Sunday, November 29, 2009

AMANDA LEERS AT MASH, Willie Nelson, "Wild Thing"

Here's eleven familiar songs rendered a bit strange by the beguiling Amanda Lear.

One of the most colorful people I've spent an hour with, Amanda Lear was seriously tongue-in-cheek, mock-flirty, and a racy raconteur having wicked fun with the whole game of celebrity.

Like her mentor Salvador Dali, she knew the value of glib ad-libs, outrageous remarks, and controversial opinions. Just as Dali's vivid paintings were commercial but intellectual, Amanda's disco music pandered to the least discriminating taste but often had intelligent lyrics. Her non-dance tracks were influenced by both the decadent Marlene Dietrich and such provocative provocateurs of contemporary perv-pop as Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry and David Bowie. On her very first album, title track "I am a Photograph" poetically referenced her work as a model (notably the album cover for Ferry's Roxy Music album "For Your Pleasure.")

A logical addition to the illfolks blog, Amanda was not appreciated by rock critics when she began recording, while Bowie's disco dance stuff was breathlessly reviewed as well as anything from Ferry or Reed. All three guys could get away with gender games, too. They were still men. Amanda, with transsexual rumors swirling, had renounced manhood completely, which was a little too frightening. We think of rock writers as liberated, edgy and glad to go beyond boundaries, but at the end of the day they went from the office to the bar for a beer like everyone else.

Amanda's voice was really no more peculiar than Neil Young's. Johnny Cash sometimes sounded a bit off key. Tom Waits was the Cookie Monster. But Amanda's vocals still aren't taken seriously. Listen to the cover versions collected, and you'll hear how valid most of them are...either as simple diversions or as intellectual statements.

Before meeting her (pre-Internet era) I'd heard the rumors of Amanda being transsexual, but there wasn't concrete photographic evidence available. Recently, vintage pix have surfaced including the one below, showing the still boyish Amanda gravitating to glamorous French sex-change chanteuse Coccinelle. As Peki D'Oslo, Amanda first began performing gender-bender song and dance in Paris nightclubs where the entertainers were all boys-as-girls.

I wondered how convincingly female or how stark and obviously male she'd be in person. That became as pointless as a critique about whether she is or isn't a good singer. She was a great personality and the hour went by very quickly. I suppose that given yesterday's (November 28th) news about the suicide of Mike Penner (the sports columnist in L.A. who tried to become "Christine Daniels") it's worth mentioning that Amanda has survived and flourished with her aura of mystery and gender "confusion," while others, only confused, have perished.

What was important, and is important, is the art itself, and if the entertainer entertains. Amanda always has (although I avoid all the hardcore disco numbers, which do delight fans of that genre).

Bryan Ferry was quite amusing with his cover versions, whether it was his tremblingly zomboid "Times They are a Changing" or the deliberately effeminate "It's My Party." Amanda gets an easy laugh with "The Love Boat Theme," and gives a predictably punk-disco knee in the groin to "Wild Thing." She's more than campy on "These Boots Are Made for Walking." But she does a credible, if dark take on "The Look of Love," a strangely good "You Were Always On My Mind" (Willie Nelson's hit), and goes "straight" on the Charles Aznavour and Roy Clark (and dozens more) ballad "Yesterday When I was Young," free of the drag queen melodrama one might expect. Draw your own conclusions on "Fever" or the M*A*S*H theme song "Suicide is Painless."

Amanda's been at it 30 years now, and her brand new CD even covers Amy Winehouse. Yes, a line like "kept his dick wet" (from "Back to Black") suits Amanda very, very well. Have "serious" rock critics reviewed it as they would Bowie or Ferry? Of course not. The new one is well produced, with plenty of excellent tracks that don't rely on disco beats. She's survived for so long by doing what Bowie, Reed and Ferry have done...relying on a strong personality and varying the material just enough to avoid committing the worst sin of all...being boring.



halfhearteddude said...

Great article. I had a poster of Lear on my wall when I was 11, from the teen magazine Bravo.

I remember Lear posing nude to prove that she was a woman (her bush was admirably trimmed, which seems to have been unfashionable in 1970s Europe). But when I wrote about that on my blog, someone said that there was some proof that she had had a sex cange.

Anyway, on the pic of the young Lear, she may look boyish, but quite clearly a woman — and rather attractive, too.

Ill Folks said...

I think there was even a nude beach photo, "Amanda Lear pregnant."

It might've just been gas-bloating (depending on the brand of frankfurter or beer she brought along). I don't think she has any children.

There's no MEDICAL proof of Amanda's sex change, and she seems to have been born just long ago (or in some foreign land) to make it difficult to check birth records.

Gender-illusionists who worked with Peki D'Oslo and insiders who knew Dali insist Amanda was a man. Here's a website page that doesn't quite sort out the confusion, but believes Amanda was born Alain Tapp:

Ill Folks said...

Here's another website about Alain aka Amanda, better written, with some witty quotes about gender, but with less photos:

Firewatcher said...

After Brian Duffy took pictures of Amanda for Nova magazine in the 1960s/1970s, he was told on good authority that she was a transsexual.
Just consider her 6 foot one inch height.

Firewatcher said...

Soon after Brian Duffy took pictures of Amanda for Nova magazine in the 1960s/1970s, he was told on good authority that she was a transsexual.
Just consider her six foot one inch height. This information came from Brian Duffy himself in a BBC TV programme called "The man who shot the sixties" broadcast on 13 Jan 2010.

Anonymous said...

yes, it is proofed and well known (most of all here in europe) that lear was a boy. but that is not the problem. the problem is that she is lying about that and so calls all the friends she had - when she was a boy and who helped her through the years- and thats what the most of people made angry. you just have to google for her early "starname" "Peki d'Oslo" and you will find a lot of pics of her when she was working as an transsexual and still not operated.

Anonymous said...

How to undress in front of your man... by... Amanda Lear :)

Anonymous said...

its an "open secret" in europe, mostly in germany that amanda was born as a male. now she ist female, so what!
it is not the problem that she is transsexual, the problem is that she could help transsexual people for comming out, if she would say the truth about herself.
there are to many witness of her france and germany.

Ill Folks said...

Re that last comment:

"if she would say the truth about herself..."

My guess is that Amanda prefers to have people still guessing.

A lot of show biz people know that mystery keeps them in the limelight. Which is also why a Bob Dylan or Paul Simon won't state exactly what a song lyric means. Or Bobbie Gentry, who still has people wondering what Billie Jo threw off that bridge!

While, yes, a lot of people do know she was a he, there are also a lot of naive people in South Africa and elsewhere who really think she has to be female because they saw a nude picture of her...and who unfortunately wouldn't buy her albums or look at her with lust if they knew the truth.

These days there are many support groups for the transgendered, and many ex-males or ex-females going about their lives in a new identity. I'm sure if Amanda Lear wanted to be a spokesperson for this, she would be, but might figure Christine Jorgenson did enough. And Amanda prefers singing to making speeches!

MarliynFan said...

Amanda was a pioneer with regard to undergoing gender reassignment surgery in Casablanca circa 1963. Resurfacing in London soon after, stunningly beautiful, actually just under 5'10", not over six feet and sought after by model agents and pop stars alike she clearly was eager to get on with her life, the kind of life not offered to the average girl at that time. The 60's was not a time to reveal a background such as hers, just look at what happened to April Ashley, another pioneering stunner whose beauty initially opened many doors. Amanda obviously became adept at covering her tracks, life can't have been easy dealing with the authorities when necessary. Why should she be forced to discuss things she clearly left in the past? She is a remarkable woman and I salute her!