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.
11 AMANDA LEAR COVER VERSIONS OF HIT SONGS
Posted by Ill Folks at 7:48 AM