52 albums – week 9

I am a Bird Now: Antony & the Johnson's

The more I write (and it’s been a while since I’ve written regularly) the more themes seem to emerge from the ether. For instance I didn’t realise I had such an interest in birds but references to them seem to be appearing regularly in this journal. To wit, this weeks choice of I am a Bird Now. I guess even a cursory glance at the Journals title would have given something away but in all honesty “Goodbye Albatross” came about in response to a conversation with my 14-year-old son about Band names. I suggested “Goodbye Albatross” to which he demurred, well derided would be more accurate. Preferring the name “The Dead Links” (think computers) which is probably more where a 14-year-old with ideas of a garage band would be heading. Anyway not wanting to waste a good moniker I appropriated it for this blog. I’ve noticed my unwitting pre-occupation with birds popping up on various posts throughout these ramblings. To draw a long bow my Christian name was chosen by my Mother in admiration of the English poet Francis Brett Young, in particular one poem, The Swallows (insert here). Despite that I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Cockatoo and a Corella! Birds are still cool in my world though.

Moving on from all things ornithological.

I am a Bird Now took my breath away when I first heard it a few years back. I remember playing it in its entirety on the long commute out to Campbelltown. I have a clear recollection of pulling into the car park at work and dragging a colleague, Jim away from his running 4wd to listen to this “amazing singer”. It’s been a long time since someones voice so singular, so unique, so captivated.

I’ve probably struggled to get something down on paper with this album. I’ve read a lot of reviews on-line to try to make sense of why this music has lodged itself inside like a shard of glass. A few comments have stood out. “Baroque music” was one description that resonated. I’m not exactly sure what it, “Baroque” means but I get a sense of it in Antony’s music. The links to Lou Reed were also referenced in a lot of reviews. At the start of Antony Hegarty’s career, (he was originally a back-up vocalist for Lou Reed) Lou was his ‘champion’ for want of a better word. Once Antony’s star began to ascend and they were on a more even footing they toured together. Antony taking over the stage to perform his rendition of a song Lou wrote for the Velvet Underground, Candy Says (the image heading this week’s post is of “Candy Darling on her Death Bed”). Cementing the relationship on Antony’s debut Album is Lou Reed’s unmistakable vocals gracing Fistful of Love. But delving behind the collaborations with Mr Reed looms the figure of Andy Warhol. I’m guessing “Littl” Antony has drunk deeply from the “Factory” crucible, nodding his head to the Peroxide shocked, Savant of the Art world both stylistically & perhaps a little reverentially.

The obvious and immediate theme on I am a Bird Now is that of gender identity. It’s inescapable, a giant multi-limbed Gorgon with its tendrils running through all the lyrics. But and this is important; In taking this platform he is not manipulating controversy and its attendant fame like say, Madonna or Lady GaGa or even earlier, David Bowie. There is never a moment when you doubt the validity of Antony’s own questioning. The legitimacy of his pain, or the confusion, the fear and the loneliness that limp alongside the music. In the end the ambiguity about his Sexuality means little and the question of which gender he is addressing is meaningless.
Expecting to be alienated by themes that seem far removed from my pedestrian lifestyle in the suburbs I found myself connecting with these beautiful and  intimate revelations.

Standout songs are hard to pick. It is a very cohesive album that doesn’t lend itself to carving out songs like wedges from a block of cheese. Boy George acquits himself admirably on You are my Sister. The Gospel inspired pounding of the keyboards on What Can I Do, driving the song along in the absence of drums is just gorgeous.
It’s not immediately obvious but there is a lot of Joy throughout this album. Yes! His darker preoccupations capture your immediate attention but there is elation there too. In For Today I am a Boy, in Fistful of Love, in Free at Last.

There was a line in one of the many reviews I read, “Drowning in Antony’s Voice” and if one line can possibly sum up such a talent, then this one does so.

For more of Antony’s heavenly voice it’s hard to go past Candy Says. Watch it to the end and wait for Lou Reeds expression as the song wraps itself up. I think that he is lost for words. Part stunned, part admiration, part gratitude? I’m not sure which, perhaps it’s all of those emotions but it’s a lovely moment.


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