What’s the Use of Eye Candy When There Has Been No Staging?

Not very interesting vocalists obscure more interesting drummer.

I am pleasantly obsessed – and yet I feel somewhat embarassed about it. Or perhaps it’s that I’m somewhat unpleasantly obsessed and I feel guilty about it! In the immortal words of I don’t know who – “whatever!”  Yes, whatever indeed. So here I am, up before dawn, with the compulsion to blog a slightly picky critique of stagecraft. I even dreamt about this topic last night, and since it got me up early, I suppose that’s where the unpleasant part comes in.

So, what’s got my knickers in a burlesque twist? Adam Ant’s two back-up singers/dancers/whatevers. And I’ll tell you why in a moment.

Last weekend, I was on my way to a tantric puja, one of the few situations in the world – besides the stage – where wild Shakti energy gets to come out and play in an utterly unimpeded manner – as raw, sexy, beguiling, or ethereal as it wants to be! As I was driving, I found myself thinking how blessedly rich we are, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, to have a swarm of active tantrikas; numerous bewitching and pioneering intellectuals (including more than a few brainy porn stars); consummate musicians (like Zoe Keating); daring performers of all stripes, including fiendishly talented belly dancers, burlesque queens, hoopers, and fire dancers; and erotic writers and artists galore. The women here – cis and trans alike – are lushly creative and aren’t stingy with their power. These days, Venus meets Vulcan at the Crucible Forge and picks up a hammer and swings. Yeah, so I appreciate being in the company and in community with such women.

And we get great shows here – oh my goodness, do we get shows! Yard Dogs Road Show and Gooferman, rock burlesque circuses like Mutaytor and Vau de Vire Society and punk cabaret like the Dresden Dolls. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. The women are integral to the shows, not just a bit of fluff for dressing up the stage. Most of them have worked hard enough at what they do to make it all look easy on stage. The women we see nowadays have honed their stage presence with finesse, playfulness, raw energy, and sex appeal galore. Honestly, when you’ve seen the Goofergirls, bellydancers like Zoe Jakes and Jill Parker, and performers like Sansa Asylum and the other gals of Yard Dogs Road Show – and I know I could name plenty more – you have to realize the bar has been raised – considerably!

Gravity Plays Favorites performing with the Vau de Vire Society, 2007.

And so I guess that I’m annoyed by the Old School “eye candy” approach taken by Adam Ant in putting two pretty girls in sexy outfits on stage as nothing more than kinetic props. The girls, who bring nothing of note in the way of dancing or vocals, are front and off to the side, and they primp and preen and make utterances when called upon, looking oh so into themselves as they wonder who can’t take their eyes off them. Honestly, these women could be doing so much more on stage. It’s a bit baffling, especially as one of them, Georgina Baillie, apparently dances with a troupe called The Satanic Sluts and you’d expect she would wheedle for a bit more to do up there. Is it that the women are not allowed, or that no one has bothered to tell them, “honey, what you’re doing is just not enough anymore?” Some kindly soul should offer to whip up a little choreography so they don’t look so pointless. Especially when they arrive in California later this year and face some pretty sophisticated audiences.

The stage is a concentrated arena. Every little thing you do or don’t do matters. In one recent video, I watch as Adam Ant struggles to take off his jacket. This simply shouldn’t happen. A man of his caliber – a known God of Rock – should have handmaidens to remove his clothing! He’s got the two women up there already! He could snap his fingers at the dames. With a wink to let us know they know they’ve got more going on in life than playing valet to Adam Ant – even if he is an acknowledged God of Rock – the women could toddle over in their heels and help the darlin’ man remove his coat. They could offer to remove even more. Not now, girls! He could wave them off, nonchalantly. They could slink back to their stations, pouting — bits of business! Something! Anything!!! Anything but those cursory little titty shakes during “Stand and Deliver,” which look more like something you’d do to get a drink off a guy in a pub. Play to the Star, relate to the audience, be part of the band! Something!!! Anything!!! Argh!!!

