Archive for category: Features

Bright Light Bright Light: Everything I Ever Wanted

We catch up with Bright Light Bright Light to talk about his new single ‘Everything I Ever Wanted’ which has been re-recorded and released as a charity single raising money for Elton John’s Aids Foundation.

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The wonderful Bright Light Bright Light has recorded a new version of his track ‘Everything I Ever Wanted’ with the Pink Singers, London’s oldest LGBT choir, in aid of EJAF as part of World AIDS Day next week. The song has an inherently choral element to it and is the perfect platform for the Pink Singers to shine with their soaring harmonies. The once melancholic, yet optimistic lean on the aftermath of a break-up has now become a bright beacon of hope with a sense of communion for everyone affected by HIV and AIDS around the world.

It’s been brilliant following #rodtrip as you have travelled the world with Elton John on his current tour. What have been the highlights?

Oh my god so many … Hanging out with and watching my hero play every night and getting to speak French at our three french dates and meeting some really incredible people. My stage highlight is the crowd at Lille SCREAMING after songs and clapping along to the whole of ‘Moves’. It was really special.

The song “Everything I Ever Wanted” seems the perfect platform for the Pink Singers with its inherent choral element. What made you choose this song for World AIDS day and EJAF?

It’s a song about care and protecting someone so they achieve the best they can, so thematically it’s the best song for the day, but also I really wanted full chorals on it so it seemed the best choice! And I’m so proud of how the Pink Singers performed on it.

There has been some controversy recently surrounding Rose McGowan and Zachary Quinto chastising some of the gay community for being short-sighted and complacent. What would you like to see change?

I haven’t personally read either of their statements so this is not directed at them, but I’d like to see less segregation and international accusations within the gay community. Simply having a non-heterosexual orientation doesn’t mean that you all have the same experience so I think rather than berate how people deal with their own sexuality, mixing with their personality and beliefs, deal with your own and be a better person for it, then you’ll most probably understand someone else’s struggles and positions when you’ve dealt with your own. 

What are your thoughts on the Twin Peaks redux?

I’m both excited and terrified for any more Twin Peaks story … I am obviously a huge fan of the show (I use one of Laura Palmer’s screams as a drum beat in Feel It, which is based on her diary), but I love it so much I’m on edge about anything else as I’m sure many lifelong fans are!

What are your plans for Christmas?

I’ll be in New York with some good friends while rehearsing for my New Years show with Elton in NYC!

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?

Work harder and have even more fun doing the work.

“Life Is Easy” had a bittersweet optimism at its core. What will be the third album’s emotional arc?

Depends what happens to me between now and January when I start working on it! I imagine travelling might have something to do with it. I’ve been on the road since June!

You can buy the single ‘Everything I Ever Wanted’ from iTunes now.

Jaime Nanci And The Blueboys: ‘Toy’ Talk

Frontman of Jaime Nanci And The Blueboys speaks exclusively to Polari about his debut album, Toy. 

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After a chance meeting with Pawel Grudzien in 2008 at a less than glamorous gig in a dive bar in Dublin, Jaime Nanci invited him to join his lounge-punk band on a brief tour culminating in a late night sing song around a broken down piano. Enraptured by Pawel’s spontaneous talent on keys; at about 4AM that morning, they wrote their first song together. One year later, Nanci was introduced and recruiting bassist Dave Redmond and Kevin Brady – Jaime Nanci And The Blueboys were born.

On their debut album, Toy, the Irish quintet have crafted songs inspired by actual events with a sound they describe as “the lost pages of a film noir script populated by beautiful losers, gun slingers and after hours dancing marionettes”. The album weaves together threads from jazz, blues, punk and pop, whilst being the enigmatically eccentric frontman. Jaime gave Polari an elaborate insight into each of the songs on Toy; a record wielding a triumphantly unique sound, stories of near death and odes to queer culture.

‘Cassanova Street’

This is a slightly surreal tango. It’s a love song to Barcelona, and one trip in particular I took with my husband which inspired the lyrics. From our little boutique hotel to the backrooms and go-go boys – the song is a queer holiday journal of sorts. 

‘Fearless’

This is a very personal song, I wrote it for my father, but I think it is loaded with many layers of emotions that lots of gay boys have about their fathers.

‘The Isle of Misfit Toys’

This is an ode to Fire Island and all the queer men who fell in the first wave of the HIV and AIDS crisis. Its a beautiful sad ballad full of smutty innuendo, its got drag queens, snoring lesbians, and nudity; everything a gay resort needs!

‘Beautiful Feeling’

I wanted this to be an upbeat tune. It was the first time I actively made myself sit down and write a song. It’s frivolous and over the top song about falling in love, because thats how you feel when you do.

‘Grey Gardens’

This is my effort to get inside the head of Little Edie Beale, there are some direct quotes and references to some of the visuals that stuck with me after seeing the documentary for the 50th time.

‘Take Me To The Market’

I think it’s quite baroque in its melodrama. We played a show at this underground Vaudeville type club that descended into bedlam and debauchery. It really felt like travelling back in time to a liquor soaked opium-scented madhouse. I wrote the words in one sitting and gave them to Pawel and he said the music just popped into his head as soon as he read them.

‘Noni’s Got A Gun’

This song is about a time when I was touring in the States with my old band Cuckoo Savante. After one pretty insane night with these amazing friends who I was lucky enough to work with for ten years, I ended up on the roof of a warehouse with a gun pointed at my head by a handsome young mafiosa who thought I was trying to entrap him. I don’t think I should say anymore about that one.

For more information about Jaime Nanci And The Blueboys, visit their official website here.

The New Messiah in 1950s Science Fiction

In the 1950s, the post-war American empire changed the politics of the world. It took a science-fiction novel, Gore Vidal’s Messiah, to see how that change was not necessarily for the good.

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In the 1950s, mainstream science-fiction was changed forever by the outpouring of b-movies warning of alien invasion and creatures who would take over your mind and soul in their relentless quest for world domination. It mythologized the fears of a people still recovering from the horrors of the Second World War as they entered the Cold War era. The United States was the new superpower, rich from the spoils of war, and as the old powers to the East crumbled it warned of a world in danger from Communism. In 1948, George Orwell considered the dangers of the totalitarian state in the science-fiction novel 1984. In 1954, Gore Vidal responded with Messiah, but the danger he saw was of a very different kind to the one Orwell described.

Vidal came to the idea of sci-fi not through the pulp b-movies of Hollywood but through novels such as 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The popular idea of what made for sci-fi had changed between the publication of 1984 and Messiah, and that was largely down the b-movie, which brought the pulp magazine stories of the 1930s and ‘40s to the big screen. As a result, the definition of sci-fi splintered. Brave New World and 1984 would, in later years, come to be known speculative fiction, whereas sci-fi would mean space ships, aliens and monsters. Fiction that dealt with an alternative version of reality – that was considered speculative, and not real sci-fi.

