The “fakeness” of glam points (like the finger at the mirror ball, its reflection pointing back at itself) to the bigger “fakeness”, the samsara of everything else, yet at the same time to the melancholia of our codependency on this fake old world –hence the true melancholia of true glamour. It’s only Rock’n’Roll, but we like it.
Like going outside on a white summer night, pointing at the moon and repeating three times: “I’m a witch, I’m a witch, I’m a witch” is irreversible, because you know you did it and that it works even if you don’t believe in that kinda thing. Nothing is real, except the pointing.
I heard this story a long time ago, and I have retold it so many times that I am starting to wonder if I made it up myself, but I know that core of it is true, and my mother, who first told it to me, will testify to that. It is a good story, so I will tell it again:
In Denmark over a hundred years ago lived a crazy woman. In today’s pathology she would probably have been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but in those days she was just diagnosed as “crazy”.
She was deeply religious and her delusions usually included visions of fornicating with angels and priests, in particular one priest who she was in love with and with whom she maintained a lifelong, platonic relationship. Nevertheless, she was burdened by these visions -she was haunted by them as they wouldn’t leave her alone.
Even when she was placed out of her home at her family’s request, as they feared that she was going to harm herself during her fits, and placed under the care and treatment of the foremost psychiatric hospital in Denmark at the time, her mental health declined.
During her episodes she would produce tapestries of a remarkable, primitive originality, rudimentary renderings of angels, lambs and biblical tableaus, but even her creative outlet did not seem to provide any relief from the incessant voices calling her, painting out all the lewdness in the world for her to see. They just wouldn’t leave her alone.
-It really bothered her.
It bothered her so much that she was not sure that she could bear it any more, and she spoke of this to the doctors and to her family when they visited her. She wished that her voices would have somewhere else to go instead of bothering her and she spoke of this to her doctors and her visitors.
Luckily for her, she was of a wealthy family and they struck a deal with the hospital: that they would build a mansion on the hospital grounds for the voices so that they would leave the poor woman alone. The hospital complied on the premise that the house would become hospital property upon the woman’s death.
The house was built, a glamorous villa with a room for each of her voices, and they moved in while the woman remained in the dormitories of the hospital, together with the other inmates, where she lived happily to a ripe old age.
She never visited the house where her voices lived and as the voices never visited her again, she was able in fact to just get on with her life, which was all she wanted. She just wanted to be left alone.
It always struck me as a beautiful metaphor for the studio: this room where your voices can live, although I like to visit from time to time.
The thing about the studio is that it sometimes feel like that “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” kinda thing, that “Sitting in the Bar thinking about the Church vs. sitting in the Church thinking about the Bar” kinda thing… is it better to be in the studio thinking about the world or to be in the world thinking about the studio?
The studio, or rather the “studio artist” has taken a lot of bashings of late. It is never really clearly stated, who or what this “studio artist” is, but we sense it is something frail, almost unhealthy, like a “green house tomato” who wouldn’t stand a chance out in the “real world”.
How unlike Courbet’s real allegory “The Artist’s Studio” in which the studio is the world, a model of the world, with the model in the middle, behind the painter who is painting a window on the world, for the world to see.
This picture window in the middle of the picture, both obscures and accentuates the drama going on around it: the bondaged slave squeezed into the narrow pictorial space of the canvas on the easel and a vertical wooden structure to which he is tied by the wrists. His naked body describes an uneasy “s” curve ending in his right foot, which is pointing at a scull nestled in a pillow. Behind him a group of models from all walks of life are waiting their turn. A bored jester with his head in his hands, a butcher, a baker a melody maker…
They all give the impression that they are waiting for their moment in the spotlight, for their story to be told, for their particular type to be “en vogue”
(Liebe Maler Male Mir…)
Who will be the judge of that, are positioned against the opposite wall, on the right hand side of the painting. We see the Bourgeois art collector with his wife. And is that his mistress tugged away in the corner there? Maybe he needs a little something for her too?
Something for the salon, and something for the boudoir…
(I’ve got just the thing for you, thinks Mr Courbet)
The seated gentleman, intently observing the artist as he paints is the critic Champfleury, and then off course there is the intellectual Boudelaire, who is so blasé, he can’t even be asked to look up from his book… frankly, my dear, he doesn’t give a damn!
But the little boy in the center of the painting does!
He is oblivious to the cute kitten playing at his feet, the dogs behind him, the musical instruments and the robes strewn on the floor and even the beggar sitting there, peaking up at him from behind the canvas…
His position in the composition, with his back to us and so central in the picture-plane, almost makes him our representative, our doppelganger as he looks up at the painter painting the painting in the painting (an idyllic scenery, with no reference to the psychodrama going on in the room around it), like he is asking:
“What’s it all about?”
And the painter, without lifting his eyes of the canvas where his hand is leaving a mark, tilts his head and shrugs lightly as if to say:
“it’s only Rock’N’Roll, but we like it”
Or, as Barry Schwabsky puts it in his essay The Symbolic Studio:
“[…]Courbet’s Studio – even taking into account its blatant factiousness —suggests that the studio activity of the painter has never been seen as private but always somehow performative.”