(This kind of thing annoys me in the same way that Dita Von Tease annoys me. Dita is wonderful to look at, but she has no relationship with the music she uses. She simply goes through her scripted motions, with flawless makeup, but there is no emotion to be had. She’s kind of like the Andie MacDowell of striptease. Vapid. Frankly, I want more from my ecdysiasts!)

On the other hand, Adam Ant’s new band, The Good, The Mad, and the Lovely Posse, has got two drummers. One of them is a woman who knows what she’s about. She gives 100% of her energy, with intrepid concentration. It doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful as well. But she gives the refreshing appearance of not giving a damn about that because her job is to keep the beat for the rest of the band and that’s her focus. Period. She’s a drummer AND a goddess and she’s got expertise. And that makes her far more interesting than the girly girls at the mic.

Adam Ant feels that it’s time again for “a bit of sparkle, a bit of entertainment, a bit of dressing up, a little bit of real rock and roll” – but I tell you, if he thinks we’re only messing about with “sampling and kareoke” out here, he’s in for a bit of a surprise. This is the era of glitter bombing trans phobes and twirling swords and fire.

Basically, the point of this critique is that I want Adam Ant to be competitive, for heaven’s sake, so he’ll get the crowds, get the accolades, and be encouraged to bring us more music in the future. ‘Nuff said.

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Eros In Action – A Brief Look at Erotic Posters from The AOUON Collection

A few years ago, while I was still a doctoral student at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, I began photographing, studying, and enjoying portions of the AOUON (All of Us or None) progressive poster collection assembed by Free Speech Movement veteran, author, social historian, and science teacher, Michael Rossman. Shortly after I began this erotological exploration, Michael was diagnosed with leukemia. After his death, the posters were dontated to the Oakland Museum of California. Lincoln Cushing, Michael’s friend and fellow poster enthusiast, photographed the entire collection and – as far as I know – is still the curator. The posters will be on display this year.

AOUON Poster Exhibition Flyer

Michael viewed his immense collection as a social and historical “lens” with which to view the constellation of progressive movements of his lifetime. He began to teach me to use this lens to view the history of the “Sexual Revolution” of the late 60s/early 70s. Rock concert posters with erotic imagery were a large part of the portion of the collection I was examining. I regret that we didn’t have enough time to finish this work together and I don’t imagine there is a way to resume a study of the posters.

I wrote about this experience in Carnal Nation.

And so I offer my PDF of the slide show I had begun to create, as an imperfect work in progress that may never be finished.

Eros in Action

Adam Ant – The Kundalini Kid Rocks Again

In this blog, I write as a music fan as well as a sexologist and erotologist. Sexology, you see, is the study of “what people do and how they feel about it.” Erotology is the study of intentionally erotic and erotically charged artistic, literary, and musical creation. And to me, nothing is more evocative of what we sexually do and feel than rock music of all persuasions.

I open this blog with a homage to Adam Ant, who is set to tour the United States in 2012. I, for one, can’t wait! I’ve always considered Adam Ant to be one of the more audacious explorers of sex and gender (as well as an amazing performer), and though he sometimes seems to burn his neurology at both ends, no shame to him! When you take on that much sexual energy and bring that much variety in gender personae into the spotlight, you attract a relentless feeding frenzy, and receive zero understanding, support, or wisdom from the culture. So people like Adam Ant function as modern heroes (and lightning rods!) as they hang their whole selves out on the line for excruciating scrutiny, and work the moment for all it’s worth. Ant is obviously not the only one to do this – Michael Jackson also comes to mind – but he happens to be one of my faves. Plus, he was born just two days after I was, so I have a sort of “big sis” soft spot for this younger Scorpio “brother.” From afar, I wish him well. And I think there are a tremendous number of fans who feel exactly the same way.

