There's no difference between living through the movies and living through death. Either way you coast into immortality like second base on a field of feathers. If you're writing or painting or singing only for the edification of the future rather than the adulation of the pearl-twirling swine of today, then rest, in peace and assured, no matter how maligned or ignore you are today, some distant unborn generation will pretend to have read or heard or seen your work. First, though, they need to know you died, to prove you're serious - and so they aren't afraid of running into you at the part while they're reading your book and then you start trying to autograph them or worse. Immolation purifies art from compromise by cumbersome human mortality. Lana Del Rey knows. I'd say she knows it so well she doesn't have to prove it. I'd say she's free from the iffy benefits of validation, and has achieved this purely through facing her own mortality, via the bi-polar abyss.
As we learn only after much resistance in AA or therapy, in surrender lies the only true victory. The only true heaven is hell, accepted.
|Icons from top: "Summertime Sadness," I Walked with a Zombie, "Tropico"|
So while some are threatened or indignant (same thing) over this death drive fancy of Del Rey's, I say hey, man, be grateful: her death drive is visible, in our sights to share, because all she has to do is pout, turn slowly away, and take a backwards slow mo Peg Entwistle dive off the Hollywood sign and down through Diane Selwyn's pale blue skylight and it's YOU who die, not her. Keep her in view at all times. Once you can't see her you'll know she's behind you, with a gun or sharp sword. You can follow her around like Boris Karloff follows the hottie Greek wurdulak in Lewton's ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945); you can be a whole internet worth of Karloffs reigning down torrents of ancient superstitions and gossip on anyone who'll click your link; you can drip a whole nation of self-appointed sanity over her sun roof... it does not slow her rush home to your death one hourglass grain.
Sister, she called me her sister.
It's fate, baby. Watching CAT PEOPLE today on DVD it's possible to see just what's in the deep dark shadows around the swimming pool: there's a black hole cartoon animation in there, a shape that mutates from vertical to horizontal, ever so briefly. When Irina turns back human she moves from paw prints to high heels prints (not bare feet - Lewton never tries to literalize), she wears a fur coat that when she changes tightens in around her and, if you look close at her body lying on the ground outside the panther cage, she looks like a bearskin rug with a teddy bear's head sewn to one arm, but we only see it from far off, up on the street lamp. In ISLE OF THE DEAD we can see, if we look very close, the way the undead Mrs. Aubyn seems to materialize out of the moonlit reflections on a stone wall, like she's only semi-corporeal but never in that common special effects way that would make it obvious. DVD's clarity alone makes these things at last visible; they were never meant to even register consciously. There was no way to pause and rewind before video tape... No one ever knew for sure just what they saw, if anything, so they remembered all sorts of darkness.
Lewton's subtlety reveals a Russian's love of great literature that extends deeper down than the average bourgeois tenure track, deeper even than the blood (his real name is Vladimir Ivanovich Leventon), deeper than the cauldron from which are dredged all our hopes and fears, and our tomorrows are like a thousand yesterdays. And great literature is always about death, that's how you know. It's where we go to prepare, to remember that a vast elevator full of blood is only a thin, easily-punctured epidermal layer away, and the only freedom comes in whether to ignore this dread out of fear, or embrace it out of courage, love, and rock and roll who-gives-a-fuck-it. This is where Lana Del Rey's coming from with her comments about being a feminist and thinking it's cool to die young. Would you get mad at David Foster Wallace, or Hunter S. Thompson, or Hemingway for saying those things? No. And they're all dead, at the hands of the same assailant, the only one that truly makes it. Performance.
