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July 30, 2014
Whether it’s on Simcoe or Adelaide, the city’s new bike lanes are being misused
TIFF announces this year’s Midnight Madness lineup
Dazzling Idols
Kids on TV's new album Pantheon pays tribute to their queer heroes

Photo: David Hawe

Kids on TV have described themselves as being “apocalyptically gay,” and the local queercore band’s new album is like a nonviolent Ragnarok, bringing together worthies and deities from their personal mythology. Pantheon, which officially launches with a much-choreographed show at Harbourfront tomorrow night, owes something to Matmos’ 2007 record The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast, where the electronic duo paid physical tribute to their queer heroes – one song sampling steam and sequins for DJ Larry Levan, another with cut-up recitations of the SCUM Manifesto for Valerie Solanas.

This LP does emphasize the dance-music side of Kids on TV’s collective personality more than their punkish one. But it’s not their first citation of a cherished figure – the trio covered Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” on their debut album five years ago, with drummer Scott Kerr’s almost parodic croon quivering between a goofy deadpan and a heartfelt plea – and Pantheon, unlike The Rose Has Teeth, features numerous collaborations with living, active artists they know and similarly admire, from Austra’s Katie Stelmanis to Diamond Rings. Mortals mingling with the divine; it’s all very Greek, albeit more democratic. The band’s John Caffery and Kerr (their third member Roxanne Luchak couldn’t make it) gave me a tour through this idiosyncratic shrine.


Scott Thorson (“Liberace’s Lover,” ft. Julie Faught and the Standard‘s own Sholem Krishtalka)

JC: I read Liberace’s autobiography and had been looking forward to him talking about who he really was, because there so much façade in the way he moved around in the world. It was a very disappointing read, in that there was no real Liberace in his autobiography, or at least the way I perceived him to be, and the last three or four chapters of the book are actually court documentation of this tabloid battle — this British tabloid [the Daily Mirror] said “Liberace’s a homo” or something like that.

[CR notes that Steven Soderbergh is directing an HBO movie based on Thorson's memoir]

JC: I know, our song should be on it!

[JC pulls out the Liberace autobio]

JC: The last forty pages are literally word-for-word court documentation of him defending himself against these accusations that he is gay…Later on I discovered that he had this long-term relationship with his chauffeur, Scott Thorson, and I was told that Scott went in for rhinoplasty, and when he was anesthesized, Liberace paid off the surgeon and said “make him look like me,” and he did. To look at photos online, they have the same face, and yet they still stayed together. What was even crazier was that when Liberace died, he left Scott Thorson out of the will, and Scott Thorson had to go through court proceedings to get what he was entitled to, palimony, I guess they called it. I mean, he was wearing the same guy’s face, I don’t know how he wasn’t entitled to a lot of the estate. But I found that to be this really weird, creepy love story, so I wanted to write a song about it. I think they were these bizarro-world romantic figures…It doesn’t have the romance that Genesis P-Orridge and [Lady Jaye] does–

SK: Or the voluntarism [laughs].

JC: Yeah, consensual. It’s not like, let’s augment our appearance to look like each other. Instead, while someone’s under the knife, it’s making a massive life choice for them, that they’ll experience every single day.

 

From Uncanny X-men #148, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Dave Cockrum

“Dazzler”

JC: I was enamoured by her as a boy. I was a serious comic book collector, from the time I was, like, four years old. Whenever I went to the store I wanted a comic book, when I started to earn an allowance, all my allowance would go to comic books. I was obsessed with X-men and the whole idea of mutants, but Dazzler was this interesting figure who emerged with disco, super glamourous. She got a spinoff series, it was this weird hybrid of romance and standard action comic books.

SK: So romance as in real romance plotlines, like romance comics where nothing’s happening except the romance for page after page. “Why won’t you phone?”

SK: Fifth Column are really into Archie. They love teen perfection in comics, sort of sarcastically.

JC: She had this interesting combination — interesting or boring, also. She was so glamourous, and I found myself really fascinated by her. She was always a B-list character, she was never a Storm or Wolverine, and when disco became unpopular she was phased out. They brought her back in the later ‘80s, and they phased her out again, and they killed her off, and she came back from the dead–

SK: She was eventually a riot grrl.

JC: No!

SK: Yes.

JC: Dazzler was a riot grrl?

SK: Google Images. I don’t know when, or under what plotline [editor's note: it was in the alternate Ultimate universe], but it’s clearly Dazzler and she’s playing in a punk band.