So, I want to hearken back to the distinct feeling I had the night of the Kings of the Wild Frontier concert, in San Francisco, whenever that was – back in the 1980s. I had just gone through my first bewildering, spiritual epiphany which also seemed to consist of a wild unleashing of kundalini energy (though I didn’t know it then). This became a profoundly creative period for me, as well as a somewhat overly sensitive one. I use the word “sensitive” in the sense that I was also picking up “vibes” from all over, in that good ole’ California way, and it was almost, almost too much. Fortunately, the intellectual side of what I was doing helped to hold me together during that time. But smack dab in the middle of it, there I was at the Ant concert and Adam Ant blew me away. It wasn’t just the music, or his wonderfully riveting and sexy performance – it was the energy behind it. I had this awfully strange feeling that he was someone who had experienced something similar to my whatever-it-was epiphany and I also had the feeling he was having a bit of a hard time grappling with his whatever-it-was when he wasn’t on stage. I know now that when something like this happens outside your cultural context, it can be overwhelming, even to the extent of causing mental or spiritual emergencies which will be inevitably misinterpreted or misdiagnosed.

I have no way of knowing if my perceptions were correct. And of course part of the appeal of famous people is that they become a sort of fantasy mirror for the people who need such reflections. Sure, I could have been reading a lot into this “energy” because I sought the same kind of oneness with the performance and performer as everyone else at the concert.

But when I watch and examine music videos, and from what I’ve read of Adam Ant’s career since that night in San Francisco, I just can’t help thinking of a strange book by Gopi Krishna, Kundalini – The Evolutionary Energy in Man. It’s a truly terrifying book because this poor man – already adept at yogic practices – experienced a spontaneous and ultimately exhausting kundalini surge for months and the energy just wouldn’t shut up! Finally he happened upon a meditative practice that got the stuff flowing in the right channel and was able to be at peace again. But he almost didn’t make it. Krishna writes:

“The sudden awakening of Kundalini in one whose nervous system has reached the ripe state of development as a result of favorable heredity, correct mode of living, and proper mental application, is often liable to create a most bewildering effect on the mind.”

Notice that Krishna writes of someone who is resilient due to heredity, etc., but what of those who are taken by surprise without these advantages or inner resilience, or who have, as Adam Ant is said to have, a history of bi-polar episodes and suicidality? I also know from experience how rough this Kundalini stuff can get. Years after the era of the “Wild Frontier” concert, I experienced another spontaneous energy/epiphany episode. This one turned out to be a 10-month Kundalini slamdunk. I only got through it by focusing on my children, but it was rocky, very rocky all the same. If I had been in a different life situation, something more precarious, I don’t know what would have happened. I hadn’t yet begun to explore Tantra and had no knowledge of spiritual practices that could have  helped control and contain what was essentially a spontaneously-ignited initiatory process.

And so, from a Tantric or shamanic viewpoint, I wonder about certain public figures, including rock musicians, who may become the lightning rods not just of public adoration but for their own template of energy. Perhaps the famous propensity for “self-medication” (sex and drugs and rock and roll) are – at times – efforts to dampen and dull the painful, excruciating, erotic, and powerfully creative chaos of Shakti Kundalini, she who seeks union with Shiva, the personification of cosmic consciousness.

That’s one way to put it anyhow. Or there’s that line from Repo Man, something like “people just explode, it happens”).

Adam Ant in Concer, Nov. 13, 2011. Photo by Phil Guest. Creative Commons

Fortunately, I can put it a lot of different ways. I am a sexologist, erotologist, tantrika, writer, artist, and a bunch of other things (though emphatically not a psychologist). I can select from a wide assortment of lenses as I write in this blog. But there’s one thing that’s more important to me than any intellectual construction or process of musing – and that’s the sheer enjoyment of the music, the performances, and my admiration of the people who create vehicles for “what I do and how I feel about it.”

And that goes double for Adam Ant. As he tours the UK, Australia, and the US this year, I hope he can “maintain an even strain.” May he live long and prosper!