Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kiss Me Del Rey

LtoR: Lana Del Rey, Gaby Rogers, Candace Hilligoss
Lana Del Rey's panned performance on SNL this past weekend wasn't all her fault -- the mixing was dreadful. I instantly imagined the sound tech guy had hit on her during rehearsal and decided to 'punish' her, as douche bags are wont to do, after she rebuffed his seedy offers. See how protective I am regarding Lana? I feel like she's someone I once loved but couldn't protect as douche bags circled her every step like Kenneth Cole-clad vultures. I cringed and hid behind my book as she stood paralyzed against a white spider web of lights on stage, her legs locked together in a vintage thrift store chanteuse evening dress; her lyrics stuck on the endless repeat of a melody that fades on close audience scrutiny, that only works with clips (she should have had rear projections) as in her "Video Games" video, wherein she was only there for scattered moments, half drunkenly falling over or singing alone-ish, half America's Next Top Model entrant selling the brand "haunted."

Once I heard how far down in the mix she sounded I was hoping for a  moment like the one in Road House (above) when Ida Lupino sings her first song at the lodge and the whole cast of regulars and staff eye her with concern as her frail voice, barely above a whisper and without a mic, clings like Grant on Lincoln's nose at the end of North by Northwest to the melody, a ghostly after-effect of pure will and brassy, nicotine-stained courage gradually cutting through even the staunchest of drunk background conversations. It didn't happen.

As I wrote earlier, I like Del Rey for her hand-crafted post-noir persona but that persona hinges on intimacy, which SNL lacks. Rey's a post-digital artist meant for late night headphones and tear-stained iPhone screens, not sound stages and fancy lighting rigs and an audience keyed up by comedy. Thus we're presented with the same conundrum that sinks Manhattan nightspots I visited in the 1990s, they're now prime real estate 'hot locations,' so the night spots elsewhere; the mainstream snaps at the lonesome artist gentrifier's heels, stealing our small good things and baking them into oversize crap. Well, you mainstream sycophants, some stuff can't just automatically make the jump. I've seen the best bands of my generation destroyed by bottom line AOR guys who brought them up too fast and dropped 'em twice as quick: from Nightingales to The Wetlands to Nassau Coliseum and then dropped from the Humpty Dumpty wall when their 15 minute egg timer clicked crack time. Yeah I mean the Spin Doctors.

In the end the mainstream wants all the things it takes from the fringe to be tailor-made for them, never considering whether or not we invited them to even try on a sample. Thus we make ourselves deliberately off-size to scare away customers, for success means having to be surrounded at all times by douche bag entourages and clingy fans and thus be unable to hone our craft in the isolated anguish cocoons and starving garrets that best nurture our wild gifts. So we let our sophomore album grow bloated, and the AOR guys throw us to the cut-out bins and now not even Nightingales wants us back. One two / princes who adore you / just go ahead now. Yaaaa badibidip Dip deepa doo do da.

Then there's the movies: I finally bought and saw Criterion's Kiss Me Deadly (1955) Blu-ray which lived beyond expectations; I've had the MGM DVD awhile and watched it many times but it's a whole different movie now, like a crisp 3D diorama --now Mike Hammer's jazzy bi-level apartment seems to stretch deep inside the back wall at odd, skewed angles, and the sexy girl bare feet seem bigger than life, the treacherous west coast hills down which flimsy stairs carry tumbling thugs now recede deep down into the apartment below me. The two blonde girls who bookend the film are now extra insane: you can see the thin layer of sweat over their faces; when Gaby Rogers gets all glazed-eyed lunatic at the climax, you can practically smell the laudanum coming out of her pores; before that you can smell the sexual heat and traces of sodium pentathol pouring off Cloris Leachman, and later the toe-tingling chlorine and perfume aura of Marian Karr as the gambling kingpin's nympho poolside sister.

Spreading its influence out to post-nuclear Japan and films like Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill (1967), and into Altman and the Coens, from its backwards credits to its doomsday ending, Deadly enfolds rather than unfolds, in that sacred timeless backwards space occupied by Jimmy Stewart's Vertigo fingernails and the electric chair-bound flashbacks of Edward G. Robinson in Two Seconds, or Lee Marvin's mysterious resurrection in Point Blank or Naomi Watts remembering her own parallel reality as Samara's mother in The Ring, or those suddenly interminable songs Lana Del Rey sang on SNL Saturday. Nothing is by chance when Death is sucking us up through her rear view mirror.

In the beginning/end of Kiss Me Deadly, Hammer is drugged, beaten, and driven off a cliff with his first lost blonde (Leachman), and maybe he's still dead at the bottom of a sandy ravine and the girls around him the Carnival of Souls reverse gender equivalent of the weird white skinned zombie guy with the crazy hair who follows Candace Hilligoss around. And maybe the big whatzit in the box is an atomic Skynet variation of the Hitchcockian Mcguffin grown suddenly aware of its abstract unimportance to the mise en scene and so deciding to change the game, swallows the universe whole and runs it backwards only in its guilty 'I can't believe I ate the whole thing' nightmares.

Now it all finally makes sense: here it is 2012 and the film 2012 is coming to TNT (my take on it here). The snake, having swallowed its own tail first, continues unknowingly along, its radius tightening, and only as it speeds up to the infinite point does memory finally catch up to its 'this is where we came in' crux apocalypse. Death is from here on out more a dawning awareness than a traumatizing finale, and a parting word to those who will be forced to watch the black hole close around us seems prudent. Thus, Christina Rosetti's (left) poem "Remember:"

  And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile

If we feel the final darkness closing around us, is it at all possible that we're remembering it rather than experiencing it now, and thus are immortal after all? Maybe we who will die in the coming floods will not our deaths remember but rather still live in a landlocked world where no further burgee cords and yacht club burgees unfurl but for the brief cocktail steward span that bridges sleep and death--that fluttering spasm of alertness; the forgotten hand that clutches once and having clutched drops its eternal bong --and watch will we instead as the blackened water's through the carpet soaked and gone? Soaked...

... and gone? As Mike Hammer says when giving up the key to the whatszit, "I didn't know... I didn't know..."

He didn't know he's been dead all along and the same girl twice has died with him in a drag race (left). As J.J. put it in Sweet Smell of Success, "You're dead son, get yourself buried." Mike Hammer didn't know he really was pulling a Lazarus Scotty Hilligoss Parker shuffle.

Right. Thing is, no one ever does.

So remember to "forget and smile" when the waters are rising higher than any hit count and our apocalypse year begins endlessly over with one January after the other, never reaching the dreaded December 21, 2012, all time slowing down like a black hole's infinite approach, remember what the fortune teller said when Lisa Simpson asked if there was any way to avoid her grim future, "No, but try to act surprised." All else is... Silencio... and those picky, tourist conqueror worms that just won't give it up... for Lana Del Rey!


  1. I thought the same thing when I watched the clip of del Rey. The mixing was awful.

    I mean, the two songs I've heard of hers are both decent - one is stunning and one is okay. I have no expectations of genius from her, but... by SNL standards, it wasn't that bad. I mean, these aren't exactly the days of having William Burroughs and Captain Beefheart doing the show.

  2. that's true, Katy Anders. SNL has had worse, but maybe not lately - and I think a lot of people are tied up in Lana's (pending) success, and how she got the gig for basically one video of one song. If W.S. Burroughs and Beefheart were in the room they would have rode to her rescue, punch out the soundman and give her a little speed bump, but those were different times... you could probably smoke backstage too.

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