Yet as George RR Martin recently observed, “We can make up all the definitions of science-fiction and fantasy and horror that we want. We can draw our boundaries and make our labels, but in the end it’s the same old story, the one about the human heart in conflict with itself. The rest, my friends, is furniture.” 1984 and Messiah predated the conflict between Old Wave and New Wave sci-fi, and the divisions between Golden Age sci-fi, hard, extreme, apocalyptic, space opera, cyberpunk, steampunk, etc. The furniture here was recognisable, and the subject was a society in conflict with itself.

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In Messiah, Vidal speculated on what could happen in America as a result of the social and political upheavals of the anxious post-war years. And he did so because, in a tangled way, his homosexuality had threatened to derail his chosen career as a novelist. His progress toward writing a sci-fi story about America in the grip of post-war hysteria in fact started with the publication of his novel The City and the Pillar in 1948. Through its tale of a young man struggling with his homosexuality, Vidal inadvertently entered the realm of speculative fiction, of exploring the possibilities offered in the affluent post-war America. Yet what he found was not the “individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression” that the US President Harry Truman promised when he outlined American’s global mission in 1947, but instead a culture that was rigidly oppressive and deeply conservative.

When Vidal’s first novel was published in 1946 it was celebrated as “masculine” and “straight out of nature”. It was a novel about men in wartime. The City and the Pillar on the other hand was about men in love. Its narrator makes the simple observation that “life would certainly be happier for everyone in a world where sex was thought of as something natural and not fearsome, and men could love men naturally, in the way they were meant to, as well as to love women naturally, in the way they were meant to.” This was dismissed as propaganda, and the reviewer for Best Sellers went as far as to say that Vidal abused the idea of democracy “as the rationale for perversion.” Another reviewer concluded that the book should be in a psychology library, “not in the hands of effeminate boys pampering their pathological inclinations.” Vidal was therein considered an outsider and his work was marginalized. “No offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behaviour” as the Director in Brave New World instructs Bernard, the rebel in embryo. “Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself.

The post war years were a time of social and political instability that changed the character of the United States, and Vidal was made to feel the full force of that change. As the historian David Caute wrote in The Great Fear, there was “an artificial straining for social cohesion and national unity.” Political opportunists rode to success on this instability for they offered “the chance of being taken for a good American simply by demonstrating a gut hatred for the Commies.” There was even an inexplicable link drawn between homosexuality and Communist subversion. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who rode this wave harder than any other opportunist and effectively held the country to ransom for years as he went blindly on the rampage, called for the removal of “sexual perverts from sensitive positions in our Government” on the grounds that they were a security risk. It was the time of the demagogue whose skewed ideas preyed on the fears of an anxious nation.

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Messiah is about the rise of an alternative religion in this unsettled America, and is narrated 50 years after the fact by Eugene Luther, one of the architects of the new religion. “The first dozen years after the second of the modern wars,” Luther writes, marked “a time of divination” throughout which “not a day passed but that some omen or portent was remarked by an anxious race, suspecting war.” The nation he describes is one in a state of panic, and its omens were reports of UFO and alien sightings from a people “more than usually upset by signs of nonconformity”.

All this, Luther explains, set the stage for the coming of a mystic, a man who would offer security and truth. “Considering the unmistakable nature of these signs, it is curious how few suspected the truth: that a new mission had been conceived out of the race’s need, the hour of its birth already determined by a conjunction of terrible new stars.” What follows is the rise of evangelist John Cave – “a pair of initials calculated to amaze the innocent” – and the establishment of the Caveite religion as the dominant social and political force in the US.

The hunger for faith – as well as the marked increase in UFO sightings – was rife in the post-war US. In 1946, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ stated that, “at the present time all signs . . . lead to one conclusion. Americans are going back to God.” By 1952, the year that Vidal wrote Messiah, this had become a national phenomenon. This trend, of course, ran parallel to, while it also fed off, the anxieties generated by the post-war era.

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The Today Show / 1950s America

The messianic mission of Truman’s America to bring democracy to the world had suffered a series of setbacks by 1952. In 1948 the negotiations over the division of Germany led Stalin to block access to Berlin; in September 1949 the Soviet Union had successfully developed the atom bomb; the government in China, which had long been supported by the United States, fell to Communism; and following that the country became mired in a war in Korea. Politics, as Godfrey Hodgson wrote in his influential book America In Our Time, therein worked on a very simple formula.“America is so powerful. Yet things are not going as we want them to. Ergo, we are being betrayed.” This atmosphere was exploited by opportunists like Senator Joe McCarthy and Congressman Richard Nixon, whose careers were made by laying the blame on the mysterious “them”: the traitors, the Communists, the nonconformists. Looking at this troubled era, Vidal saw not the coming of a totalitarian state, like Orwell did in 1984, but a state in which the people would willingly trade freedom for security – and he realised the technological change that could make this possible was television.

The messiah, John Cave, is a mortician by trade, and he preaches quite simply that “death is nothing; literally no thing; and since, demonstrably, an absence of things is good, death which is no thing is good.” Luther is drawn into the organisation that builds up around Cave to write texts that give “a firm historical and intellectual base” to his vision. Yet this vision would have gone nowhere, Luther explains, without the power of television. “Television, ultimately, was the key,” Luther writes, for it was not the Word itself but Cave’s delivery of the Word that was all-important.

The initial success of Cave’s message is dependent on its being heard. In the first television broadcast, Luther is struck by how the television screen gave Cave an additional authority. It was the stance rather than the words that ensured his success. The medium allowed Cave’s words to seem, “in short, the truth.” What Cave offered in an age of social and political instability, Luther recalls, was “to be no longer an observer, a remote intelligence,” but, instead, to be “part of a whole.” The result of his weekly half-hour sermon was that millions witnessed “the creation of their own secret anxieties and doubts, a central man.”

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In the groundbreaking work Understanding Media, published in 1964, Marshall McLuhan wrote that the primary medium in any society “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” It was in the post-war years that television became the primary medium in the US. According to the Nielsen ratings system, January 1946 was the first time that more televisions than radios were operating during prime time  – the hours between 6 and 9pm. “As the United States entered the Cold War,” J. Fred MacDonald observed in Television and the Red Menace, “it did so in an atmosphere of anti-Communist fear that gained persuasive popular expression in TV.” From drama to the news to the talk show, television presented an “oversimplified” picture of the “honest, selfless United States . . . forced to defend the free world against the barbarous onslaught of Communism.”

