Skip to main content

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?
1 comment

Popular posts from this blog


According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…


Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…


The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…