Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

The Library of Maria Callas: short fiction

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

 

Some time after her death, it came to me to explore the archive which Miss Callas had assembled over the course of her life.  The library, a room in her apartment at 36 Avenue Georges Mandel, documented Maria’s attempt to internalize the musical world for the sake of her art.  It was required of Callas, she believed, to swallow the world entire in order to emit Norma or Medea.

Her archive was not yet picked over.  It looked mad, crooked, and it contained many of her possessions, her letters and scores, which would later disappear.

Everything stopped abruptly

Over the wide room, a hologram of Aristotle Onassis sprang up here and there, recommending spy fiction and a catalogue from Van Cleef  & Arpels. He addressed the camera, and thus me, in a “get a load of this” tone.  He blew me a kiss.

A glance took in her collection of scores and a stack of 8-track tapes for language acquisition (Introductions to Turkish, Persian, German).  She spoke Greek, French, English and the Italian dialect of Veronese, usually in a blend, multidimensionally, rising and falling like the keys of a typewriter.  I saw copies of Macbeth and a biography of Nicholas and Alexandra, dog-eared, which she had carried around for a while, moving from one carry-on bag to another.

This is disgusting, said Ari, looking around.

This is a disgrace, said Ari.  (In the end, I would find several mummified poodles who were lost in the stacks.) Ha, Ari said suddenly.  He held up a trashy biography of Jackie Kennedy mid-1970s, mincing, and raffishly  kissed Jackie’s paper cheek. His head is the head of the minotaur, and people whisper how can she sleep with him?

Jackie Kennedy is a bag of bones, he once not only told Maria, but told her in front of guests.  An incalculable gift.

My assistant asked if we might come across some special map of Greece to lead us to hidden archeological treasures.  Of course not, you idiot, I said.  He and I congratulated each other on the significant finds, like a purple metal garbage can sporting a silkscreened picture of Jackie at JFK’s funeral. Should I throw out the inevitable junk?   I wondered if the word theft could be applied, as we shuttled away piles of hotel room stationery, covered in notes and lists and letters.

Jackie Kennedy bled into the real Kennedys, Jack and Bobby, JFK and RFK

And everything was confidential

(FBI agents burst through a tear in time)

And life was lived like something snapped off

The other woman was more interesting than Ari himself.  This is for whom he would leave me, wrote Callas on Excelsior Hotel paper.  This is my weight in gold.  This is my value in couture. This is my bag of secrets.

This is our Hisarlik, I tell my assistant.  This is our Hisarlik, this is our Troy, this is our flaming library, Alexandria under our feet, this Knossos, this is our old religion.

The Fashionable Lady Gaga

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Before she had an audience, it was just Gaga and her mirror.  And for a while, it got weird.  Four years ago, she was living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, after leaving school and her parents’ financial support.  In her shitty little apartment, she would order a bag of cocaine from a delivery service, get high, and work on her hair and makeup for hours.  She’d get it perfect, and then come down from the coke and do it all over again.

—-Rolling Stone[1]

”The biggest misconception about me is that I’m a character or a persona.  That when the lights and cameras turn off, I turn into a pumpkin.  It’s simply not true.  I make music and art and design all day long.  Yes, I wash my face and go to sleep but when I wake up, I am always Lady Gaga.”

—-Sydney Morning Herald[2]

 

“Lady Gaga has been sent to Earth to infiltrate human culture one sequin at a time.”

—-“Transmission: Gagavision” from the weblog at LadyGaga.com

Lady Gaga arriving at London's Radio One, 2009.

Lady Gaga arriving at London’s Radio One, 2009.

Over the last two years, a small young woman has appeared in popular culture, asserting her riddling persona in ways that have nearly every critic engaged. I have scrutinized hundreds of photographs of her, and I am still not sure precisely what she looks like off-duty, as it were, such is the extremity of her disguises. Her plainness (she lives on the border of beauty and not) gives her viewers the satisfaction of serious feeling (since her appeal is not universal) and gives her an immediate passkey to the world of High Art (her appeal is exclusive). Her extraordinary costumes, so nutty and witheringly chic, so embarrassing and fascist, so meticulous and creative, transform a quick dash from the limo to the television studio into performance art. You never see her photographed in jeans and a tee-shirt, or bouncing through Central Park in a track suit. Only recently has she hired a permanent stylist. Instead, she has an obscure group of helpers and designers called the Haus of Gaga, a place where I imagine that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno mans the phones.

