by carl wilson

People Ask...


... "Are you going to the Antony show in Toronto tonight?"

And I answer: No, because Antony's deal strikes me as a lame, mush-minded and most unnecessarily self-ghettoizing camp revival, and his songs as painfully incomplete echoes of great music (with occasional accidental-seeming moments of awkward originality). Yes, he seems like a sweet fellow and he has a heavenly voice. Call me when he is doing an all-Nina-Simone-covers cabaret and I'll meet you there with bells on.

Am I wrong?

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, February 16 at 7:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)



The Nina Simone thing seems like one of those clichés that's repeated automatically ad nauseam to avoid confronting a more complex reality that eludes description. Remember when everyone claimed that Radiohead sounded like Pink Floyd? Here there is a superficial vocal resemblance, but that doesn't mean that Antony is actually trying to sound like Nina Simone and is therefore doing some camp thing. That's just the way his voice seems to come out of his throat. I honestly don't know much about him, but I heard the record and saw him live and it seemed very strange and real and eccentric and beautiful. What music from 35 years ago sounds even remotely like this? The piano at the end of "Hope There's Someone" —- maybe La Monte Young sounded a little like that, but that's it. Funny, with him I don't even think about the gay thing first and foremost. Maybe the discomfort is that he's ultimately rather mysterious and oblique, rather than OUTRAGEOUS and SCANDALOUS the way the gays are supposed to be. Is that what you're talking about in terms of retrogression? That he's not wearing a ringer T that says Pussy Bottom?

Posted by Alex Ross on February 18, 2005 2:44 AM



I like his album. It's filled with a lot of mistakes and leaps of faith that I have yet to see him make in the live show.

Posted by Owen on February 17, 2005 4:12 PM



I didn't particularly mean to frame it in terms of "original versus un-original," altho I guess that's not totally unrelated to boring and played out. But it is more than just not responding - I actually find it vaguely appalling. Of course I realize that's kind of a ridiculous reaction to have to music, given all the crap there is. "Regressive" is a subjective term, as questionable as "progressive." Speaking of which, the idea that Antony is going to get better seems dubious - he's not a teenager. He's in his early 30s. How often does a musician suddenly start producing markedly different or superior work at that point? (Sidebar: Usually it's the opposite. Unlike with, say, writers.) And when you say you don't hear anyone else doing anything comparable, isn't that probably because you're not hearing what's being done in New York supper clubs and queer performance-art nights? (I'm not going to them either, but I've done my time.) I'm not saying Antony's no better than that fare as a performer, but he's on that spectrum. (And as a songwriter, worse than many cabaret denizens.) It's also been suggested to me that if I were in New York I might feel differently - Antony as Lower East Side queer-folk-music - which is probably fair: There's a lot of reasons why this material might translate differently as it crosses geographic-cultural borders, why it may not seem as in-place in Canada. As well, barclay's right that if everything he did were of the quality of his best stuff, I might feel totally differently. It's just that the top layer seems so thin and the junkpile at the bottom so massive.

Posted by zoilus on February 17, 2005 2:24 PM



although i don't agree with your near-outright dismissal of antony's current work, i wholeheartedly agree that he will be a much greater artist in the future. my reaction to his songwriting ranges from total captivation to wondering if he just picked up a pen last week. but that's where THAT voice comes in more than handy. it doesn't excuse weak material, but it does fascinate me.
as for how original it is in the current context--i mean, really, who gives a shit?! i think that's a smokescreen for saying that you just don't respond to the music. and i really don't hear anyone else TODAY doing what he does from the context that he does.

Posted by barclay on February 17, 2005 12:43 PM



Hey Alex, did you wake up on the wrong side of the wrong bed and drink a whole pot of the wrong coffee and did a cop ring the doorbell and beat you with the wrong end of the wrong stick?

Or to put it another way: Care to expand?

Posted by Zoilus on February 17, 2005 11:50 AM



I hate to be blunt, but one has ever been more wrong about anything in the entire history of wrongitude than you are wrong about Anthony.

Posted by Alex Ross on February 17, 2005 10:14 AM



i'm glad to know there's a support club out there for non fans of antony and the johnsons. I've been starting to doubt myself, with all the "You should LOVE this!" noise. After I listened to the album, there were a few songs that really stuck out to me. But then I realized it was because I was listening to Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed more than Antony.

Posted by kathryn on February 17, 2005 9:45 AM



We're on the same page, Carl. His act isn't well thought out... he's surviving on great banter and his technical gifts.

Don't wish for that Nina Simone night. He covered Nico. Amazingly (!) it was terrible. Where Nico is guileless, Antony is extravagant.

Posted by Owen on February 17, 2005 9:32 AM



I should add that I've seen Antony perform before. By "self-ghettoizing" I don't mean at all to suggest that there's no externally exposed marginalization on gay and trans people in North America. What I do mean is that Antony's work sounds to me like it could have been made 35 years ago in the era of Stonewall, the Factory and The Boys In The Band - it acquiesces to a very limited notion of gay identity from a time of much more extreme marginalization, using a vocabulary that evolved as a set of self-protective codes to signal membership in the tribe without exposing your existence to the outside. That culture (which I'm calling camp in shorthand, not to reduce it to something jokey) has a great richness, of course. Yet I think at this point in history any really compelling use of it would need to do more than recycle; it would have to recontextualize. The implication that nothing has changed, that the boundaries of sexual expression haven't widened and become more varied in the meanwhile, seems actively regressive in its embrace of victimhood as a defining characteristic. And I'm not drawn to the new-agey spiritualism that's a big part of Antony's individual addition to that lexicon. I do appreciate the gospel/soul influences and, as I said, his singing, but so far I react to the whole package the way I do to, for instance, a lot of slam poetry that starts and finishes with assertions of identity (delivered in patented cadence number 1, 2 or 3) - this might be very healthy self-expression for the performer but I don't feel moved or stimulated or challenged by it, because it seems too enclosed by that self-consciousness to be more than an assertion of identity, to be an intervention in identity.

I realize the diceiness of this whole reaction, coming as it does from a mainly straight white guy, but I feel the same way about it as I do about Devendra Banhart's hippie-revival-tent meetings, i.e., restless and sceptical. Obviously other people have other reactions, and I'm happy to hear about them. Just wanted to make my own feelings clearer than they were in the initial post.

Oh, but by the way - me and my feminine side? Very well acquainted, thank you kindly.

Posted by zoilus on February 17, 2005 2:39 AM



what you call self-ghettoizing is most likely just a result of the ghettoizing gays endure from 'society', any member of any group that is stigmatized will surely seem self-ghettoizing if they use the experience as fuel for their art. And camp revival? me thinks you need to get in touch with your feminine side, no, to find it -- his music isn't camp.

you missed a great show - antony has a vulnerable charisma and great sense of humour. and the voice which is heavenly on disc is captivating and spellbinding live. maybe next time.

Posted by alan on February 16, 2005 11:48 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson