“…I hear a voice you must learn to stand up
For yourself cause I can’t always be around…”
‘Winter’, Tori Amos.
The theme that emerged during this last week was “female artists I have crushes on” – merely due to the media I have consumed since the last post (although this tends to be a recurring theme in my life). As I read and watched and listened my way through the week, the women noted below inspired me for being strong women who evidently follow their hearts, go their own way… you know what I mean. They are not saints, but I like them for not being afraid to just be who they are, even if that means not conforming to certain gender, cultural or behavioural conventions. Every time I encounter a woman like this in life or in the media I am kind of reminded to keep following my own path, too. Passive encouragement, if you like.
So, in no particular order…
BOYS DON’T CRY.
This week I re-watched HILARY SWANK’S break out performance in Boys Don’t Cry (1999), followed by her interview on Inside the Actors Studio. Both appearances reminded me of why I could potentially watch this woman’s face all day.
Boys Don’t Cry tells the story of Brandon Teena, a biologically born female who lived as a man, and pursued a relationship with a young woman, Lana, before being beaten, raped and murdered by Lana’s male acquaintances after they discovered Brandon was anatomically female. The film is, sadly, based on a true story. Brandon’s cruel death disturbed me the first time I saw this film – I was amazed to find the story no less brutal and moving today. Much of its power owes to Swank’s finely wrought performance. So often when actors are called on to play a character of a different gender, the emphasis on physicality (characterisation) can lead unintentionally to a highly self-conscious portrayal – even caricature. But Swank has this profoundly natural quality, which she brings to this performance – it is seamless, which allows the audience to focus on the character, the humanity, of Brandon.
Shortly before landing the role of Brandon in Boys Don’t Cry, Hilary had been fired from the eighth season of Beverly Hills 90210 – a particularly ego-bruising dismissal. She considered giving up on her dream, feeling that if she was not good enough for that show, she was not fit to continue at all. But that ending was a blessing in disguise, freeing her up to audition for the movie of a lifetime two months later. When she found Kimberly Peirce’s script, she began working on the physical components of the character: working on embodying “masculine” mannerisms. She knew that the film would only work if the audience found the lead believable as a man, so the embodiment of the character was exceedingly important. Her work paid off, and the relatively unknown Swank won the coveted role over well-known actresses who campaigned for it – including her co-star Chloe Sevigny, who played Brandon’s love interest, Lana.
Boys Don’t Cry picked up a swag of awards, and won Swank the Academy Award for Best Actress. Years later, she went on to star in Clint Eastwood’s 2004 film Million Dollar Baby, and was genuinely surprised she did not have to wait too long for another “kick-ass” character and script to come along. Surprised, too, that Clint Eastwood didn’t even request her to audition for that role – upon meeting her he simply indicated that she needed to start training, as soon as possible (Clint obviously had an instinct that she would be a natural fit for the role of Maggie, and the critics agreed). Her performance in Million Dollar Baby won her a second (!) Academy Award for Best Actress.
Not bad at all, for a lady who grew up in a trailer park, dropped out of school and drove to LA with her freshly divorced and retrenched mother, carrying $75 and a gas card. Eating one fast food meal a day and initially sleeping in their car, while her mother spent her days at a payphone cold-calling agents until she got one. A seemingly foolish and reckless life path choice, that surprisingly led to a really, really wonderful place. Swank is blessed that pursuing her dream worked out for her… eventually. In any case, she asserts that it pays to just be humbly grateful for whatever opportunity you have, learn from everything. Now matter where you end up, the journey will be that much better.
She never saw sleeping in a car as hardship, and it was not: she was pursuing her dream! And if you are fortunate enough to have an avenue to do this, you better appreciate it – so many never get the chance to.
THE BLACK SWAN.
Musician and activist TORI AMOS’ inclusion here is surprising even to me (as much as I loved From the Choir Girl Hotel, back in the day). But as I was going through my iTunes library last week I rediscovered an ABC podcast from years ago featuring an interview with Tori, in which she had some interesting things to say on religion and spirituality.
Tori’s father was a Methodist minister, and her upbringing included a hefty dose of religious guilt and strict “moral” parameters (offset, thankfully, by the pantheistic influence of her grandfather). A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a young aspiring writer. Her upbringing involved no religion, nor conservative influence. She had no conception of the effects of such an upbringing on a person’s consciousness, so found it very difficult to empathise with anyone whose early experiences or values did not match her own (we’re both in Gen-Y, go figure). This lack of empathy with people outside her common social group was hampering her ability to write.