The rise of Cavesword in Messiah – from its defeat of the Churches to its infiltration of the highest levels of government – relies on the fundamental change that television brought about in American society. The “home altar” of television, Luther writes, prepared the way for a demagogue. The rise of McCarthy had shown this all to clearly. McCarthy “skilfully manipulated half-truths and misrepresented facts,” MacDonald wrote in Television and the Red Menace. “He distorted history by ignoring political context and careful analysis. He pounded the lectern authoritatively, cited documents, and sounded sure of what he was saying. With little or no convincing rebuttal to his opinions, viewers were left ill-equipped to doubt McCarthy.” The truth did not matter; it was the emotion that mattered, which is exactly the point that Vidal hit on with a sci-fi allegory on McCarthy’s rise. “And that, finally, was the prevailing note of the age: since reason had been declared insufficient, only a mystic could provide the answer, only he could mark the boundaries of life with a final authority, inscrutably revealed.”

Where Vidal differed from Huxley and Orwell is that, in Messiah, it is the rhetoric of the free society rather than the point of the gun that sustains Cavesword. The religion is a success because it is based on “what the people want to hear”. It is then marketed like a product to respond to the needs of an insecure populace. “Our whole power is that people come to us, to Cave, voluntarily,” as the organisation’s PR man Paul Himmell tells Luther, “because they feel here, at last, is the answer.” The threat is more insidious than the totalitarian state Orwell depicts in 1984. The Word is maintained not through an oppressive system but through propaganda that promises liberation from fear. As a work of visionary sci-fi, Messiah is a smarter and more convincing satire than either Brave New World or 1984.

Both Brave New World and 1984 are products of the Old World, and of the totalitarian states that followed in the wake of First and Second World Wars. Messiah is a product of the New World, and the new empire it forged from the ruins of the Second World War. While Hollywood turned to sci-fi as a way to mythologise people’s fears and transform the everyday into the alien, Vidal turned to sci-fi to write an allegory of America at mid-century. It was Vidal’s sexuality that released him from an upbringing that was conservative, wealthy and patrician, and it led him to write a dystopian sci-fi that bore witness to the dangers of the new era at the very moment it was being set in motion.

 

The Sisterhood of Karn

The Sisterhood of Karn is a London-based group for gay fans of Doctor Who. Daniel Milford-Cottam writes about its twenty year history and enduring allure.

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Twenty years ago, ads were placed in London’s gay press inviting fans of Doctor Who to gather in the King’s Arms in London. This was the beginning of the Sisterhood of Karn, possibly the first organised regular gathering of gay Doctor Who fans ever. Last week, I went along to the place where it all began in January 1994, nearly twenty one years ago.

Before the days of widely available Internet access, how did one even kick off such a group? In January 1994, Ian, the founder, noticed that many of the fans of Doctor Who were gay, and had the idea to place ads in Boyz, Pink Paper, and Capital Gay inviting these fans to a meet in the King’s Arms. Fifteen fans joined him that first time. I spoke to a charming chap called Chris who recalled sitting at a table with a model TARDIS at that first meeting. By August, there were thirty attendees, including one lesbian. Although the membership is predominantly male, this certainly isn’t set in Letters of Sacred Fire. Twenty years later, the usual number is still around the 25-30 mark, with many of the new faces drawn by word of mouth or brought by existing regulars.

Originally called Strictly no Anoraks, the group swiftly changed its name to The Sisterhood of Karn, which name endures to this day. The original Sisterhood were a group of telepathic red-clad women guarding the Sacred Flame (the source of the Elixir of Life) in ‘The Brain of Morbius’, a classic Tom Baker story. Ever since then, the Sisterhood have gathered on a monthly basis. The group moved on from the King’s Arms to gather in Central Station King’s Cross, and then at the theatre bar in the West Central, but eventually found its way back to where it all began.

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Although by nature a niche organisation among niche organisations, The Sisterhood remains probably the best known group of its type. It has been featured on Amy Lamé’s radio show and written up at length in The Independent. Whilst essentially a drop-in group nowadays, the Sisterhood effectively set the benchmark for gay Doctor Who groups. To all intents and purposes, it was the first of its type – there had been similar groups for gay fans of sci-fi such as the Galaxians, but none specifically for Doctor Who. An equivalent group for Blake’s 7 fans was apparently mooted, but doesn’t seem to have caught on.

Without the Sisterhood, virtual gay groups like Yahoo’s GayWhovians e-mail list (now defunct, but around 1999, it was my first introduction to fandom) and social media communities like Facebook’s ‘The Gay DOCTOR WHO GUYS’ and ‘The Doctor Who Gay Fans’ probably would’ve still happened, but probably would have lacked a model on which to base themselves. The GayWhovians group was certainly very aware of the Sisterhood, taking advantage of that newfangled Internet/email thingy to offer a virtual community equivalent that brought together gay fans from the world beyond London. Despite the passionate hatred many fans have developed for the term ‘Whovian’ (that’s another story), I was proud to be a GayWhovian and many of my fellow GayWhovians remain friends. Knowing that somewhere, gay fans of our beloved programme were regularly meeting in a pub, and had a name for their gathering, somehow made our digital community feel a little more special. Just as they were the Sisterhood, we were the GayWhovians. We occasionally met up in London, though never regularly, and my suggestion of wearing pink-dyed celery (a reference both to Oscar Wilde’s green carnation and the Fifth Doctor’s unique choice of buttonhole) didn’t catch on…

The Sisterhood might not be quite the same group it was in the beginning, when it was creating fan videos on a budget of zero (‘Resurrection of the Cybermen’, anyone?) and marching in London Pride (something for next year?). When I was collecting information for this article, there were whisperings of “has he heard of the trip to Chislehurst Caves where we tried — and failed — to find the shooting location of ‘The Mutants’?” and “Does he know about the Charades night? Or the Quiz night?” There was a hushed murmur of a historical quarrel, a very long time ago now, called The Great Schism. So, pretty much fandom as usual, from the sounds of it.

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If celebrity guests are a measure of success, the Sisterhood has hosted Doctor Who actors including that legendary A-lister (by fan standards) Louise Jameson (Leela, 1977-78) and Peter Miles (‘Genesis of the Daleks’, ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’, and ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’). Not to mention the fabulous Nigel Fairs, stalwart of the Big Finish Doctor Who audios and currently appearing in Ed Sinclair’s audio sci-fi series Flashback. Authors and scriptwriters including Joe Lidster (Torchwood, Big Finish) and the late Craig Hinton (Virgin & BBC Books) have been seen at the meets. More recently, the Sisterhood were visited by the real life Trey Korte (inspiration for a popular recurring character in the BBC Doctor Who books). But most months it is simply an excuse for likeminded people to get together, have a drink, and remarkably enough, sometimes talk Doctor Who.

In the year or so that I’ve been going, the Sisterhood is a friendly, fantastic group with great members and a palpable sense of community. If you’re ever in the King’s Arms on the evening of the third Thursday of the month, why not slip up those stairs and peek in? You generally won’t see long scarves (unless it’s winter) and almost certainly nobody will be dressed up as Cybermen or Weeping Angels (although one of the most stylish regulars channels a fierce Martha Jones). Heck, you probably won’t see so much as a TARDIS T-shirt. But you might spot a copy of Doctor Who Magazine on a table. Somewhere in the buzz of conversation maybe you’ll overhear the word “Doctor”. And you’ll have found the Sisterhood. They might not hold the secret to eternal youth, but they will welcome you into their group.

