Monday, 24 December 2018

An Xmas message: Some years

ago, too many to bear in mind, not because it is long, but rather on account of the the time it takes to deal with the consequences, and as I well enough know, I tried to do so, a friend, a brilliant observer and practitioner of the then dominant mode of gay kitsch, of a style that reaches an apogee in the public discourse of Wayne Koestenbaum, drew my attention to the Shangri Las, whom I had quite forgotten, and gave me two CDs to back up this reminder.
how?
on earth had I forgotten them.
I guess it was on account of so many ways of hearing, the where and the when, and the what one was doing in that where and when. For example, when I listened to Dylan's first LPs or my very first recordings of Beethoven's late quartets, that came a bit before Dylan and even before, to take another random example, Strawberry Fields, I sat in from of a large monaural hi-fi speaker and looked at it attentively, just like the HMV dog, Nipper. But also there is something to do with sexuality, I do believe. So, in the end the master's voice, were there to have been one, would, in all possibility, have been the girl group, and it took me over thirty years to get that, at all.




It might be said that the Beethoven was something heard with intricate perplexity, attending to the idea of a mobile, protean perfection as utterly irrational and now, when I notice bits of that even in the earliest piano sonatas, there is some resolution (of something) in understanding how long it takes to find an énoncé. Dylan was more a matter , might have been more a matter, of the absolute mystery of an énoncé that was not other enough to be unhear-able, but that was in its apparent authenticity grippingly alien to anything I myself might becoming, Gipsy girl, the hands of Harlem, feel really real? Looking at the speaker, riven, over and over again, until the grooves like those of the Supraphon Beethovens and the Cetra Rigoletto were wearing hoarse, I could find nothing of myself there but my absence, which was more than a good enough discovery. I wish and wish and wish in vain(Tommy Makem singing the Butcher Boy), I wish and wish and wish in vain that we were together in that room(Bob Dylan's Dream), truth to a sequence, finding a place or no space in this precession.

So when D O put to me the Shangri Las, Long Live Our Love (something's come between us but it's not another girl - well it's supposed to be the Vietnam war, but it must have been at least another boy), Leader of the Pack. Listen, no just listen, as Frankie Howard would have insisted, no, a slap on my wrists, just listen, from the age of 14 I was blossoming into a disco bunny and I had danced so much by 18 or 19 that I must have shaken and twisted and jived and rocked and madisoned to every top forty of half a decade, and listened night after night to Caroline and Luxembourg, so I must have heard, and moved to every Shangri song that fitted there. 

So if I could not recall them, it must have been something to do with being unable or unwilling to hear myself in the babel of hetero-interpellation or, later in the 60s, the unbearable coolness of art-gayness in London, and so I (one) could bury one(my) self in the polymorphous exchanges of the hippy art fringe and by the time it sorted itself out Dylan remained and the kernel of as near as possibly pure authenticity at the heart of the Shangri Las as the masquerade of near absolute kitsch fell into terrible and unmerited desuetude. It was sacrificed on a self-immolating altar of Adorno for Kitsch, Barthes for grain, mutually excluding demands fo judgement and half-understanding and a certain obedience to a manifest and long pre-queer tradition. Oh yes, Eliot's Four Quartets were always queerer than Dylan, but Dylan remains something as close to a universal as I have ever found, but Long Live our Love is the only thing near to an anthem.



Except for this: once put as a question "Was Handel gay?" the answer could not come from empirical research, but for me came like this at the moment of listening again to Long Live our Love. Yes, it is obvious, but above all and self-evidently when you listen to William Christie's version of Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus re-transmits the Shangris, Donna Summer and the whole baggage of queer disco, techno, the lot. Faggy is as faggy does, not so much a performative as a whole series of performances.

Footnote. At Elisabeth Price's Turner award party (The Woolworth Fire) I said to her, how marvellous it was to see the Shangri Las there, as a kind of visual and audio syntax. To my surprise she said 'but you should be pleased, when I was doing my PhD it was ALL you would talk about'. Twice forgotten, but not now shy. What goes around rarely comes around. Action is always deferred.


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