Are you sick of hearing about this record yet? I suspect that you are, but I listen to this record a lot, so it comes up a lot. Also, it’s a really long album, it’s 22 songs and maybe it kind of runs together if you’re not following the storyline, and a lot of the singers sound the same. But let me just say that this is one of the standout songs from Here Lies Love, and the only one that was released as a single. The singer is Santigold. The video is an official one and matches the lyrics of the song, featuring footage of protagonist Imelda Marcos mixing it up with various heads of state. Marcos was a glamorous woman with a taste for princess dresses with huge sleeves; it appears that she was charming, popular and well liked on the political circuit. Unfortunately, her husband was a corrupt tyrant who put his poverty-wracked country under martial law and embezzled state funds to support his family’s love of luxury. David Byrne suggests here that Imelda’s aggressively fashionable image was an attempt to put forward a pretty face so world wouldn’t look down on the Philippines as a backwards third world country.
How did Steve Earle get this honor? On David Byrne’s Here Lies Love, Earle is the only male guest vocalist. I can’t argue with the choice; Earle provides exactly the right shot of smarmy masculinity singing the part of the scheming Ferdinand Marcos. I’m just curious about the connection between the eggheads David Byrne and Norman Cook, and Earle, an old-school country singer from Texas. They don’t seem like they would be orbiting in the same circles, so to speak. Granted, Byrne is famous for having esoteric tastes, and an ear for diverse talents, but I don’t recall him ever trying to collaborate with the kind of songwriters who sing about making moonshine. In fact, Byrne’s been known to take a mocking view of the ‘common man’ aesthetic; he once made an entire movie mocking common people. So yeah, I’m curious as to what he and Steve Earle hang out and talk about.
And now, for something lighthearted. Let Tape Five take you back to the days when people appeared to be having a disproportionate amount of fun, despite the fact that alcohol was illegal. (Obviously, people in places beyond America had other problems besides Prohibition, but they weren’t the ones having all that glamorous fun.) Although, to the rational history buff, it’s clear that the era was actually pretty rough for most people who inhabited it, we’re still helplessly compelled by its images. The art deco design, the music, the movies and movie stars, the gangsters; we can’t get enough reliving those high times. Nostalgia is a little bit of a cottage industry and updating the sounds of swing music for modern ears is one little niche of it. It isn’t a huge fad, but it’s definitely a community with a market for it. And, really, you couldn’t ask for anything more fun.
A taste of Gogol Bordello is a taste of the trans-global diaspora. Also, sweat. And the reek of spilled booze. Maybe a whiff of salted herring. To see them up close is to be sprayed with many fluids. The last time I saw them play Eugene Hutz split his pants and his dick flopped out. Not the most optimal time for a dick viewing, but I’ll take it. I used to really think the dude was mad sexy, but as he gets older he looks more and more like he could be my dad’s long disowned forgotten half brother or something, and that’s a little squeamish. I’d still hit it, though. (I guess people who don’t immigrate are forced to date within their own ethnic group; weird to think about!) Anyhow. A Gogol Bordello show is a celebration of displaced culture, gypsy music for people who may have been born gypsy and the many more became gypsy by circumstance. And if you can’t relate to the particulars of that, you can at least embrace their party ethos.
I saw Marina & the Diamonds in concert a while ago, and let me tell you, her game is tight; she hits the notes, commands the crowd and has the visual image all figured out. With only three albums under her belt, Marina Diamandis already has a strong message and a narrative to deliver it. She writes a lot about identity, self-acceptance, and how to navigate being a neurotic, creative, outspoken young woman in the modern world. And, of course, the particular pressure of all of those things plus fame. For her troubles, she has become a modern-day gay icon, with a following among the very young and very flamboyant, which is actually no small feat given that young gays today don’t necessarily identify themselves as a specific subculture the way previous generations did. A knack for camp still goes a long way, it would appear. The combination of humor and sincerity, plus lots and lots of sequins, is a winning combination, and it really speaks to anyone who feels that their ‘outsider’ status really makes them an ‘insider’.
Are you not all up on the history of the Philippines? Especially what went on there in the 1970’s under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos? Well, you need to get caught up. It would greatly help you understand the context of David Byrne’s Here Lies Love. This song, for instance, is about that time in 1972 when President Marcos placed the country under martial law. It may be news to you, but it lasted more than a decade and Filipinos don’t remember those years too fondly. Of course, these are not things you would expect to hear about on a pop record, and of course, only a crazy David Byrne type could ever cook up such a concept. However, please view it as an opportunity to learn more about a period of 20th century history that goes under-reported in the Western educational curriculum. It is a lesson in the frailty of human nature in the face of the corrupting influence of power, and the road to hell being paved with idealistic intentions. Thanks to David Byrne, Fatboy Slim and Natalie Merchant, you can dance to it.
Let’s take a break from the arty and obscure and just enjoy a shot of pure, uncomplicated pop. Yep, simple and uncomplicated with no problematic baggage to unpack or intricate social context to parse- Oh wait! Never mind, this is Rihanna. No pop star in her echelon has more contextual baggage. If you want to ask why I would be a fan of Rihanna, one of the queens of the corporate pop machine, the short answer would be, she’s so damn good at being a pop star. She can dance in a negligee and deliver a mindless song like she really believes in it. She’s great at being glamorous. She’s an unrepentant ‘bad girl’ with very little interest in maintaining a ‘likable’ reputation. And as for the heavy baggage of being a woman of color in the stereotype-driven pop world, of having her difficult personal past made into another item of public consumption, of trying to have a creative voice and control her image in an industry that gives its biggest names the least amount of freedom? She carries it all with remarkable grace. I call it the grace of having no fucks left to give. She’s damn good at what she does, she’s not ashamed to profit from the industry that profits from her, she’s not afraid to reclaim images of black womanhood that ‘cleaner’ stars would shy away from as too loaded, and she will not be a part of anyone’s cheap victim narrative.