Last Wednesday I watched a somewhat slimmed-down version of the new documentary Lavender Scare, based on the 2004 (!) book of the same name by David K. Johnson.1 In the film Meryl Streep’s narration explains how the influx of homosexuals from rural to urban regions began in the 1930s, the start of the Great Gay Migration.2
Washington was a boom town. The government was creating thousands of new jobs to combat the Great Depression. Many of the young men and women who came for those jobs were homosexuals. They grabbed the chance to experience a new level of acceptance and friendship in a big city far from home.
Listening to songs by The Royal Family and the Poor while writing my last post, I found myself comparing them with those of Scott Stapleton, who has created and contributed to music in various guises: solo, Virgin Forest, Phosphorescent, New Duo.
I first became enamored of Stapleton when viewing the chipped silver laquer of his nails as he played pedal steel on Phosphorescent’s “Song for Zula” at Glastonbury in 2014. It’s just about all we see of him apart from a denim shirt. His picking is tasteful and ensemble (yes that’s an adjective) and contrasts with his keyboard work the year before on Phosphorescent’s “The Quotidian Beasts” at the SXSW music festival. There, he is flamboyant in a red T on the keys, practically conjuring the song’s lyrics as they are sung by Matthew Houck (aka Phosphorescent), with flourishes from his hands and arms.
In December while trying to verify the colloquialism in The Smiths’ song title “Reel Around the Fountain”1 I noticed that the band’s singer Morrissey had employed a now-abandoned slang in his solo single “Piccadilly Palare,” sung in the character of a former street hustler. It was the lead track on his album Bona Drag, but I hadn’t really collected Morrissey records and skipped that one because it was a compendium of singles. I had, however, collected much Smiths, but I was confused by the band’s many, many compilations and 12-inch vinyl product. In fact “Paint a Vulgar Picture,” from the final album, can be seen as a commentary on this excess, as it laments a pop star’s exploitation in death but also questions the star’s complicity in life.
Satiate the need
slip them into different sleeves!
Buy both, and be deceived
This second installment of movement musings begins (or rather ends…) below with a variation of a video sampling technique that I covered in “Knee, Sugar” of the last section of Everybody Dance Now 1 (Knee, Sugar, Hammer, Shame). I also look at what was suggested by “Shame”: what might be seen as anti-dance, or what I call adansual.
I first became acquainted with the Australian band Bumblebeez 81 via their suggestive “Pony Ride” from 2002. Five years later they released “Dr. Love,” the promo for which involves a parody of a dance music video that could have been shot on a smoggy day along the Los Angeles River. All the performers sport Sharpie-ed chest adornments: pushbuttons and keyboards, chains, phones and headphones, a bandolier, a mink stole, an LP, even sham shoes. Rapper Christopher Colonna is bedecked in markered bling, and his sister Queen ViLa, dons an eyepatch through which she easily sees. The promo’s coda reprises the song’s sonics with pushbuttons pushed and keyboards keyed, essentially A/V sampling.
The following is an initial meandering musing on dance: casual, staged, amateur, professional, choreographed, spontaneous, celebratory, liberatory.
Six years ago Pet Shop Boys issued their album Electric and I bought it for the cut “Love Is a Bourgeois Construct,” a sentiment I’d been voicing for some time. But I was more taken with the promo video for the more nuanced “Vocal.” Directed by photographer and filmmaker Joost Vandebrug, it is compiled from amateur video shot at British late-’80s raves as well as Manchester’s Haçienda club. Given the visuals, the song suggests a nostalgic number, but the singer is surprised: “Every track has a vocal/ and that makes a change.” The music—“Expressing passion/ Expressing pain”—is the glue that binds its listeners as well as the promo’s dancers. It can be seen as a tone-poem-take on the experiences of ecstasy, a drug of choice at the time.
In the milieu of the multitudes, Vandebrug’s choices convey not only that E-intimacy but also a heterogeneity—racial, sensual, presentational, more.
The “Vocal” visuals only hint at what was taking place across the pond in the waning ’80s, as do those for Madonna’s promo for “Vogue” (1990), which is an oddly literal (mm… periodical) treatment, a recreation of classic West Coast film and fashion photography, even as her choreography, by Karole Armitage, was a lite—and largely synchronized—version of East Coast ballroom moves (at least in the five-minute cut). Continue reading “Everybody Dance Now 1”
Last night YouTube suggested I watch a new short, Cognitio. I reCOGNIzed one of the actors as having appeared in the 2014 Kadie Elder promo for the song “First Time He Kissed a Boy” (from which I lifted this blog’s header image of four pastel-clad youths). The actor is Lasse Steen Jensen and in the promo he plays a slight thing with an almost-mod mop of hearty hair atop a triangular, angular mug, contradicted by an upturned nose; likewise in the promo, his cruelty is contradicted by his curiosity.
In Cognitio Jensen is presented as the psychically slight, artistically bright Tobias, with an unruly mane that suggests a feral nature. This time curiosity is not rewarded, via the darkly seductive yet elusive Emil (Lior David Cohen).
Back in the 1980s I was given tickets to a Southern California kitsch institution, Pageant of the Masters. The concept intrigued: an amphitheater stage filled with “ninety minutes of tableaux vivants (living pictures), incredibly faithful recreations of classical and contemporary works of art, with real people posing to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces,” as described on the event website. But the execution, meticulous as it was, underwhelmed. I guess I wanted more vivants in the tableaux, which occurred too infrequently. But it did occur in a sort of sideshow.
That sideshow was not the companion Fine Art Show, which we took in before the Pageant and from which Andrea and I bought a couple of hand-altered Polaroids that hang on our walls today. Allow me to digress…
Boom Boom Room
The Fine Art Show was conspicuous by the omission of skin: many of the artists appeared to be too well constrained by a bland family-friendly bubble-wrap envelope, but not so well contained that we couldn’t detect hints of riskier work. Hell, Laguna Beach (the Pageant/Show’s site) was home to the Boom Boom Room, which OC Weekly (formerly a sibling to Denver’s Westword via Voice Media Group) claims to have been “the oldest gay bar in the Western United States,” its host hotel, the Coast Inn, having opened in 1929, per the founders’ granddaughter’s timeline. Laguna even had its own chapter of the Mattachine Society beginning in the ’50s. Continue reading “The Pageantry, the Spectacle”
This past summer in Cheyenne my uncle Richard Hughes told me of his hallucinations. That a man going blind might also view visions seems an insult to injury. Yet his condition has a name—Charles Bonnet syndrome—after an eighteenth-century Swiss naturalist and philosopher. As profiled in ACNR (Vol. 8, No. 5, 19) Bonnet first listed his grandfather’s
silent visions of men, women, birds, carriages, and buildings, which he fully realised were ‘fictions’ of his brain. Bonnet himself later underwent visual deterioration and experienced hallucinations typical of the syndrome named after him […].
(Compare with “Blinky” Watts, the sound effects technician character from David Lynch’s short-lived TV series On the Air, who suffers from Bozeman’s Simplex, which causes him to see “25.62 times as much as we do.”)
Six months prior I came across a song by Richard Dawson, which I wanted to write about tonight only to find that he too sees things (due to a genetic defect), but through a glass darkly, as Dawson toldThe Guardian‘s Michael Hann, who remarked, “There’s an almost hallucinatory clarity to his writing.” Continue reading “Seeing Things”