Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The hantologie of Diamanda Galas, OR Cabaret in the Underworld

Fosco is a secret Goth. Sure, he doesn't participate sartorially in the movement, preferring khakis and button-down oxford shirts. However, he does frequently wear eyeliner. And, whenever he takes of those "which high school clique would you belong to" quizzes, he ends up as Goth (with Emo Kid a close second). (Strangely enough, Fosco was not a member of either clique when he actually was in high school, but these cliques were merely incipient back then.)

Perhaps Fosco's advisor Jody can sense his hidden gothness, as she suggested yesterday that he cut out of his evening class early in order to see Goth chanteuse Diamanda Galas in Santa Cruz last night. Although Fosco knew almost nothing about Diamanda Galas, he was willing to go for several reasons:

  • the title of the show was "Guilty Guilty Guilty," which is really an irresistible title. How can that be bad?
  • it was described as a "program of tragic and homicidal love songs and death songs." How can that be bad?
  • he had actual faculty permission to leave class early to attend a concert. How can that be bad?
Before you think that I'm setting you up for some ironic reversal, let me make it clear: the concert was PHENOMENAL. Now let me tell you about it.

Diamanda entered the auditorium from the back and walked spotlit down the aisle to the stage where she took her seat at a piano enveloped in fog. She certainly makes an entrance. She was dressed in black, of course, looking a bit like a less-purposefully sexy Elvira. For her first song, the curtain behind the piano was lit deep funeral-home blue, with a red spot on the piano. The opening chords were funereal (and there was some electronic distortion added to the sound). This was all great fun, of course, as Fosco likes a good spectacle. But then she opened her mouth...

And THE VOICE came out.

That's actually a direct quote from Fosco's notes (he was taking notes for you, my pretties). Right in the middle of the page, after his descriptions of the show so far, Fosco suddenly writes: "THE VOICE."

Her voice is not like anything you have heard (at least on this side of the grave). She opened with "My World Is Empty Without You," a track that is available live in iTunes (should you desire to hear it). You can get a sense of THE VOICE from it, but you have to imagine hearing it in person. This is not a pleasant voice, rather, it COMMANDS. It seems it can do almost anything, actually. Over the course of the program, she yowled, she whispered, she howled, she screeched, and she did some kind of thing where, like the throat singers of Tuva she produced two notes at once. According to one of the press clippings available on her website:
Galás plays the piano like driving rain slapping on concrete, and she sings like a demon going to war, a Valkyrie scatting, a lizard queen seeking revenge for the dead… Galás is profound, rigorous, vocally unlimited, terrifying and utterly compelling.
That sounds about right.

The program was almost entirely covers (as far as I can tell), but I would be surprised if the ordinary listener could recognize most of them. She did a version of "Autumn Leaves" (at least I think it was "Autumn Leaves") that can only be described as Evil. There were several songs in French (one of them supposedly an Edith Piaf cover--imagine that, if you can) and one in Spanish (I think, although it could have been Italian). The final encore was the bone-chilling "Let My People Go," which haunted me for the rest of the night.

It is no accident that I used the verb "haunt" here. I would like to suggest, in a Derridean moment, that there is a "hauntology" (or hantologie in French) at work in Diamanda Galas. She reminds us of what is not there in these songs (and in music in general). This is music that acknowledges the power of ghosts, of the dead--and, perhaps, channels those spectres into actual appearance.

As I struggled throughout the concert to figure out how to describe her, I finally settled on this metaphor: Diamanda Galas is what Cabaret is like in the Underworld. By the "Underworld," I mean the Greek Underworld (specifically, probably the Asphodel Meadows) where normal souls are not rewarded with Heaven or punished with torment, but rather mill about in a less-pleasant version of life on earth, haunted by memories of their life on earth and desirous of news of the living. This is what Diamanda Galas evokes for me. And I hope she is in The Underworld when I get there.

The other question that I kept thinking was this: does David Lynch know about her? And, if so, why hasn't she appeared in one of his movies yet?

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