JC: I just remember staring at her comic book covers as a boy, and being so mesmerized by her mirror-ball roller skates and her Farrah Fawcett hair, her butterfly eye makeup…I thought she was an interesting figure to represent this intersection of disco music and outsider mutant culture. Any type of minority, it’s going to relate to the mutant storyline.

SK: But it’s interesting how glamour and — almost glory, in an ancient Greek sense, they used to have much more glory of the body. So all those fabulous sculptures where you can see every little ripple, that’s supposed to radiate glory. These ideas are a thread that runs through the album, because even if it’s a kind of introspective form, like “Goodbye Horses,” there’s still this thing of shining either for yourself or for other beings. You might be human, you might not be human. Dazzler dazzles, Liberace shines.

JC: Dazzler was literally shining, I mean, she had the ability to turn sound into light.

SK: But also your obsession with her was to idolize her, to look at her image, right? As opposed to thinking of her…heart, or whatever. It’s the picture. It’s an icon, in the Catholic or Orthodox sense. That’s what I mean by glory, and that divine aspect — even if it’s a person like Liberace, once he’s onstage he’s a god.

 

Photo: Rachel Rosenthal (1954)

Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns (“Bobby,” ft. Diamond Rings and SNAX)

JC: I wasn’t interested in doing a period piece, or trying to replicate their story. I was interested in using elements, like, part of the imagery for the lyrics and for the music video was inspired by a Rauschenberg sculpture in Berlin, I think it’s in Potsdamer Platz, and it’s called Riding Bikes. It’s these two neon bicycles that are riding out of a pool of water. It stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it, and that image always stuck with me. I’d always liked Rauschenberg, and I later found out more about Jasper Johns, and then I was asked to be part of this painting series that Sholem Krishtalka did–

JC: The series is called Opera for Drella, and it explores this 1960s art-world gossip, it looks at the eight-year-long relationship between Jasper and Robert and the way they kept it secret, or tried to. They were all these emerging pop artists at the time, and Andy Warhol wanted to hang out with them, but they felt like hanging out with Andy Warhol was going to out them for sure and so they shunned him. Sholem’s painting series explores that dynamic. He cast me as Robert Rauschenberg — he had me pose, and he had [Jean-Paul] Kelly pose as Jasper Johns, and Jon Davies was the Warhol figure.

SK: And similarly not really in period stuff, like, they put a wig on Jon, but that’s the only hint that it’s even from the ‘60s. You’re wearing clothes like you’d regularly wear.

JC: Yeah, I was wearing my own — he kind of directed me, but basically I showed up to his house and he took some photographs, and a year and half later there were these six-foot-high paintings. That experience of being part of that painting series and seeing that Rauschenberg sculpture, I had all this imagery, and I was fascinated by this story. It was about uncovering these hidden histories. I thought that was really great material for songwriting, and initially we did it as a song that I was singing solo, and then we had the idea that it would be much more interesting as a duet, and that’s where Diamond Rings came in, and we decided to do it as this man-man love song.

SK: But it’s funny, because you can tell, if you actually listen to the lyrics carefully, that it’s one perspective. It’s one person’s perspective on a love affair, but then as soon as you split it between two people — even though it doesn’t really parse as two people [laughs], you still get that effect.

JC: Although the lines that Diamond Rings sings I find are more optimistic about the relationship — the ones I sing are a bit more hand-wringing [laughs].

 

Wilhelm Reich and Kate Bush (“Cloudbusting,” ft. Katie Stelmanis and the Cloudbusting Choir)

SK: “Cloudbusting” is basically a song that Kate Bush wrote from the point of view of the son of Wilhelm Reich…She read his biography. He’s the little boy played by Kate Bush in the Terry Gilliam video. Donald Sutherland plays Wilhelm Reich, the FBI come and arrest him. It’s about this moment in this boy’s life when he sees his father arrested by the state, and, you know, his father died in prison.

SK: He also went to Russia, because he was a Marxist when he started out, and was driven out of Russia by Marxists. Hated by the Freudians, hated by the Marxists, even though he was both in some ways. There’s some amazing stories connected to Reich that I’ve always been obsessed with, without necessarily buying into his later theories. I’m more interested in — in terms of stuff that I might believe, it would be his earlier stuff, which is much more Freudo-Marxist, like the mass psychology of fascism. He never revised that into “what’s the orgone UFO take on it?”