If you want to find out more about the Sisterhoof of Karn and their activities you can check out their Official Facebook page here or their Official website here.

You can also find links to The Gay Doctor Who Guys group here and the The Doctor Who Gay Fans group here.

Queer X: The Queer History of the X-Men

Does science fiction have the power to function as a Trojan Horse, to infiltrate the mass consciousness with socially progressive ideas that can ultimately change a person’s worldview? That is one way to read the X-Men, says Alex Jeffery.

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After a faltering start in the 1960s, the X-Men comics finally took off following a reinvention in the 1970s. They have diversified so far that they have become not only a cornerstone of the Marvel comic universe but a hugely successful science-fiction film franchise. While the X-Men have long had a following among comic book readers, the release of the first film X-Men in 1999 finally brought them into the cultural mainstream, reinventing the comic book with a darker, more realistic tone. While comic book universes frequently ask readers to suspend their disbelief over a wide range of rather hokey superpowers – cosmic rays, radioactive spiders and mystical gems, etc – with the entire cast of mutants that form the X-Men Universe you only need to accept one central tenet: genetic mutations, in the form of an “X-gene”, have given a group of humans superpowers. The powers range from telepathy or control of the elements to looking like a big blue furry cat – and some of them rank among the most outlandish super powers within science-fiction. The genius of this is that X-Men could subsequently be read as an allegory for the struggles of almost any feared and persecuted minority, from those who looked different on the outside, to those whose powers made them different on the inside. And that’s where it starts to appeal to a gay readership.

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Struggles between mutants and the wider society lend themselves to being read as allegories for similar struggles undergone by minority sexualities. In X-Men, one group of mutants (named the ‘Morlocks’, after the H.G. Wells characters) are driven to a life living underground by their outlandish appearances and inability to fit in with society, and they form their own society. The X-Men have also had not one but two religious fundamentalist hate groups after them – the Purifiers and the Church of Humanity. In the storyline with the most obvious parallels with gay struggles, a deadly plague (the ‘Legacy Virus’) sweeps through the mutant population, eventually mutating so that it affected regular humans as well as mutants. In Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, mutant numbers increase, leading a mutant ghetto District X to spring up. Soon after in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, Dr Kavita Rao develops a serum that can supposedly cure mutants of their ‘affliction’. (This was later exploited for the film plot of the disappointing X-Men 3: The Last Stand). Across the entire series, coping with their powers, appearance and difference has led several characters to self-hatred, self-harm, and even suicide. Accepting your difference, building solidarity and, yes ‘pride’ are often the solutions to mutant persecution. Although many of these concepts now seem spread widely through the mainstream (most recently with True Blood) X-Men comics were often the first time they gained a hold in popular culture. It is frequently noted that science fiction has the power to function as a Trojan Horse to infiltrate the mass consciousness with socially progressive ideas and ultimately change peoples’ worldview.

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Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique / Angela Davis

And indeed, queer readings of X-Men are far from being the only possible ones. The fear of mutants and their physical differences has parallels with race struggles and, although to a lesser extent, disability issues. In the 2011 film X-Men: First Class, a newly radicalized Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) makes the rather ham-fisted pronouncement that she has become “mutant and proud”. That the film is set in 1971 gives her statement strong resonances with both the Black Power movement and the Gay Rights movement, both fairly new but growing in power at the time. And indeed in the follow-up film, this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mystique’s ongoing radicalization has been compared to that of Black Power icon Angela Davis.

If the ‘coming out’ analogy is applied, mutants can be divided into two groups: those who can pass for normal human beings and those whose mutation is manifested visibly. While the former face the dilemma of whether to ‘come out’, the latter have no choice, being forced to face the world with two external stomachs (Maggott), with your bones growing out of control (Marrow) or as an unfortunate half-formed flightless chicken-boy (Beak). The agonies of revelation have encouraged the use of ‘image inducers’ to fool the public with several major characters such as Beast and Nightcrawler. In one of the most remembered scenes in the film X-Men 2, Bobby ‘Iceman’ Drake ‘comes out’ as mutant to his family. After demonstrating his powers by turning a cup of tea to ice, and flipping the results over into a saucer, the poignancy of the scene is deliciously undercut by the family cat giving the tea-ice a good licking (masterfully handled by the film’s gay director Bryan Singer). When Bobby’s mother subsequently asks him “Bobby have you tried not being a mutant?”, you can feel the audience cringe. Singer’s long-term attachment to the X-Men film franchise (director of four and producer of one) is significant and a portion of the comic fan community have been critical of what they see as him pushing a gay agenda in the films that is not explicit in the comic books. While these concerns are probably tinged with homophobia, they also reveal a text-blindness that suggests that many fans simply aren’t aware of what the X-Men might mean to large groups of people.

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Northstar and Kylie’s Wedding

With Singer’s future involvement in the franchise looking more solid, there is a possibility that we may yet see a gay X-Man or woman in the films. Candidate number one for this is Northstar, who alternates between the Canadian mutant team Alpha Flight and the more mainstream X-Men comics. As far as your actual X-Gays are concerned, yes there have been several in the comics over the years, although Marvel has been famously slow in introducing them – there was an effective ban during the 1980s. Although his creator has stated that, from his first appearance in 1979, Northstar was designed to be gay, he didn’t ‘come out’ until 1992, just a few years after Elton John. I mention this because in many ways Northstar is the Elton of the X-Men: he has been around for ages, has a tendency to act like a bit of a diva, and his attempts to suppress his sexuality, if you read it as such, led him to obsessively divert his energies into his career (as a rather non-Elton-like competitive skier). In 2012, Northstar had the first high-profile gay wedding in comic history to his partner Kyle, a big deal in comic publishing at the time. This wedding caused a moral panic among right wing groups and was much commented upon within the comic book and science-fiction fan communities. The normalizing of gay characters at Marvel continues at a slow pace, with the Young Avengers Hulking and Wiccan involved in an ongoing relationship since 2005, although they weren’t allowed to kiss until 2012. Consider that Eastenders went through the same gay kiss controversy in 1985, and you have some idea of how conservative mainstream comics can still be.

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New X-Men Special Class

Gay characters in the X-Men are rarely defined by their sexuality or transgressive attitudes to gender though and mostly fit under the ‘just happen to be gay’ banner. While older characters are simply too well-established to be retconned as gay, gay teens are often introduced in the many popular young X-Men series (X-Men Academy, New X-Men, Young X-Men), which are generally used as testing grounds for new characters. The range of sexualities, races, appearances and abilities, though not without its tensions, represents something of a utopian Monsters Ball for mutants, if you like, where queerness is ideologically embraced. Here, the youngsters are generally discovering their sexualities at the same time as their mutant abilities and both are presented as part of teenage growing pains.

