the initials A.L.
Without sky, sun or flood / And without vanity.
An(IT)a Lafei. The IT Girl. My tragic heroin[e]. Another flawed ana/gram like Tom Hallem. A distorted image thus. Metonymy of some true protagonist. Shortened, a palindrome. With a surname that channelled Morgana Le Fay. A gender-flip (La) plus a non-word (Fei). In Medieval French, it meant ‘liver’ (as in ‘foie’). Grim irony in that as homonym. In Old English, it denoted “fated to death.” The short-form of ‘feign.’ Yet she was anything but a faker. She was doomed at about the same level that a fly is doomed – doomed to see too much, too soon with gigantic eyes. ‘Fei’ has a wide range of meanings in Pinyin, depending on tone (sheng diao) – very special, wrong, luxurious, air, fragrant, even Africa. She was a character rich in DNA. A compound figure. Our Future Australian (deceased). My Everywoman. But she had to die for technical reasons. She was a victim of badly-mixed junk. It was the symbolic derivative of an accidental-conjunction-of-purposes between Elizabeth Archer and Arthur Leer. Concocted by Tom Hallem. Administered by herself. She descended into the abandoned platforms down the end of St James Station. Passed into The Lake. This is a literary tributary of the pool looping Excalibur. She also becomes a parody of that “Lady of.” It represents a subterranean vault, mirroring Wordsworth’s Grasmere from deep beneath its floor. Pond of dumb wastewater, not Fell-flow. Rydal Caves aren’t mentioned in my long list of cave references on page 864. Her corpse was left gazing upwards through the iron grate (AKA prison bars) in Wilde’s gutter (AKA Reading Gaol) at the flecks of Sydney’s margarine moon. It was waxing gibbous on Tuesday, 6 November 1984 when TMAC is set. Tom Hallem also had to die within TMAC for her death, even though his errors were really just hubris-with-good-intentions like, say, Moses. That is a necessity of tragic emplotment (see Hamlet). His human model also died in real life. But that was a REAL TRAGEDY. It meant yanking the narrative 25 years forward, making the plot posterior and using Ana as a kind of meta-victim.
I started this entry on Ana Lafei shortly before Anita Lane died.
I didn’t intend to write about Anita Lane. I just got pissed-off at her obituaries. I hated seeing her life reduced to the subordinate status of a junky muse, infantilised songbird, or broken Ophelia doll. I didn’t know her. I only saw her once at a party in West Berlin in Fall 1985 with Blixa Bargeld.
But she has taken over this post.
Anita Lane travels through TMAC (as maybe she travelled with her talent) like a continuous low-frequency soundtrack / like sub-station hum.
Her lyric to “Stranger than Kindness” buttressed the scene at the start of Chapter One in which my unnamed hero is sheltered against the sudden onset of winter by a local Samaritan. She never recorded this song herself. It remained an instrument for Nick Cave.
Anita Lane was a great lyric poet like Shelley.
This type of artist only needs to produce a handful of samples to qualify for greatness. A ‘modest dividend’ is enough.
Her EP, “Dirty Sings” (she employed Bataille’s Dirty as an alias), is one of the great LOST RECORDS. It presents a full Aesthetic Ontology (see Alfred N. Whitehead) in just 4 songs:
SONG 1. “If I Should Die” is the Pre-Raphaelite lyric that Rossetti could never write to his dead wife, Lizzie Siddall. Yes, it is about Ophelia. Yes, its title is taken from a classic children’s prayer. But scrambling this kind of fast-locus out of manifold references is the hallmark of all great short-form poetry. IISD is also one of those big story-songs like something in mid-career Dylan. But it is fully-realised in less than 3-minutes. This is much faster than the 6-minute standard length for cosmos-assembly in such works. Its climax finds the narrator telling her lover to “push the soul / back in the hole” (of her mouth) in one of the great elegiac images of self-abasement. Its core sentiment – to avoid causing embarrassment to others – is integral to interpreting the work of Anita Lane.