This reminds me of a request I got as a young painter at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, –a prestigious 2-year artist residency whose yearly Open Studio, turns the spectacle of the studio into a zoo, or a photo safari in which the tourists and the big game hunters of the Amsterdam art world can get the first look and cull this new breed of talent in their natural habitat… yet here I was with open studios still months away, fresh off my bike on some rainy Amsterdam morning, in the paint workshop where the new workshop assistant who maybe fancied me, but definitely fancied himself quite the artist, asked me if I would mind if he followed me back to my studio for the afternoon to watch me paint?
… Oh no, not me, I’m not some piece of Teenage Wildlife!
But off course I understand, and share, his curiosity about the studio as the place where it’s at, the inner sanctum, part alchemist’s lab and part lion’s den… (and off course that’s why I wouldn’t let him in!)
Even after the fact, the studio as site, as space, as narrative is alluring. I love to visit studios, even as a tourist:
Graceland in Memphis, Motown in Detroit…
On a recent trip to Berlin, I dragged my whole family along to visit the Hansa Toon Studio, which turned out to be right around the corner from our hotel. There was nothing there. No V2 Schneiders, no Kindern vom Bahnhof zoo, No Joe the Lions lurking outside, no Sons of the Silent Age, making love only once, but dreaming and dreaming, no Heroes holding hands and staring into the sky over Berlin as though nothing could fall… just a nameplate on the door of a white Funkis façade in a thoroughly gentrified typical Berlin neighborhood.
I pressed the door-bell and entered the lobby. After climbing the four flights up the stairs I was let into the reception. That was as far as I got. A very friendly studio technician explained to me that this was a recording studio and not a tourist attraction.
Could I please just take a peak? Absolutely not! Pretty, pretty please? Not a chance -there is a recording in session.
Not the most dignified display by a mother of two, failing miserably at not trying to look like a teenage groupie who just really, really needs to get that backstage pass, but solidly rewarding all the same, even if all I got to see was a collection of gold records that was the only adornment in the white-walled and sparsely furnished reception area.
It really happened here!
Just around the corner would be the apartment where Bowie started painting a series of interbellum inspired expressionist oil paintings such as “Portrait of J.O in Berlin” in an attempt to kick his cocaine habit and replace it with another one, and where Bowie and Eno would retire to the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, after exhausting all-nighters in the studio.Eno would later recall how he
“would gorge on bowls of wheat flakes while Bowie, too fatigued to even heat up a stove, broke raw eggs into his mouth before collapsing into sore-eyed slumber. Eno was amused by the incongruous spectacle of a major rock star reduced to the crudity of an impecunious undergraduate: ’it was really slummy. We’d sit around the kitchen table at dawn feeling a bit tired and a bit fed up –me with a bowl of crummy German cereal and him with albumen from the egg running down his shirt.”
The room where you voices can live can be an unglamorous place to visit…
But was it worth it?
According to “Ultimate Classic Rock” the answer is yes! On the 35th anniversary of Heroes the title track is described as follow:
“Heroes, is one of the most perfectly beautiful songs ever recorded. It practically glows as it emanates from the speakers.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. It is only Ultimate Classic Rock, but I like it!
Then there is this cassette tape my parents still have tucked away in a drawer somewhere. My sister and I will dig it out sometimes just to listen to it, because we think it’s the funniest thing ever.
A personal ultimate classic, if you like.
It is a recording of the two of us just recording our conversation on a random afternoon, when we were hanging around in our room. That’s what you did in those days, no heavy-handed editing or fancy post-production for us!
On the tape, which we had obviously forgotten everything about after the first few minutes, you can hear me cussing and swearing to myself over a nameplate I am making with an incomplete set of vinyl lettering, for my favorite pony at the time. (I swear I must have suffered from Tourette’s at ten.) My monologue goes something like this:
“Maybe I can cut an “L” out of this “T”…. No that’s not fucking gonna work, it’s too mother fucking small, motherfucker! … but maybe an “E”? No Fucking way, I need two fucking “E’s”, goddammit! etc, etc.”
Interjected into this verbal cesspool, is my sister’s 3 1/2 year younger voice, with the insistency of the ever younger child:
“May I draw a drawing here?”
“May I draw a drawing here?”
“May I draw a drawing here?”
“May I draw a drawing here?”
We both go on like this for a couple of minutes, completely oblivious to each other’s needs, mine for concentration, hers for attention, when I suddenly have completed my task and snap out of it…
“May I draw a drawing here?”
“Sure, go ahead!”
“What shall I draw?”
We will let that stand for a moment:
“What Shall I Draw?”
Well you’re in your little room
and you’re working on something good
but if it’s really good
you’re gonna need a bigger room
and when you’re in the bigger room
you might not know what to do
you might have to think of
how you got started
sitting in your little room…
Skt Hans Hospital outside of Roskilde, which is still the foremostpsychiatric hospital in Denmark.
 J.O. is off course his roommate James Osterberg, or Iggy Pop by any other name.
 Sheppard, James: On Some Faraway Beach, The Life and Times of Brian Eno, Orion, London, 2008