However, aggressive or subversive sexuality has been largely ignored in the comics possibly with good reason. When Chris Claremont – who wrote many of the X-Men’s most memorable story runs in the early 1980s, such as the ‘Dark Phoenix’ saga – had a pop at sado-masochism with the ‘Arena’ storyline, the results were disastrous.

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Stacy X

One exception to this was a less well-known mutant character Stacy X (now dead), whose abilities included exuding pheromones which could even bring her conquests, both male and female, to orgasm. Stacy was first discovered working in a brothel, but her unique powers are soon put to good use as a member of the X-Men. She certainly belongs to a more subversive group of mutants, including Mystique, whose powers to seduce lead them to be feared and often reviled, even by other mutants. While it is unfortunate that such characters are represented as marginalized and often stigmatized by their powers, it does at least perhaps reflect the reality for many sex workers.

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At the end of the day, quantifying representation in X-Men by counting the number of gay and queer characters they contain is surely missing the point. Yes, there are certainly issues of representation within comics and science fiction in general. However, the allegorical power of the series over the decades has probably done more to shape contemporary culture than placing a range of rather token gay characters ever could, and this alone should justify X-Men’s place within queer history.

There are two testimonials to the impact of the X-Men to accompany this article. Click here to read about how the characters of Havok and Mystique influenced the lives of two gay men.

A Shy Happening: An interview with Alexandre Sequeira Lima.

Michael Langan talks with Alexandre Sequeira Lima about queering the political and politicising the queer.

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I first encountered the work of the Portuguese artist Alexandre Sequeira Lima at a group show of Queer Art in Lisbon in 2013, I Am This Also.  His paintings were like someone calling noisily to you across the room – someone vibrant, charismatic, and perhaps a little unnerving. Alex himself is a rather like this – an artist who inhabits his vision and lives his art, absolutely.

Recently, Alex was included in an exhibition at the Bermondsey Project in London, Art Stabs Power (Se Que Vayans Todos!), a group show curated by Ines Valle, that highlights artists from Portugal, Mozambique and the UK, who are engaged with the global political and economic crisis. Alex’s painting, Op Pop Power, was the only work in the show with queer subject matter. “This picture contains allusions to the Nazi aesthetic and the way it used homoerotic symbols,” he tells me, “as well as a burlesque of the naked figure of Stalin trying to play with his genitals. He’s a masturbatory parody of the nature of power and dictatorships. The painting takes the figures of speech and the power of Nazi aesthetics and focuses on the absurdity of dictatorial regimes. I felt it was important to revisit this subject because in Europe today we are seeing a growth in the use of the same symbols of National Socialism and totalitarian regimes.” In this work, and in others, it’s clear Alex is very interested in queering the political and politicising the queer.

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Blondes Do It Better As I Do It With Leo Ford / Op Pop Power

I also spoke to him about a recent solo exhibition of his paintings at a gallery in Lisbon. The white-walled space was transformed with a riot of colour and flesh through work that has elements of Pop Art, graffiti and Dada. The paintings put me in mind of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Warhol’s early illustrations, and that great gay outsider artist, Henry Darger. Alex certainly credits Warhol as being a major influence on him, in fact, he believes all art has been influenced by Warhol. “His was really the second breakthrough in modern art,” he says. “Behind all the myths about him, he was a marvellous drawer and a wonderful film maker. He didn’t like conceptual art but he made conceptual art in painting and that paradox was a brilliant idea.”

Like Warhol, Alex brings lots of different elements into his visual vocabulary, from advertising, news, politics and pop culture. Together they clash and create sparks, which makes for very energetic paintings. I asked him if, when he’s working, he knows what the references are going to be beforehand? “No, that would be very dangerous. I allow myself to play with my unconscious self but there mustn’t be too much information. Sometimes I put things out in separate elements so it’s not too much. Apart from Warhol I would say that the main influences in my work came from comics and literature and stills from films; still after still after still, which I translate until they become terrifying. You can break it down until you find the sublime and then find yourself in that.”

And does he himself describe the work as Pop? “Of course it’s Pop! If it’s Dada it’s Pop. It’s a kitschy way of illustrating that, like the work of Eduardo Paolozzi, contains a sense of burlesque. There are Portuguese comics in there, and films, Antonioni and politics, a little bit of memories of my mother, a statement about Nazism, angels…” I ask if the angel is a religious symbol for him, or a Pop reference? “Both and neither,” is his response.

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Why Do I Hate Fags No.1

I wondered if Alex sometimes feels pressure to add or subtract things to the work to make more palatable to a mainstream audience. “I don’t try to do that,” was his reply, “I just put it out there as it is, as my lifestyle, even me as a person. I think I am a Dadaism, do you know what I mean? I’m always playing to see what happens. I could call myself a ‘shy happening’. Shy because I must contain myself sometimes, because you can’t always play yourself twenty-four hours a day. The part is being you and being a work of art at the same time.”

The relationship between Alex’s art and life is that the latter follows the demands of your former. If the work demands he paint for fourteen hours without a break then that’s what he does. It takes it out of him, in terms of his health, but also his interactions with people and the world in general. “The time doesn’t count,” he says. “I feel tired and crabby, drink too much caffeine perhaps, but I can’t separate the work from the person. I’m playing myself, my persona is playing with myself. I’ve been beaten up because of who I am and because of my work. But I don’t give a damn.”

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No Love, No-Pride, Play Dead Superfag Hag

There’s also something child-like about Alex, but not in an innocent or sentimental way. It’s the anarchic energy of the child that Alex has retained, the snap, crackle and pop of the fizzing mind. “I always think of my childhood. I’ve painted myself as a teenager, reading Genet, and Cocteau and discovering that you can be what you want. I read a lot of comic books also.” I note how he translates the violence and sport within comic books, to highlight the notion of play and the erotic. A lot of the works are quite sexy, I begin to say, and he interrupts me with, “They are indeed. It’s a sexy world!” Some of the paintings are sexy-funny and some are sexy-confrontational and I wonder what his reference points are in these particular works. “Some of them are people I know,” he says, “or male models, or part of comics, bits of Kenneth Anger, or people I made up. My brother is in there also, because he used to be a bit homophobic, but he isn’t any more. He likes my work now.”

It’s still the case in the contemporary art world that showing the naked male body is problematic and provocative for many. Overtly queer art is seen as marginal and therefore not very commercial. “We have few spaces to expose this kind of work,” he tells me. “In my life it’s no big deal, but in the art world it’s much more difficult. I don’t want to have a label, but if I have a queer identity, why shouldn’t I play with that? Didn’t Warhol, who did it so well?”

And is his work a celebration of that? “Of course, of identity, but more than that, of sexual identity specifically. But it’s difficult because, in Portugal, we don’t have the same level of speech in relation to queer culture as in the UK, for example. But it’s more than a label, it’s a way of being. But I must be clever, and manage myself. The last few years of my life have been quite bad but I never stopped making art. I always fight and I always win.”

 

 
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Victorian Rebel: Aubrey Beardsley

Paul Smith considers the illustrative art of Aubrey Beardsley, who delighted in a sense of demonic mischief and dared to push against the boundaries of Victorian England.

Aubrey-Beardsley

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He sits at the centre of his court, dressed soberly in an immaculate grey suit, surrounded by slender feminine youths – elegantly tall women that resemble sour-faced drag queens, satyrs parading their disproportionately huge erections with triumphal pride, all snaking their way through serpentine flora. This is the fantastical world of Aubrey Beardsley, given exquisitely delicate life by his inky precision. He delighted in a sense of demonic mischief, daring to push boundaries of decency further in that final decade of Victorian England, causing scandal and outrage in an era when the prim, austere exterior hid the deeper lusts and suppressed sexual fantasies. Through his lucid black and white draftsmanship, Beardsley brought those desires into the open but combined them with a decorative dexterity that won him admirers across the world. In many ways these illustrations could be seen as a realisation of his own darker fantasies played out on the page rather than in the bedroom since tuberculosis left him in frail health and finally led to his premature death in 1898 at the age of 25.

Beardsley’ s visits to France helped ignite his own creative fires as he discovered the poster work of Toulouse-Lautrec and the proliferation of Japanese prints. This was not the only influence making its way from the continent, though. The popularity of French erotic fiction had been growing since the 1860s, much of it imported before many writers anonymously turned their hand to producing original erotic stories. It was a lucrative under-the-counter business for the Paul Raymonds of Victorian London which – surprise, surprise – saw the introduction of obscenity laws to protect against anything that was deemed offensive to Christian decency.

This was a period when the aspirational middle classes strived to model their behaviour on what they perceived to be upper class behaviour, obsessing over a genteel image. It meant they strived for respectability but at the expense of repressing their sexual desires when the true aristocracy had no such obsession with conventional morality. The clergy and medical profession could conspire to reinforce the sins of carnal pleasure and the sanctity of a happy married life, but of course, there were always the prostitutes to satisfy those lustful cravings. Repression, hypocrisy and guilt create a potent mix. Anyone who was either unconfined by such repressive urges or broke through them was considered a threat. Beardsley the serpent offered a tempting glimpse of what lay behind the restricted Eden of domestic neatness.

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The Brighton-born artist first came to prominence with illustrations for Mallory’s Le Morte Dartur in 1893, a series of drawings that were far more conventional in their celebration of medieval styles in vogue with the Pre-Raphaelites, but it was his bold interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome that brought him huge acclaim with naked demonic hermaphrodites, deformed dwarfs and malevolent women with evil smeared on their lips.

His reputation grew from his association with The Yellow Book (1894), the definitive publication of the aesthetic movement that celebrated poetry, prose and illustration. Published by Arthur Lane, it included contributions from novelists such as Henry James and HG Wells, with artists including Sir Frederick Leighton, president of the Royal Academy and John Singer Sargent, both of whom preferred depicting classical male nudes. As its first art editor though, Beardsley couldn’t resist provoking with his impish eroticism.

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Those deceptively simple compositions are crafted with a linear beauty that peel back the darker soul of human nature beneath. His androgynous youths relish their pallid nakedness whilst lustful sirens lure with their voluptuous breasts but ready with the deadly kiss of a femmes fatale. The settings are often artifice, the world of the theatre full of drapes and billowing costumes that would have fitted pantomime dames. Often Beardsley’s faces are painted with cruel leers and disdainful mocking looks but he was capable of refined, even fragile delicacy of expression, but all drawn with the precise linear style that became his trademark.

His unrestrained depiction of nudes eventually made the other contributors nervous and it all came to head in 1895 with the arrest of Oscar Wilde who was allegedly carrying a yellow book at the time, a similar book had featured in The Picture of Dorian Gray when Lord Henry gifted a copy to Dorian. Beardsley was removed from the magazine, He suffered from the backlash of the trial, his name blackened by association, accused of having ‘the Oscar Wilde tendency’ because his name was so closely linked to Salomé, even though he lampooned the playwright in many of his drawings.

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Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope, Aubrey Beardsley / Under The Hill, Aubrey Beardsley

So enter Leonard Smithers, one of those porn barons who sought to positively encourage both Beardsley’s erotic excursions and aesthetic sensibilities. The Savoy was first published in 1896 with contributions from Joseph Conrad and WB Yeats as well as Baron Von Gloeden and Frederick Rolfe’s photographic work, depicting naked adolescent youths. Beardsley illustrated Pope’s The Rape of the Lock with uncharacteristically busy detail, and his own erotic story Under The Hill.

In an attempt to regain his health, he went to live in Dieppe and then later Menton in the South of France, working on his sexually alluring Lysistrata series. However, the godly side of Victorian society reasserted itself as he converted to Catholicism in his final year and demanded that all his obscene drawings were destroyed. They weren’t. With an international reputation, why stop reproducing his work when they were much in demand with collectors?

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Despite his slim emaciated appearance, Beardsley cultivated an air of affectation, dressed as an immaculately dandified insurance salesman (he worked at the Guardian Life and Fire Insurance office), but disguising his gleefully perverse imagination. Despite mixing in the elite gay social circles, his own sexuality has remained uncertain, although rumours of increasing absurdity have us believe he was a virgin, a transvestite or even having an incestuous relationship with his sister. No wonder Salomé leers with the malevolent mirth of The Joker. She knows his darkest secrets but those twisted lips remain sealed.

Should we even speculate on how he would fare in this modern celebrity-obsessed world, sharing the same spotlight as Francis Bacon, Warhol, or Damien Hirst, working on poster designs for Jarman, Almodóvar or John Waters, equally at home in Soho, Shoreditch and Mayfair? But his legacy is an exquisite celebration of the pantomime and the exotic, the grotesque and the burlesque, an influence that will inspire generations of artists to come.

Speaking Words: Queer’Say

The Queer’Say events celebrate the power of the spoken word. Here Laura Macdougall introduces a series of interviews with performance poets, and considers why this medium is so popular.

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In May, Kate Tempest’s award-winning spoken word epic Brand New Ancients finished its sell-out tour (it made her the youngest ever winner of the Ted Hughes Award), and Tempest also launched her debut album, Everybody Down. Meanwhile, Tris Vonna-Michell was nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize for his solo exhibition Postscript II (Berlin) in which he explores “the flexibility of meaning that exists between the image and the spoken word”. Rumours also circulated that Kanye West is planning to release a three-hour-long spoken word album … May was also the month in which the first Queer’Say event took place in London. A showcase for queer spoken word, Queer’Say features live performances followed by interviews with the artists.