SONG 2. “Sugar in a Hurricane” is already great by the time you finish reading its title on the 12-inch EP sleeve. It’s just a Sublime image FULL-STOP. Its musical achievement lies in the fact that sonic execution matches title. This is rare in popular music (think “Strange Fruit”), although it remains a goal of all Classical composition.
SONG 3. “I’m a Believer” shows that Anita Lane could also go fast. The vocal style represents her (female) equivalent to the aggressive (male) vocal pattern of Iggy Pop and Nick Cave. Sometimes, her technique in this song reminds me of Marianna Faithful on “Sister Morphine.” Also, Bardot/Birkin singing Gainsborg. Once again, her character is kind-of-dead. Trapped in mud like Ana Lafei between stance/collapse. Sinking like a dragonfly whose mail-wings have touched the choppy surface of a pond, maybe at the sudden intevention of a short gust, and which now must endure the slow seepage of water through its form ending in inevitable submersion and death. See here my analysis of Swinburne’s “Les Noyades” (p.120). See also, that of Millais’ “Ophelia” which ends: “She was fearful of the stream’s light meter. For it dragged her down inexorably, to a dark God, to drown with no air above in totality. Without sky, sun of flood. And without vanity” (TMAC, 149).
This is an epitaph perhaps for Anita Lane also.
SONG 4. “Lost in Music” demonstrates her capacity to select unlikely candidates for definitive interpretation. She was like Billie Holliday or Nina Simone in this regard, combining supreme powers of translation with occasional compositional genius.
OTHER. Of her later works, BLUME and SUBTERRANEAN WORLD with Blixa Bargeld represent genuine advances on the adjacency-method originated by Lee Hazelwood for his duets with Nancy Sinatra. By that, I mean that Hazelwood used two singers in succession: (1) making a direct statement of fact then (2) offering a metaphorical turn on that utterance. This is NOT ‘call-and-reply.’ Rather, it is ‘call-and-trope.’
WITH NICK CAVE. They wrote two significant songs together:
(1) “From Her to Eternity” remains one of three songs on the Bad Seeds first album that acted a template for his subsequent career, the others being his cover of “Avalanche” and the ballad “A Box for Black Paul.” FHTE is the fast one.
(2) Anita Lane was also the co-author of “A Dead Song” by the Birthday Party. It was probably written in Melbourne in late 1980. I think this song represents one of the first occasions on which the Birthday Party achieved a truly original amalgam of sonics-with-the-word (see also The Friend Catcher, King Ink, Nick the Stripper, Hamlet, Junkyard, Sonny’s Burning, J’s Veil, Mutiny in Heaven). There isn’t a dud song on POF. “A Dead Song” is special because it collapsed the restrictive verse-chorus structure of popular music into a fall of images (with a distinct DOWNWARDS spatial projection) across different styles and categories. There is significance in the decision to place it at the end of that album. Its end represents one of the great closures in recorded music (see “A Day in the Life”). In just 2:16, it covers all TEN necessary elements of great art:
- Commencement with a fake statement of Truth (false patently)
- Consistent hyper-sensitivity to Language (see Semiotics)
- Obsessive self-consciousness about assuming the role of creator (in this instance, the fact of being A Singer)
- Irritated acceptance of the need to continue to appease some Beckett-like POWER (see “The Unbow[e]lable,” TMAC, p.339)
- Casual declarations of the universal human compulsion to kill
- Reduction of all enemies in stature (cockroaches = humans)
- Apnoea at the prospect of reaching climax (always with Anita Lane, there is a fear of seeming ill-mannered by dozing)
- Crazy break-outs of Imagination (white sack, little animals etc.) amidst isolation
- Closing reversion to religious imagery like some death-bed conversion (~15% of total ingredients)
- Repetitive final lines trying to force closure, ultimately capitulating to HALT with an affirmation of the artificiality/inevitability of all endings. A postscript acknowledges the existence of the Unkillable (soul/pests etc).
A Deterministic recital of the life of AL based on ADS would conclude thus, “This is THE END and it’s (Anita Lane) still not living.”
But I would rather just write, “VALE Initials A.L.”