Archive for February, 2005

I remember: the first time I heard the word underground was in connection with Andy Warhol and the band, The Velvet Underground. At the time, the ‘in’ style was to be outrageous – any combination of modernism, biker, retro camp and glitter. The object was to stand out from the droning crowd, be an individual, a free spirit. After a good many years, the ‘style’ eventually made its way into the commercial pop culture. It was co-opted by the show-biz industry and gave birth to monstrosities of taste. Then the punks came in, getting rid of hair, bringing in their masochistic tattoos and accessories and ripped, ugly clothing. That was revolutionary at first, but soon became co-opted as fashion. Now the ’style’ is mostly sported by weekend visitors to the Village, or, as true-blue New Yorkers call them, the bridge-and-tunnel people. But if it weren’t for them, the Village – East or West – would be bland….It seems as if styles have completely turned around, as discreet dress code is a must for even the most famous underground figures. The only artist I know who still dresses up is Colette – but it is part of her artistic creations as she herself is the subject of her art.

Having been raised in Paris, I was always intrigued by the cool, worn look the New York artists seem to effortlessly exude. The Euro attitude is: have few clothes, make sure they are in perfect condition and wear your best stuff as often as possible. Quite a contrast… In the sixties, when Paco Rabane and Cardin hit the streets of Paris with their geometric shapes and mini-skirts, I only wore long dresses from the flea market, going as far retro as the Pre-Raphaelites, not just the1920s and 30s. But at the height of the glitter phase, I sported a totally shaved head as early as 1976.

In the last few years, there is a nostalgia expressed in dress styles that refer back to fun times of the past: on the right wing side, the fifties with the prim and proper twin-sets and on the left-wing side, the sixties and seventies hippies, with an almost frightening variety of prints and loud colors, with crazy little outfits that only cover some parts of the body, leaving a lot exposed… it may be why I never see anyone on the street wearing them. These new self-serving styles that nobody wears express a crazy, desperate artistic expression of nostalgia for the freedom values of the past… before the world turned to conservatism. One example is Disco Nostalgia – an exhibit at the Performing Arts Library celebrated the lost days of the last good times when people actually allowed themselves to dance and enjoy loud music with beat and be ‘wild’. Nobody is ‘walking on the wild side’ (Lou Reed) now! But even the nostalgic styles are somehow off the mark when they only express a need for attention and sex, whereas the original hippie and beat styles were provocative in a different way, with personality, self-expression, revolt, not just sexually.

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Are events a thing of the past? I find that people are less interested in going to an ‘event’. Everyone is laying low. It takes more effort to ‘draw’ people. Even the promise of something for free is made less attractive by the time, energy and cost of getting somewhere at night. In the sixties and seventies, events, happenings, parties were everything. Some people would change their entire life overnight as a result of a chance encounter at one of those events, and that’s something I actually have experienced in the early seventies. Certain meetings would entail a whole new phase. We are now very far from this kind of freedom. Everything around us has become so tightly structured. Communications, even though they seem facilitated by email and the internet actually are becoming more complex, because every time you need to get in touch with somebody, you have to use both telephone and email (and possibly snail mail as well) and even that is not so efficient. How many times have you called someone’s cell phone because you need to get in touch with them right away but all you get is another voice mail. I really miss the days when people just picked up their phones. I still do, by the way.

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I was at the Cornelia St Café on a January Monday night to hear Jed Distler perform his Gold Standard…nothing to do with the golden section as I had mistakenly assumed, but everything to do with money, and funny too… a musical about a musician fundraising and working day jobs, staged by Arnold Barkus….(in the early days of Island Magazine, in the mid-80s, Barkus has written about my Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory… and I hadn’t heard about him since.). A couple of uptowners were ahead of me waiting to get into the cave where the performances take place, and the man says: “Wow, this is the real underground, I was just initiated with a drop of water on my head from a leaking pipe on the ceiling!” We took our seats in the little room painted red and blue with gold mirrors (where is the basic black that was the norm in our rituals?). The tiny room was packed. It is possible that due to the long program presented by Composers Collaborative, some of these attendees may have been the musicians themselves, but it made it look like something was happening.

At the Chamber Music America Conference, Martha Mooke got sponsorship from Yamaha for her all-electric string ensemble, at the same time demonstrating the new Japanese-made instruments. Things seem to move forward a bit: Musical America is featuring The Bang on a Can All Stars and devotes its cover to the bold singer who took off her clothes at the Met in the role Salome. Show a little leg, as they always said in show biz. Everyone at CMA seemed quite busy and happy but unconcerned with other matters of the world, such as the Tsunami disaster which had just happened. I ventured a word or two about a benefit but to no avail. To think that the little Buddhist Monastery in Staten Island raised $108,000.00 for the victims, and that we, members of the underground, are powerless. I guess we have to leave it to the pop and movie people.

I may have to give up offering my services for a benefit. After 9/11 I released my CD S.O.S.W.T.C. almost immediately after the disaster, and was hoping to raise money for the Red Cross with it. I offered free copies to the Red Cross but they didn’t know what to do with them. In 3 years I received one order for the CD and apologetically sent the promised $5.00 per CD to the Red Cross, and in turn they sent me little address labels with my name on it.. Meanwhile, the S.O.S.W.T.C. soundtracks are available free of charge on the Kalvos & Damian site for those who are interested. If anyone is wants to get a benefit together for the Tsunami victims, or for Save Tibet, which is my other favorite cause, please contact me through my web site www.elodielauten.net.

If you haven’t seen How to Draw A Bunny, the John Walter documentary about Ray Johnson, the 60s artist who eluded everyone until after he died, (and the subject of my most recent opera Orfreo or the Orphic Death of Ray Johnson, from a libretto by Michael Andre), this is highly recommended. It made me nostalgic for the days when artists got to be artists, moving to the Lower East Side with $28.00 a month rents, and nothing much to do but being art, living art, hang out with pet ocelots or check out all the mail boxes in Brooklyn or make funny little cartoons with people’s names on them and mail them out randomly…. Those days are gone, when artists got to be artists. Now we have been brainwashed and shrunk, we have to be efficient little business people with our small business of creating. We have to make groups, organizations, make paperwork… As a reaction, I see a craving for free improvisation and unstructured pieces.

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