Now, if my dad killed himself because of Lana Del Rey I'd be pissed. But my dad was killed by doctors (he died, after all, in the hospital) and it's hard to be pissed at them, as a whole. At home with an ocean of bourbon and ginger ale he was immortal. He kept death close so it couldn't sneak up on him. But that hospice-strength IV cocktail's got no spirits. Without his whiskey and gin, the door opened right up and waved him in like a pit crew waving in a race car. Maybe when we try so hard to keep the body alive we kill the soul. Who wants to die sober? Only those for whom sleep is the cure-all; for some of us, the fucked up artists and writers who do what we do because we'd go even crazier if we didn't, the only cure-all is music, literature and films. We can die because we've already left our immortal imprint on the living world. Lana Del Rey is both the cure and the cause for the cancer of Hollywood because she embraces the theatrical aspects of emotional anguish, with herself as both the sufferer and the object of longing; her faux-period home movies, painstaking in their iconic recreations, are like the restaged car accidents in Cronenberg's CRASH, only transcending sex in the service of art, music, and obsession.
|From top: CRASH, LEOPARD MAN|
It should have been me, puking, like the princely changeling in Midsummer Night's Dream. I had to quit her, my whiskey... sweet whiskey, and ride off with AA Oberon. My sober life --that's my cross to bear, my LSD Albert Hoffman problem child, the thing that robbed me of the gleam, my lost Lenore. But I'm not a star. No one even notices. Not even the guys at Liquor Warehouse on Broadway, still the best prices in New York City.
But I still haven't forgiven Angelina Jolie, or Liz Phair. Ladies, you broke my heart!
|Never stop smoking or drinking - even knowing both are poisons,|
for you've already spilled more than secrets (bottom: SEVENTH VICTIM)
Now your love is funneled to some off-camera cradle.
Those who love you from speakers and screens are left orphans.
We can't see through your kids' eyes,
for we are not John Cusak trapped in John Malkovich's child.
But either way you will soon age, past this singular moment.
And you will know the sting of this abandonment
once we both eventually move on.
There's no way to stop the ravaging.
You'd have to leap off the edge
like Lana Del Rey.
But she does it in advance of our gaze, and so
we will never move on
gone, and you - mom,
you've fucked it all up.
The apron string hydra, newly hatched,
whines you away.
In a semi-deserted Bijou in 1943
a nervous young assembly line worker calls in her sick day,
watches SEVENTH VICTIM or THE LEOPARD MAN at the half-empty Bijou.
The dark shadows of the empty seats surround her,
where a boyfriend or husband would be.
Then, onscreen in the shadows she sees him, beckoning...
She knows in her heart he's just been shot down over Europe.
Doesn't even need to read the evening telegram.
Lana Del Rey is the eyes that discern changing shapes in that darkness, and Lana Del Rey's eyes are that darkness. On digital, nothing escapes notice... even the void hidden within the void.
|This is the girl|
And then... Frank Sinatra's voice like a phantom mellow echo; his mastery of mic technique giving his songs an almost unworldly amniotic sound markedly different from the rest, welcoming you to join him in the pulsing warm fog between two shores: "if our romance should break up / I hope I never wake up /if you are but a dream." You are. Hardly even born yet. There in the unrealized amniotic slumber of the Stygian crossing, as Sinatra's songs coast overhead in ceaseless tachyons towards the past, you can hear your father's conception becoming re-buried in the sunken space between the words.
Lana keeps her expression blank --she does it for our haunted projector, so too Val Lewton's deep black shapes --they accept our projection just as American small towns became a ghost towns for the wartime duration: the younger healthier men all drained away by old Europe's vampires, even in Hollywood, until all that's left in Hollywood are German and Russian Jewish intellectual exiles (and gay Weimar actors whose only roles are as the very same Nazis that drove them out). The young male stars of the B's are now tenderfoots, the old men, the crippled, the meek, the short and reedy. And everywhere, in the air wafting from Europe, the smell of death --the inevitability of it--in ways we can't imagine with our current wars and their paltry kill levels (we might lose a few dozen thousand but nothing close to Europe and Asia's combined sixty million in World War Two). Only a full scale nuclear war would even put a dent in us now. We need hundred of million dead, and it would still be the same % as we lost in WW2--a spit in the bucket. Half of us could die and we'd only be where we were in the 1970s, when we first started to worry about overpopulation via films like Soylent Green (1973). It's not death that dooms our planet, but life. Our blind clinging to health like panicked survivors swamping the lifeboat. If we could all just die like gentlemen, like the great Solomon Guggenheim on the Titanic--if Lana Del Rey can lead us by power of bad example, and if we leave right now--we just might make it.
|Echo of my undead soldier (from top) Del Rey, DEATHDREAM|
Lana Del Rey--her "self" as persona, her videos, her willingness to invite nanny state feminist shock and outrage--returns Freud's 'death drive' to its preferred verb status, floored and drunk down Route 66. Her music is ideal for drug overdoses, lover's suicide pacts, long drives with tearful anorexic self-cutters, and self-immolation at the graveside of James Dean. Without Morissey-moping but rather with hair done up and radio playing Elvis with JFK convertible top down, smoking, hovering over Marilyn's lifeless body like a wraith, hiring an actor to dress like Elvis and sneer while rubbing up against the old time microphone stand in front of the John Wayne's rawhide coffin, to paraphrase the Donne-quoting devil-worshippers in Lewton's Seventh Victim, death falls to meets you as fast, halfway. And death x death = life.
Del Rey embraces the sacrificial phoenix icon of the damaged hottie in ways Lindsay Lohan never understood well enough to make part of her art, to use it rather than be used by it (painting a fictionalized self-portrait vs. being someone else's paint). When it comes right down to it, Lohan is sharp, talented, and ballsy but LA has robbed her of self-perspective. She's mystified why she always lands in jail and loses her film funding. Lana Del Rey skips all that and just films in the jail. She avoids the trap of co-dependence or prison or rehab by becoming the 'act' of the drunk, the Baby New Year of the Mulholland Death Drive. Where Lohan avoids the stake and the torch of the frightened villagers by promising to get help, Del Rey climbs right up and starts the fire and directs the camera angles, but it's an act, man - the villagers never gather for real because they're already there in effigy. Del Rey acts it so she doesn't have to be it, whereas Lindsay is it but tries to act "normal." If you get angry at Del Rey because she's fake (shouting "hey Lana, why a-you change your nice-a Jewish name?" from across the street) or are worried because she's real, well - all your rants and raves will do is boost her hit count --like the boost in album sales she got after her hostilely-received 2012 performance on SNL (see "Kiss Me Del Rey").
|The Leopard Man|
Del Rey trusts we're not going to kill ourselves just because she says it would a sweet gesture, would show her we really care. That's her whole secret, believing in our intelligence as much as we believe in hers. How many films other than Lewton's or music videos other than Lana's with this level of trust? I sympathize with Kurt's daughter but really, Rolling Stone, it's you should be ashamed for soliciting angry responses from a girl who never got to know her father any better than we did. That doesn't reflect badly on LDR's statement, or FBC's retort, only on your journalistic 'ethics,' RS. You who were a once mighty countercultural institution (even smart enough to be aware of the paradox in that phrase) are now reduced to passing gossip, angling to be ground zero of a viral thread, leaping down the throat of anyone speaking out against the principles of bland nanny state life-for-life's-sake-PG-tedium (rock out, safely!) and embedded advertising-ready rebellion. Maybe you should go run another cover piece about Bob Dylan and Tom Petty together again, or Neil Young and his guitar! Like all the other fallen giants, you've let 'trending' become the new version of stock market panics, all real guts and glory trampled underfoot in the stampeded to avoid being trampled by your own clod readers.
|"National Anthem," ISLE OF THE DEAD|
Some, like Val Lewton and Lana Del Rey, take this weird solace one step further, enacting rituals of death and transfiguration for posterity and mimetic power in much the way the Gunfight at the OK Corral is recreated on the streets of Tombstone by scholars with big gun collections. Thus the JFK Zapruder footage will endure any memory of the actual presidency of JFK, and in doing a macabre, melancholy homage to this ritualized repetition-compulsion, Del Rey cracks the door handle to the beyond. You can feel it in her sad puppy eyes, the fusion of sex, sadness, lost, lust and American-style freedom, the sort of sad-eyed lady of the lowlands that always needs to be courting death to feel alive, that lives in the crevasses of national tragedies like a sexy afterthought. It's there in the films of Val Lewton too. Watch the first four of Lewton's RKO horrors interspersed with a few Lana Del Rey videos all in the same night (the older ones--"National Anthem," "Video Games," "Born to Die," and "Summertime Sadness") and before you die you shall see their America of ghosts.