak to Kanye West.

Cody was brought into being by Buffalo Bill Cody, another bombastic showman who was, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the biggest celebrity in the world. More famous in his time than Theodore Roosevelt and better-traveled than the Grateful Dead in ours, Buffalo Bill basically invented the fantasy of the American West through his touring Wild West Show.

Founding a town in Wyoming was just one of Buffalo Bill’s many late-life enterprises. It has proved, in some ways, to be his most concrete legacy.

Cody was incorporated in 1901, becoming “the new center of William Cody’s continuing, almost manic entrepreneurialism,” the historian Louis S. Warren wrote in his 2005 book “Buffalo Bill’s America.”

Buffalo Bill advertised Cody in a Wild West show program, promising air that was “so pure, so sweet and so bracing” that it would act as an intoxicant to city-clogged lungs. In reality, the settlement was plopped down in the arid Big Horn Basin where the wind rarely stops blowing and there was once so much sulfur in the river that it was known as Stinking Water.

The town wasn’t even properly irrigated. By 1910, Mr. Warren wrote, “Cody and his partners had been sued at least twenty-six times.”

Buffalo Bill, under pressure, ceded the right to develop the town to the U.S. Reclamation Service.

He died in 1917 but Buffalo Bill’s spirit is alive in Cody. A half dozen people who say they are his descendants live here, including Bill Garlow, who owns the Best Western Sunset and the Best Western Ivy, an occasional hangout for Kanye and his employees.

Ms. Old Elk, who is an indigenous woman of the Crow and Yakama Nations, bristled at any attempt to “typecast Wyoming as a place of intolerance.”

“Of course, you’re going to find people that have certain biases,” she said. “You try your best to speak to those people and understand that hate is at the root at a lot of that, hate and ignorance.”

“Is there room for more racial equity? Absolutely. Across the board, the state needs more people of color and people of different religions. But you can’t make people move here, you have to create a community that’s inviting of that,” she said. “That’s true of any American town.”

Everyone who hopes that Kanye will bring jobs to town is aware that they’re taking an emotional gamble, especially given how frequently he changes his mind. (A representative of Kanye reached out, he agreed to talk for this story, and then did not.) Mr. Klessens said that those gambles are always part of the business, but that it never gets easier.

“You have to really guard against the euphoria of the potential,” he said. “I’ve spent 32 years struggling with that problem. It’s really easy to get excited about good projects.”

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