Tori’s interview reminded me of my conversation with the writer, as Tori began to talk about sensuality, sexuality and shame surrounding such topics within people who were indoctrinated with a moral system that placed such things, even subtly, outside the bounds of “acceptable” behaviour. This was one idea the young writer could not fathom: why anyone would have hang-ups about sexuality and sensuality in the year 2012.
Because I have conservative religion and culture in my family background I understand very well the kind of thinking that leads to repression, yet rejected it in my youth as soon as I possible could – so I understand both repression and liberation. Tori, having gone through religious indoctrination and transcended it through her art and life journey, has a real grasp of the ‘healing’ (for lack of a better term) that needs to take place in order for those who struggle with repression to enter a more liberated consciousness in regards to their sexual expression.
A lot of the work that Tori has made over the years has been addressing how women have been subjugated in Christianity, and how this subjugation caused many women to have a hard time reconciling their sexuality and their spirituality: that the women who struggle with this issue can step into their spiritual self, or their sexual self, but not both at once. The conversation got weirder, as Tori talked about the concept of “Spiritual eroticism”:
“If you think about it, the two Marys in Christianity. The Mother Mary – she didn’t have her sexuality, that was taken from her, she only has her spirituality. And the Magdalene, she has her sexuality, but wasn’t allowed her sacredness or spirituality. So alone in Christianity, we have the division of the Marys. And my goal within myself has been to marry the Marys within my own being.”
The “Black Swan” struggle within – cool shit. It is easy to forget when you live in a society where sexual freedom is the norm that not everyone shares that sense of freedom – that so many have to go on a difficult journey to attain it. I like the way Tori transcended her own dogma indoctrination to find a healthier, holistic experience of being human, and, along the way, helped others who were drawn to her artistic expressions going through the same transformation.
THE BLACK APARTMENT.
So I have been quietly crushing on AMANDA PALMER for approximately 9 years (she first came to my attention as one half of the Dresden Dolls). The main reason for this is that I admire the way she has fearlessly created her own way in life. This week, I dropped by her BLOG to see what she has been up to lately. Amanda recently collaborated with The Grand Theft Orchestra to produce a new album, under the name of ‘Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra’. A few months ago, she used Kickstarter.com to launch and seek financial backing from fans for this new multifaceted creative collaboration, which includes the new record, an art book, art gallery shows, and a tour.
Taking it straight to the people. The Kickstarter project was supported by 24,883 backers, to the tune of $1,192,793. In her last blog post, Amanda outlines some of the things she and her peeps have been occupied with since: preparation for the tour and a couple of photo shoots, including one in a space in New York called The Black Apartment. Now approximately one year ago, I wrote a post called …A Cindy Gallop production. The post was about a media debate that was occurring at the time, driven by the book tour visit of incendiary anti-porn campaigner Gail Dines and a series of verbal jousts between her and ethicist Leslie Cannold. They disagree on the extent to which porn is shaping dominant cultural attitudes towards sex, and the post explored some discrepancies in Dine’s public assertions. I also discussed a website set up by ad exec Cindy Gallop to address what she sees as the propagation of myths about sex in commercial pornography (the site was referred to me by a reader). Cindy (or Cindy’s publicist, posing as Cindy) left a comment.
What does that have to do with Amanda Palmer? Well it turns out Cindy Gallop is the creator and inhabitant of The Black Apartment – a good-looking space, as the photos in the post reveal.
The two ladies thus got to meet and chat. On Cindy, Amanda writes:
“Cindy Herself is a work of art of a human being…and we didn’t get nearly enough time to talk. over dinner she explained her MAKE LOVE NOT PORN web concept to us, which is absolutely brilliant…a fresh antidote to the way porn has been skewing the way people are educated (or mis-educated) about sex. pretty amazing stuff, pretty amazing woman.”
Somehow I am not surprised that these two women in particular would get along.
Some typically ‘colourful’ language in the rest of Amanda’s post HERE.
And a connective bit of trivia: Amanda’s husband, writer NEIL GAIMAN, is a good friend of Tori Amos. Neil became a fan of hers after she referenced him in the song “Tear in Your Hand”, and in interviews. He created a character in The Sandman series that is inspired by her, wrote the introduction to the Eisner Award and Harvey Award-winning anthology graphic novel Comic Book Tattoo (based on Tori’s songs), and is godfather to Tori’s daughter. Amanda has also covered some of her songs, including ‘Winter’ (quoted at the beginning of this post), in live performances.
That just about does it for now. Enough star gazing. New post and new topic soon.