Lady Gaga in London, April 2009.

Lady Gaga in London, April 2009.

Lady Gaga is better than traditionally beautiful: she is genuinely riveting to look at. (As Karl Lagerfeld remarked about Anna Piaggi, elderly resident of the avant-garde and a revered editor at Vogue Italia: “She’s not pretty, she’s worse.”) It is a rare thing to get an unobstructed view of her face, which is covered in distracting makeup and decals, a collection of sunglasses of considerable antiquity or extraordinary construction, and scene-stealing hats and hairstyles (including hats made of hair). Appropriately, one of Gaga’s great heroes is the ultra-reclusive, ultra-fashionable Belgian designer Martin Margiela, a former assistant to Jean-Paul Gaultier, another Gaga icon. Maison Martin Margiela goes so far in its effacement of the perfect faces of its models that it often sends them down the runway veiled. Lately, the Maison has created the Islamic Revolution-esque censor bar sunglasses (“L’Incognito”), which cancel the eyes in a vaguely Star-Trekky way as much as they shield them. In the improbable setting of the 2009 Malta Music Week, Gaga met the press in a studded black dress, her face covered by a black S&M mask, which she called a “contemporary art piece”. Likewise, at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga sported a red Alexander McQueen crown with lace face mask.

Lady Gaga in bondage mask at MTV Malta in Floriana, Malta (July 2009).

Lady Gaga in Alexander McQueen Archive, MTV VMA show in 2009.

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R.I.P. Michael Jackson

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Michael Jackson with baby tiger

The sentence “Michael Jackson is dead”, which I have already read at least twenty times, is utterly surreal.  It strikes me as a logical impossibility.  This is like reading that “Frosty the Snowman is dead”.  This is like reading “my childhood is dead”, and I know that it is that way for billions of people around the world.  The world seems enchanted, filled with the grieving citizens of Cape Verde and Paraguay and Nepal.   It is dark right now where I live. I see these other citizens in my mind’s eye, flickering like the lights at a million different vigils on every square inch of the map of the world.

We seem to be in for one of those disabling celebrity deaths that take a week or more to process.  Where nothing gets done globally.

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Thoughts on Britney Spears

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

—“When you’re with her, you feel like you’re in the center of the universe. And maybe you are. She’s the soap opera the world can’t stop watching.”

Vanessa Grigoriadis, “The Tragedy of Britney Spears”. Rolling Stone (21 February 2008).

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Britney Spears was not particulately interesting in her sane incarnation, and it is pretentious to imply otherwise. Possibly the only interesting observer of the Lolita phenomenon was Vladimir Nabokov. Britney sane appeared punishingly dense. One was surprised to find her capable of speech at all. And, in fact, it wasn’t much in the way of speech, as evidenced by “Britney & Kevin: Chaotic”, which had the aspect of an empty-headed girl who has come to regard her every gurgle and shriek as cinematic.

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Welcome to the Future: Learn to Love it

Monday, July 26th, 2004

Radiohead
Kid A
October 2000
Capitol Records
Produced by Nigel Godrich

Radiohead: "Kid A" (2000).

For a band so uninterested in the visual presentation of its members, and so stark in its stage performance, it is simply amazing how misunderstood Radiohead’s music is by both critics and fans. Books could be written on the history of misunderstandings between journalists and Radiohead, and on misleading marketing campaigns.

Radiohead are not balladeers of depression and apathy—not makers of “music to slit your wrists to”, as early critics had it—but authentic documentarians of dread and free-floating anxiety. Their vitality is sparked by outrage, even disgust, not rapture, at the insignificance of the inhabitants of contemporary democracies. Sure you can vote, but will your vote even be counted? Where to turn when your candidate or political party does not represent your views? (more…)