15
Mar 03

And Then They Lez Up

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t.A.T.u.

For Melissa Witkowski. It’s all your fault, of sorts.

I

Because when I want to explain to myself Bjork’s “Pagan Poetry”, I can’t think here, in my world, the song seems too simplistic when measured, the merest cursory glance at any emotion, never mind love. I have to step out, into Glasgow’s absence (the lack of the biggest weight in my world), alone in myself (the second biggest weight in my world); the emptiness of a house or the creases round your eyes as you end a smile, the camp at the Pikefossen, or the pink-eyed girl on the road from Máze, with her perfect broken English. How my whole life stopped on that road, imagining my future selves: newlywed; dying; or taken in by some insurmountable death or regret. Or how in turn I will, like the rest, reduce to my lowest organic ebb: memory. As the place firms where everything I ever owned and loved and thought of as dear is taken in and their names made non-negotiable. All the driftwood, inaccurate maps, caesurae, and silt.

Domrémy-la-Pucelle, August 1998, and I split from the girl I was meant to spend the rest of my life with, the widest blue sky purls out in one vigorous movement of the eye, developing an awareness of us below with nary a trace of aggressive intent. (And I’m thinking of the drowned girl, whose name was wrested from her at the Pikefossen: she’ll wake you with her screams, bloodying the quiet lap of the waters.) How when we’re struggling to understand we look to forms and shapes, the knit of the familiar or simple: there, we must strain and hear the rarer frequencies of love and loss; and revisit the place where our assumptions are still hypotheses: “I luf him, I luf him, I luf him, I luf him (she lufs him, she lufs him, she lufs him, she lufs him)”:

“small rain and that blanched light off the sand
that gives the town its name, in Norwegian,
bleik, meaning ‘ghostly’ or ‘pale’
and not what we thought.”

– ‘Bleik’, John Burnside

Her blue-sky cadence sucking him up into herself, a series of inhalations breathing successive layers of meaning into this notion, this unprovable shadow: love. This simple word with the weight of the world behind it.

 

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October [19XX], Vladimir Nabokov orients his great anaesthetic pen over the genesis of Lolita and writes in [xXx]: “The first little throb of Lolita went through me late in 1939 or early in 1940, in Paris … somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.” An impenetrable black object (impenetrable by us, impenetrable by the beast) comes to represent the poor animal and its perception of the world. The natural search party people send out when analysing at the primary, instinctual level looks for the human, the common, the identifiable: we need some ‘controlleds’ to set off against the features alien and weird. Here we stick on the unimaginable bathos of the pure fact of that drawing: an ape who can’t see out, an audience who can’t see in.

(I can’t show Lena & Julia the Jardin des Plantes, not only because it never existed but because I’m just the audience. I’m sorry, I’ve only my ken at my disposal. So I can hope to see Lena & Julia, sitting in the garden, or maybe just their shadows, that that they show us, (when I’m sick of licking the railings of their cage)).

“On the other side is us. And they [the others] can’t understand,” Lena Katina told Bang! (and Heat) about their video to ‘All the Things She Said’. The video shows the girls railing against a great hulking fence as a baying, curious public look in disbelief and disgust and awe and wonder. On one level it’s a very simplistic metaphor of ‘difference’ (“us/them”), on another it is the most ‘do you SEE?’ moment in this year’s pop history: the audio-visual embodiment of Nabokov’s jokey little paragraph.

“Nabokov’s jokey little paragraph.” Lena Katina cries at the end of “Can You See?”, in her shuttlecocks-on-fire voice “open up your eyes and see me now”. Most reviewers latch onto their image alone and then start throwing arrows-on-fire at the girls: “the lively atoms have found the tongue, ‘interpreter of the mind’, and disconnected it,” they’ll say. Always with the Lucretius: “The raw materials of utterance are drawn from deep inside the body; impelled towards the mouth where, first, they’re cut and nimbly crafted by the tongue, then given final shape by the contours of the lips; after which, as words, they’re imparted to the air.” Now if only the cynics had Luca’s third eye, maybe then they’d see, maybe then they’d even, y’know, look. The complaint is that they are automatons, singers without hearts or eyes, mere conduits for Trevor Horn and his band of merry songwriters. What they don’t realise is that we’re all just conduits of some kind. So there are more degrees of separation at work here? That’s what makes t.A.T.u. so interesting: that everyone fails to see this question of degree: the crazy masking effect of their all-encompassing image.

(What has upset me most in all the things that I’ve read about t.A.T.u is everyone going on (and on) about the equation “t.A.T.u = Image”. I’m not saying the image is not important; but remember there are two girls hiding under it, and its when their music pierces this veil, or when you can’t dissociate the one from the other, or when the image fluoresces and blinds you that there are some really interesting effects. Wow.)