The above are just some examples of how spoken word (or performance poetry) is demonstrating a dramatic rise in popularity over the past few decades. But what is spoken word? How does it relate to other art forms, what is it like to be a queer performance poet, and what is it that has given rise to what some have been calling a ‘renaissance’? Every culture had an oral tradition long before the advent of writing. Most people will have heard of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey (ascribed to the Greek poet Homer), and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Though still a topic of debate among classical scholars, it is generally agreed that these works were composed as part of an oral tradition and were not designed to be written down. They would have been performed by bards of rhapsodes at festivals and gatherings, often as part of a competition. So the resurgence in popularity of spoken word poetry since the late 1980s is something of a renaissance, but the modern equivalent has been adapted to the demands and concerns of today’s contemporary audience: the American poet Bob Holman has described it as the “re-emergence of the oral tradition in the digital age”.

Until recently, poetry has arguably been the preserve of academia, studied in the classroom and printed in literary magazines, perhaps viewed by many as inaccessible and exclusive. Poetry of this sort can exist purely as text on the page, and can read in silence. But – as its name suggests – the performance poetry that has developed over the past twenty-five years is poetry designed for the stage; the words and their delivery are inseparable. This is also poetry that cannot exist without an audience, seeking not only to entertain, but also to engage; the creation of a connection between poet and listener is vital.

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Performance poetry has often been criticised as verse that is ‘dumbed down’, lacking in the subtlety and craft that characterise the literary techniques of poetry. Yet the variety of art forms that have influenced today’s spoken word (from hip-hop to rap, theatre to folk storytelling, beat poetry to written poetry) combined with the diversity of practitioners and their individual performance styles produce works of art that can be powerful and surprising, funny or tragic, exotic, erotic and earthy, raw and honest, personal yet universal. The best performance poets are both talented lyricists with an understanding and appreciation of rhythm and pace who engage in complicated word play and rhyme and demonstrate a deep knowledge of the power and flexibility of language.

But spoken word is not just about providing entertainment. Often heavily influenced by current events, politics and injustices of race, religion, class or gender, through their poetry the artists often provide incisive, powerful social and political commentary and challenge us to think about the issues affecting today’s society. This is poetry that is populist and democratising, and contagious, as can be seen by videos of spoken word poets that have gone viral in recent years.

In America, poetry slams are legendary, conferring an almost rock-star like status on the victors, and many American poets are also YouTube stars (see, for example, Sarah Kay’s ‘If I Should Have a Daughter’ and Denice Frohman’s ‘Dear Straight People’). Passion for spoken word in the UK hasn’t quite reached that level, though there are stars like Tempest and Dean Atta, and there are now spoken word tents at festivals, and, in London at least, you can probably find a spoken word event taking place on every night of the week. In both countries, the younger generation – habitual social media users who are ever more politically aware and engaged and often have something to say – see spoken word as a powerful medium for expression. Their voices might otherwise be dismissed, ignored or overlooked, but spoken word and the creation of a three-minute video online often affords them a means of social protest.

Yet it’s not only young people who are turning to spoken word as a means of expression, and the spoken word scene appears to be one of the most diverse in the performing arts world, encompassing men and women, from teenagers to OAPs, of all races and sexualities, religious and racial backgrounds. Prior to the next two Queer’Say events, I wanted to find out more about what it’s really like to work as a spoken word poet in London today, and how poets’ queer identities might affect their work. So I have spoken to some of the best practitioners out there about how they approach writing and performing, about the role of social media and how they see the art of spoken word developing in the future.

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The next Queer’Say event takes place at the Canada Water Culture Space on 4th July. For more information, and to book tickets, click here.

Read Part 1 of our interview series on queer performance poets here.

 

Other queer spoken word events in London are Incite Cabaret, which takes place monthly at the Phoenix Arts Club on Shaftesbury Avenue, and Bar Wotever every Tuesday at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. There are also semi-regular events during festivals such as LGBT History and Black History months (February and October respectively). There are also organisations like Rukus and queer-friendly spaces such as Velvet Tongue, an erotic poetry night.

Tori’s Secret Treasures

In anticipation of Tori Amos’ upcoming fourteenth album, Unrepentant Geraldines, Andrew Darley writes a retrospective of the inimitable singer’s finest B-sides, rarities and cover versions.

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Tori Amos has established a long-standing and unwavering relationship with her fans since the 1992 release of her debut album, Little Earthquakes. During her career she has placed a particular importance on the music that extends beyond her LPs. She has notably approached single releases as opportunities to issue new material, while her live concerts bear reinterpretations and arrangements of her own music. Andrew has handpicked a small selection of songs outside of her thirteen studio albums that have taken on a life of their own and show the breadth of her work as an artist and composer.

 

Upside Down Me-And-A-Gun

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Featured on the first-ever Tori Amos single, ‘Me And A Gun’, this B-side set a standard in the quality of the material that accompanied her singles. Written in her twenties, ‘Upside Down’ rolls on a piano melody in minor, as Tori faces her uncertainties and fears of growing up. It neatly captures the intrinsic feeling of not ‘reaching the mark’ in life, by one’s own and other people’s measures. The strength of the song and its powerful lyrics of being “afraid I’ll always be still coming out of my mother upside down” made a promise of the unreleased songs she had to come.

 

Take To The Sky Tori-Amos-Winter

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It doesn’t get much more bleak than a line about house that feels “like Russia”. After the disbandment of her band Y Kant Tori Read in the late ‘80s, this was the first song Tori wrote that began Little Earthquakes. It may be no surprise that it features a pounding drum, like a heartbeat, as she defiantly professes “I dyed my hair red today”. Its lyrics celebrate coming into her own as an artist, reclaiming her creativity and believing in nothing but her passion and music. She invites her failures, her challenges and stifling naysayers to “take a seat” as she transcends the trappings of negativity. It is the sound of an artist energized by a new vitality.

  

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We love you anyway” screams a fan, as Amos quickly rebuffs “Very good, you’re gonna need to” before commencing one of her most uncompromising live take of ‘Professional Widow’. Initially recorded on harpsichord on Boys For Pele, the 1996 Dew Drop Inn Tour rendition chills the blood of the original, played solely on organ, giving it an ominous power. Her alternate lyrics and falsetto is utterly hair-raising, reaching a pinnacle as she rails “Just like my Daddy, selling his baby”. ‘Merry Widow’ transforms the original, in an almost unrecognizable way, emphasizing her adaptability and fluidity towards her own compositions.

 

Cooling Tori-Amos-Spark

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After a few attempts of trying to make this song fit into her studio albums, it was decided it would prosper quite well as a B-side. Appearing on ‘Spark’ in 1998, it stresses the potency and beauty Tori can deliver in stripping everything down to its minimum of piano and voice. Dealing with confusion of a love coming to an end, dimming passion and the uncertainty of the future, ‘Cooling’ is written with a gorgeously delicate piano melody and lyrics about “fire thought she’d really rather be water instead”. It is a song of clarity in moments of chaos.

