Two areas I don’t recall covering in the blog so far are 1) bands whose songs focus on cinephilia and 2) female musicians who use their visual arts training in the service of their bands. Today, we can focus on both by considering The Long Blondes’ debut full-length Someone To Drive You Home and lead singer Kate Jackson’s artwork for said album.
So I’m new to this band, who I guess are no longer a band. That’s a bummer, but at least I’ve had fun pumping this album at full volume in my car this past week as the skies became increasingly overcast. And singing at full volume. As my friend Brea mentioned in her entry about records that made her a feminist, it’s important for women and girls to find singers whose vocal ranges match their own. It’s really true. Perhaps we could think of it as double-identification — being able to relate to a female singer’s persona as conveyed through her lyrics, performance style, fashion sense or whatever on one level and being able to replicate, mirror, or blend her tone, pitch, and timbre with your own. However we want to theorize it, I’m glad that my notes can work with Jackson’s strong, supple alto.
Matching a singer’s range also makes shouting easier. I love Animal Collective, but screaming along to Avey Tare doesn’t make any sense for me. We can try and make it queer or whatever, but it really just feels silly and strained to my throat and ears. Screaming “Edie Sedgwick! Anna Karina! Arlene Dahl!” along with Jackson, on the other hand, makes perfect sense.
The opening track, appropriately titled “Lust In the Movies,” is a good transition into the defunct band’s cinephilic leanings. Indeed, the movies are everywhere. Specifically movies from the post-war era, a considerable amount of them of the film noir tradition or have some kind of sinister edge, while others are campy b-movies that have since cashed in on retro chic.
Imagined film snob boys corrupt willing schoolgirls with Russ Meyer films in “Fulwood Babylon.” Girls want to be cool enough for the movies that play in film snob boys’ heads in “Lust in the Movies.” A boy and a girl compare themselves to C.C. Baxter, The Apartment‘s love-lorn protagonist in “You Could Have Both.” Obscure references to British celebrities of the 1940s and 1950s like Hattie Jacques and Peter Rogers thread through break-up narratives like “Five Ways to End It.” Greta Garbo is looked upon with envy (and irony?) as the woman who snagged all the handsome men in “Never to Be Repeated.” “Only Lovers Left Alive” is inspired by Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity, a romantic sentiment perhaps echoed in Jackson’s sleeve art, which references Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern’s frenzied lovers in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.
As many of these movies are classic Hollywood, iconographic art house, and/or have the Criterion stamp of approval, we might call them films instead of movies, if the writer of this blog held fast to making such a distinction.
Now, we could get into a discussion of what this means in terms of preference and why more clearly feminist classics don’t get shout-outs like, say, Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7, or Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Maybe they haven’t seen these movies. Maybe they thought the last movie I mentioned was boring (the 200-minute running time has kept me from seeing it, though it is in my Netflix queue). However, I’d hazard to guess that the Russ Meyer reference in “Fulwood Babylon” might be done with a bit of feminist cheek, and while I have trouble reading the nuances of intentional camp in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, I’m sure my friend Curran would smile and nod in recognition of the reference.
And yet. I find how film references are used in these songs to be particularly interesting. For one, I think especially in “Lust in the Movies” and “Fulwood Babylon,” a critique is being made by Kate (and her chorus of singing fans) against the sorts of boys who live in movies (perhaps including Dorian Cox, a former Long Blonde who co-wrote the majority of the album with Jackson). These boys are too busy looking for Edie Sedgwick, Anna Karina, and Arlene Dahl to notice the real woman in front of them. Fools.
For another, I find the blurring between fantasy and reality, the projected and the lived, the fantastical and the mundane heartening and relateable. Many of these songs are not actually about being in the movies, but wishing you could be or pretending you are to get over a failed relationship, get through your boring day job, get ready for a night out, get in the car to leave town, or simply get through your 20s.
There’s some humanity in these songs, particularly between women and girls. Two lonely girls flee their humdrum lives together in “Separated By Motorways.” A spurned lover hopes her ex’s new love fares better than she did after the break-up in “Heaven Help the New Girl.” A twentysomething tells a 19-year-old girl that she doesn’t need to resort to mutilation to get through that stupid, cursed age in “Once and Never Again,” a solidarity anthem so catchy that I just requested it be added to the Karaoke Underground song list.
And while the movies being referenced aren’t explicitly feminist (or argued and/or championed as such by theoretically florid film scholars), I’d argue that there’s much going on with the female movie icons that Jackson’s and her songs’ protagonists (which may be iterations of herself) identify. Having brought up Sedgwick, Karina, Dahl, Garbo, this is where I’ll fold in Jackson’s spare, mysterious cover. The woman in the cover is recognizable to many as Bonnie Parker, as played by Faye Dunaway in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, a divisive and galvanizing movie that marked a sea change in American cinema, upped the ante for screen violence, reflected the shift in generational values, presupposed the turbulent year that would be 1968, and made thousands of women cut and straighten their hair into sleek bobs by Dunaway’s influence. It might have made them want to tote guns, fire bullets, and rob banks too. In short, this was seen as a dangerous film that still holds some influence as a countercultural text that appeals to men and women.
Some of those women may still be shuffling through their 20s, figuring it out. They might not be compelled to rob a bank, but they might be tempted to quit their job, or at least bitch about work at the local bar. Hopefully they won’t bitch about each other as much, as this cattiness is evident on the album and something I’d like us to rise above. But there’s something nice about being reassured that someone, whether a movie character or a friend, will be there to drive you home. Even if your car is riddled with bullet holes.