Tuesday, August 11, 2009

sheena take a bow

I've been weeding. I'll weed maybe a handful of books or CDs at a time, and with as much clutter as I've accumulated over the years that barely makes a dent. Because, despite what it says under my blog header, I hoard. Not on the Collyer level but I missed that by a matter of degrees, and I was perhaps only saved from that fate by a major termite infestation that required sorting out and throwing out 40 years of basement clutter.

Still, I buy books I never read and CDs and lps I never listen to and movies I never watch. I end up buying duplicates. With no discernible organizational system, I'm not surprised to find two copies of a book I've never read. What surprised me was the CDs. Despite having at least 80% of my thousands of CDs in alphabetical and categorical order, I still found five inadvertent duplicates - which doesn't count remasters of CDs I found filed right next to their original, arguably inferior but perhaps more valuable for sentimental reasons iteration. (n.b., If anyone reading this would like a sealed copy of the compilation CD, "Brazil Samba Jazz Vol II," with the Tamba Trio's terrific version of "Se voce se pensa," let me know.)

I hoard to fill the void, and I found absolute proof of that last weekend when I discovered, in the back of my closet, a bunch of empty boxes of various sizes, shoe boxes and shipping boxes that I thought I might need some day. Some of them must have been in my closet for more than a decade, and had accumulated several inches of dust. I took those metaphors to the recycling bin right away and I can walk in my closet now.

I've been weeding regularly, and I've made progress, and discoveries.

As I weed I come across things I forgot I had. One is a VHS tape of Sheena Easton's Act One special, one of dozens of tapes I scrounged from a video store's $2 closing sale several years ago. The program was originally broadcast on NBC in 1983 and captures a moment in the Scottish singer's career between the girl-next-MOR success of "Morning Train" and the tarted up persona of "Strut" and "Sugar Walls" (number 2 on the PMRC's "Filthy 15," right behind her collaborator Prince Rogers Nelson's "Darling Nikki.")

Act One is a strange piece of celebrity self-consciousness, with Easton trying on a variety of 80's fashions and identities only to fail to hide behind any of them. Maybe it's all that 80's make up, a Bonny lass hidden under a very pretty cakeface. She is not one of those performers who disappears behind her roles. Rather, Act One reveals that for Ms. Easton, as for many of us, as many disguises we try to hide behind, who we are will unmistakably shine through the cake.

Speaking of clutter, I happen to have a copy of Chambers's Scots Dictionary at my desk. Did you know that gardy-moggans are what they call long sleeves?

The first number "A song for you" serves as an overture of the major themes we will be exploring in the next hour; most strikingly, that of a Whitmanesque multiplicity and a personality in fragments (or shallmillens, as her people call them). Easton comes into focus from a black silhouette of her head against a stark white backdrop (apt echoes of Bergman's Persona). A soft-focus head shot dissolves into Ms. Easton leaning against some kind of prop box, mirrored on the other side of the box by her animus, or anima, or some androgynous harlequin mixture of both. Not that I'm suggesting anything.

As the overture comes to a close, the camera closes in on Ms. Easton pouting for the camera and attempting to look soulful and amorous underneath the volumes of 80's makeup; then she breaks out of character and asks somebody in the booth "is tha' akae?" Looking for approval. Over the studio intercom an unseen techinician tells her there was a glitch and they'll have to make some adjustments before they can continue with the production.

Ms. Easton then wanders through NBC back-stages killing time when she happens upon The Tonight Show set. A tarp is draped over the guest chairs but Johnny Carson's desk is open. Sheena takes Carson's chair and sets up the framing device for the rest of Act One, where she imagines herself a talk-show host. She interviews herself, surveying her career from the relatively subtle makeup of "Morning train" to today (then, 1983), never imagining the makeup she has in store. She also invites guest stars, including Al Jarreau and, naturally, Kenny Rogers, who joins her in a duet of "We've got tonight" in which you are forced to imagine that Ms. Easton would romp (rommie, v. to rumble, to beat. to stir violently) in the hay with that grey-haired beast simply because he's there.

It's when Ms. Easton takes her seat at Johnny Carson's chair that Act One begins to remind one of Werner Herzong's Grizzly Man. The documentary shows copious footage of the video Timothy Treadwell made in the wilderness as he tried to live with bears, but despite the magnificent natural backdrops and the danger we knew was coming, his tone struck me as that of a child putting on a private show in their bedroom. Ms. Easton put on that show for us in what indeed was only the first act of her career. It's a keeper.


Seth Tisue said...

lewdest top 40 song ever: "Sugar Walls", or "Relax"?

Will said...

I now have visions of a Herzog-directed Sheena Easton documentary.