 

Siren Great-Expectations

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Amos’ music has been adopted to soundtrack television and film over the years, including Twister, Higher Learning and Mona Lisa Smile. Tori was invited to work on the soundtrack for Alfonso Cuarón’s adaption of Great Expectations. Her contribution to the film was ‘Siren’, which was written at the time she began flirting with the idea of recording with a full band on what was to become From The Choirgirl Hotel. Over a rumbling bass line, Tori takes to the piano with a fervour as she rambles “Never was one for a prissy girl, Coquette call in for an ambulance”. Much like the title suggests, ‘Siren’ is full of urgency which complimented the original film and remains distinguished in her own repertoire.

 

Toodles Mr. Jim Tori-Amos-Caught-A-Lite-Sneeze

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Tori’s giggle from the studio floor made it onto this Boys For Pele B-side. What may sound like somebody pressed the ‘record’ button a few seconds too soon, it fits the song perfectly as she recounts a childhood squabble. The sprightly song tells the tale of her hometown neighbour, Mr. Jim, who defended her when Amos punched his daughter for insulting her mother. No stranger to humour, Tori has a childlike mischief and innocence, as she explores the way memories always live with us. This and many other songs in her catalogue engage with how people can easily access times that have past and re-experience the emotions of them in the present. If nothing else, you cannot help but smile thinking about a young Amos putting manners on someone where necessary.

 

The Pool Tori-Amos-Winter

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This B-side saw Tori immerse herself in an experiment with voice and how it can be used as an instrument. With an elusive title, she layers both hushed sighs and high notes, in a way that gleams and swirls as though it being played on musical glasses. It’s an entrancing moment that features an ethereal atmosphere she can master, sounding as fluid and mystical as the pool she sings of.

 

Apollo’s Frock Welcome-To-Sunny-Florida

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Her 2002 album, Scarlet’s Walk, took listeners on a trip through the heart and history of America, both past and present. The album was created from the contentious relationship between Tori and her previous record label, which was documented in her autobiographical book, Piece By Piece. After a hugely lengthy tour of the album, Tori released an EP containing a collection of B-Sides entitled Scarlet’s Hidden Treasures. One standout song of the release is the eight-minute ‘Apollo’s Frock’. Believed to have its beginnings in the 1990s, its official release in 2004 rings evermore true for the artist. After fighting her corner with her record company for years over creative decisions, its sentiment of refusing to stifle one’s spirit for others is unmistakable (“For the last time you have crossed my line”). It sparkles with an awareness that some people in this will life will never understand our truth and the freedom in embracing our own worth.

 

Sister Janet Tori-Amos-Cornflake-Girl

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With this B-Side from the Under The Pink era, we Tori’s sense of connectedness and storytelling that is embodied in her work. Given her reoccurring theme of religion and its influence in her lyrics, here we find her eyeing up a nun whose “veil is quietly becoming none”. She brings us into her image of heaven with “all the angels and all the wizards, black and white”. However, what makes this song special is we pass by Marianne – a girl based on a childhood friend Amos had during high-school who overdosed in an alleged suicide, and whom appeared later on her own song on Boys From Pele. Her appearance on this song and subsequent return, like many other characters, resonates like a cord running through her catalogue. The people in her music are like secrets and clues waiting to be discovered.

 

Smells Like Teen Spirit Tori-Amos-Live-At-Montreux

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Some say the purpose of a cover version is to either add something extra the original or take it somewhere totally new by reimagining it. If this is the case, Tori’s cover of Nirvana’s signature song is a masterclass in the arena. She invites the ‘90s grunge into her world and spins it on its head. Stripping away everything that made the song what it has now become; her minimal approach gives it a new perspective, body and meaning. Although featured as an early B-side, the live recording on the Live At Montreaux 1991/92 is exceptional. Teeming with passion and disorientation, the final refrain of “A mosquito, My libido” may be enough to overlook it was ever written by another artist. Tori makes it all her own.

 

My Posse Can Do Tori-Amos-Boot-Legs

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On American Doll Posse, Tori examined and questioned the ways in which society stereotypes and categorizes femininity. She conjured up a ‘posse’ of five distinct characters based on the female archetypes in culture, as she sees them, with their origins stretching back to the writings of Greek Mythology. It is an impressive album as she seamlessly slips into the individual sound and vocal style of each woman. On ‘My Posse Can Do’, we meet Santa: the sassy blonde who freely prizes her sexuality and refuses to feel the shame in it. Derived from the Greek Goddess, Aphrodite, Santa’s prerogative is love and beauty in the world and her refusal to abide the patriarchal requirements of how woman should express their sensuality. She addresses the historical masculine monopoly and the lives prescribed to women, “A formula one racer or the Pope, Presidential posts you say aren’t for girls”, declaring “there be things that my posse can do”. It’s a tongue-firmly-in-cheek moment from an album that takes on the important issues of boundaries, oppression and prejudice in our world today.

 

Here. In My Head Tori-Amos-Crucify

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When Little Earthquakes and Under The Pink were released in the early 1990’s, Amos’ music was branded by many as “confessional”. True, there are personal, almost journal-like lyrics across both albums. However, there was something limiting about the term as they contain moments of huge imagination and stream of consciousness-like energy. The term “confessional” felt too starkly realist, in comparison to the energy she was actually tapping into. ‘Here. In My Head’ was written in the interim between these albums. The song addresses our internal worlds and how they can be penetrated by those we love around us. Tori expresses how we internalize our experiences and ideas of people; torturing ourselves with idea of someone else. It portrays the power of what it means to be in love, whatever its nature, and its ability to make one “forget what time it was”. The song’s introspection maintains a weightlessness as she chases the root of her pain and questions the nature of emotional boundaries. What’s more, the song underlines Tori’s dedication and the care she has taken in giving listeners new music on her single releases. ‘Here. In My Head’ underlines that B-sides are not merely the songs that “didn’t make the cut” of the album; they are the ones that are strong enough to stand up on their own.

Tori’s fourteenth album Unrepentant Geraldines is released on May 9th on Mercury Classics.

 

Exclusive: Scarlette Fever Covers Erasure for Polari Magazine

Exclusive: Scarlette Fever covers Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’ for Polari Magazine.


Polari Magazine is proud to exclusively present Scarlette Fever’s touching and inventive cover of Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’.

Scarlette told us:

This is my version of a Erasure classic. I got the idea to cover a song by one of my heroes from Polari Magazine. I chose Andy Bell because he’s an inspiration and a pioneer. I can’t imagine how much courage it took to be an openly gay pop star 30 years ago!

I chose this song because the lyrics really speak to me. In my opinion it’s a beautiful love song. I hope you like my version.