 

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II

“And they went out and named all around them, left camp on a mission to settle their world in the seat of identification. But they got some of the names wrong, failed to perceive the subject properly; and us in the morning we couldn’t understand the objects so-called, primed in the names Adam & Eve had chosen (“haha, we can call it slug and the others will say ‘What is slug? That is slug?'”). Some were too simple, others inaccurate… Yes, ok, what we know is the agreed and measured but WHAT WE ARE IS SOMETHING MORE.”

 

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A group so rapt with and worried by their own invisibility that they set up a system of oppositions to aid their definition in the world. From the go: “200 Km/H in the Wrong Lane”? I mean everyone knows in the UK its M/h, right? “They’re not gonna get us”: us/them. The frankly quite creepy phone-whispers about ‘immigration’ at the beginning of the third track. (Is it still true that Britain’s primary contact with Eastern Europeans is through the prism of immigration?) So worried they’ll be separated from all they know and love, given different names.

The first single is brilliant pop-dance flutter then Daniel Bedingfield is tagged-in: “this is NOT ENOUGH”. What do you mean, what’s not enough? All the things said, all the things incorporeal: GOD!, let us kiss, leave. us. alone!, let me be me. When they sing ‘this is not enough’, they’re answering the cynics: lee-sten (© Navi)! Danny’s famous for his weird-scary emotional overloading the most direct lyrical example of which comes when he shouts “I’m gonna make music till my/brain is fried/because you can’t see the/man inside/it AIN’T ENOUGH NOW”. So? We have to read the letters sent from behind the lines to even have a chance of telling what it’s like in there. Beyond that all we have are grainy black & white satellite approximations and our own blundering assumptions.

Some people have bemoaned the incongruity of t.A.T.u. (“t.A.T.u.! Can you believe it?”) covering the Smiths’ homily to shyness, “How Soon Is Now?”, Morrisey’s heartbreaking soul swallowing itself whole call-for-help. A gay man who feels trapped by his own inherited (bequeathed by his own past actions, agreed) ‘vulgar’ image calls to the outside world and who ultimately has to plead, HAS TO STATE, that he is human, even giving it a capital to aid his case (“Human”, if you’re wondering what that looks like). It would have been crass for t.A.T.u. to cover any song but this. The perfect nervous waveryness of Marr’s original guitar line so prosodic against Morrisey’s self-doubt (“WHEN exactly doyouMEAN?”). This is replaced in t.A.T.u.’s version: we don’t get a slow broil of self-doubt from t.A.T.u., no, we get a pounding autonomous affirmation: crunchy power-chords: the direct equivalent of t.A.T.u.’s defiance. And it’s brilliant.

“We are like Marilyn Manson, for sure [laughs]” – Julia Volkova, elfish tomboy, responds to Nitsuh Abebe’s spot-on quip about the similarities between Linkin Park and the girls. Now, this means I have to root out the only Marilyn Manson track I own and listen to it and maybe then try and twist it a bit so it will fit into the Linkin Park shaped wardrobe that’s just opened up. Except when I eventually find “Q 1998: Best” (!!!) and listen to the track, “The Dope Show” (the roots of that vein of nu-metal obsessed with androgynous futurism, or Linkin Park?), it’s clear I don’t need to twist it. The vocal similarities are easy to caste: there’s that slight glide (think Chester’s part, the chorus, on “In The End”), which is actually more noticeable when the effect’s eventually removed (the brilliant we’re-there-in-the-studio revelation of naked Chester on “En Th End”). This (the glide, not the nakedness, well) is all over the t.A.T.u. album, but I suspect theirs is the result of their natural pitching (“shuttlecocks-on-fire”) rather than ‘effect’.

Musically, there are the drums and that but in short I think the comparison comes down to dynamics. Which is a really difficult word to pin down: it’s a composite of the drums, momentums, synth lines, breaks and rushes. The play and pull of all these aspects, the structure of the songs and the interactions between its parts. There is a deep rock element to t.A.T.u.’s songs, equal to its euro-pop mores. (I suspect Julia also meant what Lena said a couple of minutes later: “The wrong lane, exactly the wrong lane… We are running away from the whole world… We just want to be together… This is exactly the meaning of our album.”)

The first thing I ever wrote about t.A.T.u. started “I fancy Nadine McBay”. And the last review I ever wrote of t.A.T.u. also contained that line. So I must think it’s important. As starting sentences go, it’s probably less impenetrable than the one up the page: “Big wow, dude’s got a boner.” So why scrap it? (Maybe I’m worried her man might see it.) I’m no longer sure. To show how I’ve based crushes on reading just one piece of a girl’s writing. That sense in which the ‘something deeper and more interesting’ overpowered any need for any image whatsoever: a ridiculous judgement from the other end of the scale.

 

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III

“Though what we know is mostly the agreed
and measured, what we are is something more.”

– ‘Kith’, John Burnside

APPENDAGE

 

The first section of this article is up to its elbows in hock to John Burnside’s “By Kautokeino”. Also: thanks and orchids for Martin Skidmore.

 

written by Cozen, March 2003

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