R.I.P. Pete Burns

The sudden death of singer and Dead or Alive front-man Pete Burns struck me hard when I first read about it this morning. Not only has his music brought great joy to my life, his brave defiance of gender norms was a crucial source of inspiration for me when I was a teenager.

tumblr_nh7u1qg9cx1rl00x0o1_500I first discovered Pete Burns and Dead or Alive in 2006, not long after I came out as a gay man and was beginning to struggle with my gender identity. I grew up in the 1990’s with few examples of queer people in the media. Gay men and women were only beginning to creep into our collective comfort zones but representation was still strictly limited. Consequently, gender variant people were practically non-existent in popular media of any kind. Unlike many of my peers, I saw no one like myself in the media, and felt acutely lost when I struggled to make sense of my gender. What I felt I was and wanted to be did not seem to exist outside of myself. Seeing Pete Burns’s androgynous appearance was like a light in the darkness. He set me on a path of self-discovery and, ultimately, self-acceptance.

Over the years I have gotten used to hearing Dead or Alive dismissed as a “one hit wonder” and Pete Burns’s personal appearance ridiculed but I am deeply grateful to see how many people fondly remember him and his music. His music will always have a special place in my heart, not only for the simple aesthetic joy it has brought me, but for the strength he gave me during a period of great personal change.

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Looking Back on Lene Lovich

c4557dc6000949c04dca98aaA lot of people my age will likely remember MySpace. After All, it wasn’t that long ago that it dominated the social world of the internet. Despite this, however, it does rather feel like a distant memory–much in the same way that Blogspot does. Apart from using MySpace to keep up with old, and meet new, friends it, was a great way to discover music, legally and otherwise.

Most of the bands I followed on MySpace were old and were represented by fan operated pages. It wasn’t exactly legal but it was tolerated. I’m grateful it was because I might not have discovered Lene Lovich without it.

I vaguely recall listened to Lucky Number, Bird Song, What Will I Do Without You, and Sleeping Beauty and enjoying them all very much. For some reason i never sought out her music and was under the odd impression that Lovich had little else besides these few songs. In the summer of 2014, I suddenly recalled her music and wanted to revisit it; much to my delight, I found much to love about Lovich’s quirky new-wave music.

The initial fame she earned in the early 80’s quickly faded and I’m sorry it had because her music represents some of the most imaginative material from the new-wave genre.

In total she has done five albums. Of these I tend to like Flex and March the most. The material on these albums best represent her purposefully distorted vocalisations and unusual instrumentation. Like most of her songs, they are part whimsy and part goth, personal and abstract, sentimental and light.

When I think about all the years I wasn’t listening to music, I can’t help feeling as thought I have missed out on something. FOrtunately, when I rediscovered Lene Lovich late last year, I was able to regain a lot of lost time and made a special place within my personal music library for her lovely albums. Such was my excitement that I not only bought most of her albums on CD but also a few on vinyl as well.

Apart from the new and used copies of her various albums, most are still available, with the singular exceptions of No Man’s Land. However, all of her albums are available in digital format, both on amazon and a few on BandCamp.

In the words of ABBA, thank you for all the music!

Les Fleur Du Mal (Music Review)

Cover artwork for the standard edition CD.

Cover artwork for the standard edition CD.

One of the few things that kept me going through the lonely years of my early twenties was the music of the German musician Anna-Varney Cantodea, best known as the sole participant in Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows. Her music appealed to me for several reasons. The music, image, and lyrical content all appealed to me in a manner I had not yet found in any other band or musician. Much of this appeal to attribute the content of her lyrics, which are not only quite imaginative and clever but always intensely emotional and sincere. It might all seem rather melodramatic to other but, as a passionate person myself, it complemented my own personality perfectly.

Although I can relate to many of the experiences and sentiments Varney expresses in her albums, Les Fleurs Du Mal struck a particularly intimate note. It tells a bittersweet story about a complicated love affair with a man who cannot accept Cantodea’s queer status. Despite all her efforts to comfort and love him, the album ends rather sadly, with Contodea renouncing sex and love in The Virgin Queen, but despite this and other undeniably sad elements in the album, the tone is not despairing. In fact, it’s frequently playful, humorously ironic, and confident.

“Hänsel, call your soldiers back, this witch sticks to her gingerbread.
Girlfriends, wives or fiancées will save your sacred straightness from disgrace.”

“Some men are like chocolate,
but most of them are like shit
and if you don’t have the experience
to spot that tiny difference
you’re likely to fall for all of it.”

“Quickly erasing your lust, all we inspire is disgust
But then, of course, you can never be sure
and that’s the face that’s frightening you!”

The music is rather difficult to describe, apart from it being a complex interplay of numerous instruments and sounds. Overall, it tends to be more upbeat and funky than most of her album tend to me. To make things even more unusual, Cantodea hired a boy’s and men’s choir to performed some of the vocals. Not all Sopor fans enjoy this element–a friend one mine even deemed it “too gay”–but in my estimation the choir vocals really compliment the sound and tone of the album.

The album was originally released in both a limited edition box-set and vinyl. In 2007, when they were first released, these were the only copies available commercially. I actually both the album after only hearing the song La Morte D’Arthur but, a risk I only take on bands I like a lot. I wasn’t disappointed. The artwork imitates an Avon cosmetics catalogue, advertising products promises to hide the signs of sexual attraction and mock romance. Fortunately, the album has also been released both digitally and on a standard edition CD.

Whether you enjoy goth music or not, Les Fleurs Du Mal deserves your attention. It tells a unique story, one we seldom see in music generally, and does so with such sincerity, imagination, and power.