JC: We were coming back from a show in New York City, we were on this long, long stretch of highway, and things were looking really grim. It was a bit tense in the van.

SK: We’d run out of gas, and it was really far away to a gas station. We hadn’t completely run out, but the metre indicated–

JC: It was below E. It was fumes. Scott was feeling the doom, and I was like, “it’s gonna work out, we’re gonna figure it out, don’t worry!” Suddenly Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” came on, “I just know that something good is going to happen,” and I was like, “just listen.” I cranked it up, the song goes on for three or four minutes, and there was this highway stretch going north, and then a ditch–

SK: It was designed so you could do a U-turn legally.

JC: And there was a gas station that we suddenly passed on the opposite highway, and I was just like: “There! Turn around! We’re gonna make it! I just know that something good is gonna happen!” And I thought, we have to cover this [laughs].

SK: [Katie Stelmanis] is going to be in a choir outfit [in the video].

JC: She’s the choirmaster.

SK: We worked with a lot of singers on that in separate takes, so the choir effect is because of mixing this assemblage of takes…Since some of them are just kind of jamming, I can take the highlights and place them — whenever you do that, everything sounds completely deliberate. You know, like the bassline from “Still On About Keith Cole,” a complete improvisational accident that we just looped.

JC: It’s all about the orgone accumulator, harnessing that sexual energy–

SK: Firing it up into the sky, making rain happen.

JC: And that was a real spark for Kids on TV, in terms of connecting with our philosophy–

SK: Hope mixed with sexuality mixed with…all these things. Plus it’s Kate Bush, so it’s a well-written song, right?

 

John Rechy (“City of Night,” ft. Bruce Benderson)

SK: He was an amazing writer, hustler, kind of anthropologist-documentarian. He’s still alive, he still teaches creative writing in California. In the early ‘60s he wrote about his experiences in the ‘50s, in an era when he was basically hitchhiking around the States working the sex trade, but at the same time documenting everything that going on, becoming a part of the demimonde of gay life, where the Mafia ran all the clubs and there were raids. We spoke with this author Bruce Benderson, who reads commentary in that song…I specifically tracked him down and said “I want you to write the commentary,” because the song’s already kind of a book report.

SK: Bruce Benderson writes about all the hypocrisy and drama of that literary world around that time — [Rechy] wasn’t a proper author because of reasons of class, and outrage, moral outrage. He wasn’t the right kind of fag author, according to Bruce Benderson, for him to be accepted into that literary establishment, except as a kind of curiosity and freak…Rechy was compared to [James] Baldwin for many reasons, but he was considered a real outsider at the time. At the same time, he was selling all these copies of this book, because America wanted to read about The Gay.

SK: There’s everything there. There’s the sex trade, there’s drag, moving into trans stuff, there’s S&M, all these petals of the gay world are represented there. They must have all been going on in the ‘50s.

JC: I think that to identify as LGBTQ in 2012 is so different than what that story depicts. It was all an underground experience. It was exchanging glances and secret bars, house parties, cruising in parks. In many ways those things still happen, but at that time that was all that was available, and you could be arrested — it was much more dangerous.

SK: He’s really frank about writing about the economic side of it, the fact that people are making their living and they’re just scraping by, bumming money here, rolling a drunk there, working a trick here. It’s very noir, it’s very period, in terms of America’s anxiety about itself, which is also a beautiful thing about the novel.

 

Photo: Baptiste Roussel

Vanessa Paradis (“My Own Paradis,” ft. Isabelle Noel)

JC: The songwriter’s not here to talk about it, but Roxanne wrote that, and it’s about her girlhood crush on Vanessa Paradis, the actress and pop star.

SK: Superimposed over being bummed out about romantic stuff on the beach, drinking wine and trying to forget or whatever. It’s nothing specific, I have no idea what the backstory is.

JC: Yeah, she’s coping with difficult times, and thinking about these feelings that she had when — she realized that she felt a certain way about Vanessa Paradis that she had not felt about anybody prior to that, that there were these special feelings, and it stirred up something in here that she hadn’t experienced yet. So I think her crush on Vanessa Paradis was really significant for Roxy, in her realization of her own identity and sexuality.

Pantheon will be unleashed upon the world with a performance tomorrow night as part of Harbourfront Centre’s HATCH 2012 program.

____

Chris Randle is the culture editor at Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter at @randlechris.

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