“This song is about reincarnation, but most people think it’s about cosmetic surgery” says Lena Lovich. That’s a big leap in meaning and philosophy, but I can see how most people take words at face value. It’s nice to see Lovitch still up there doing it, shaking her crazy old lady bones. She doesn’t seem like one to espouse cosmetic correction of any kind. She seems like more the kind to tell everyone to let their freak flag fly. Weirdo types like Lena Lovich really blossom with age, don’t they? Especially women, who delight in outliving expectations of prettiness and acceptable behavior. It’s admirable to see the creativity of old ladies who’ve embraced the role of the crazy spinster aunt or witch in the hut in the woods. It’s so much less of a battle after you’re through being young and attractive.
Lene Lovich is from Detroit. For whatever reason, the former capital of American manufacture has been a locus for homegrown musical genius – and in this case, homegrown American weirdness. Lovich was also raised and educated in England and has Serbian ancestry, which adds whole new dimensions of weird and helps explain her gypsy-witch aesthetic. Lovich’s aesthetic is one that the pop world never really knew what to do with, though she was nominally packaged with the New Romantics. That was before every niche and subculture became a ‘market quadrant’ to sell to. If Lovich came along today she could reasonably expect to be marketed directly to the Pastel Goth demographic. I still like my unrepentant weirdos without demographic boxes or viral hashtag campaigns; people like Lene Lovich find their audience through alchemy. When you see that face and hear that voice you feel the presence of a kindred spirit. Or you feel very confused and irritated, in which case you know this music is not for you.
If I can clear up one misconception about Lene Lovich – she is not German. I always assumed she was, because of her name, and because she’s weird, and because she appears to dress out of the same dustbin as Nina Hagen. But no, she’s from Detroit, Michigan, home of Iggy Pop and The White Stripes. You can’t really blame me for making the misassociation though. Lovich is a breed of weird that rarely springs up in America. Not coincidentally, she has had her best success in Europe and has long made England her home. The association with Nina Hagen isn’t off-base either; the two are friends and have often played together and covered each other’s songs. I don’t know what Lovich has been up to since she made her breakthrough album Stateless in 1978. I know she had a moment of cultish popularity during the 80’s and her song Lucky Number was a small hit. It doesn’t matter too terribly much; Stateless is a bizarre, brilliant little gem bright enough to earn her all the posterity she needs. The most recent I’ve heard of her she made a cameo appearance on a Dresden Dolls concert video, looking exactly as she did in ’78. A very appropriate team-up, I should say. I can see how Amanda Fucking Palmer owes a debt to Lovich and her uncompromising eccentricity. It’s perhaps inevitable that Lovich should be just a small footnote in the teeming history of rock music, oddball that she is, but it is encouraging to see at least a few young people taking lessons from her. We need more balls-out crazy women taking the stage.