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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Born To Die

Miss Del Rey Exercising
Lana Del Rey, now a meme of sorts, is this year's Lady Gaga - a heretofore unknown young woman rising from obscurity to instant world fame, thanks to Turner Prize-style art hijinks, and Madonnaesque reinvention; we are living in an era when Walter Pater and Walter Mitty have married and given birth to girls with the nous of Orson Welles and Oscar Wilde yoked together with virulence - call them Odette Weldes.

What is amazing is how the media gets so excited about a transformation whose blueprint is now at least 120 years old; after all, we now know how to burn with a gemlike flame; and all about personae and making strange.  Anyway, here comes Lana.  Her name refers to an O'Hara poem in my mind as well as a star.  She was born in New York State, so she is a New York School character, in a sense, though she prefers to position herself somewhere between High School Confidential and Blue Velvet.  Much has been made of the Lynchian in her work, but by that we really mean the rotten fruit core of 50s iconography - Dean, Monroe - which is more ubiquitous than Lynch.

In fact, the performer Del Rey most closely resembles, in terms of songcraft, uncanny vocal shifts, doomy-dreamy storytelling of rebels and youths in peril, fraught performance, and queer undertones, is 60s star Gene Pitney, who I love.  Pitney could inhabit a Bacharach tune, a film theme, or a teen torch song, with equal aplomb.

He was the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but also the guy 24 Hours From Tulsa.  Pitney, a prettier Orbison, has always been kitsch, but is to my mind the greatest pop performer in the American canon for his uncanny impersonations and ability to rev from passion to pathos in seconds, skittering across a range of characters from western toughs to vulnerable lovelorn college kids.  Listening to the best of Pitney, one is also struck by the lush orchestration, and the sheer skill with which each song-as-mood-microcosm is made.  So too, listening to the nifty instamatic masterwork that is Born To Die, what is undeniable is how oneiric the work is, in the best sense.  Few pop artists can do this.  Pitney did it.  Del Rey does it too.  Is the "ey" at the end of her nom de plume a sly homage to Gene?  A bit of splicing?
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