I was watching The Voice recently, and Sia was the guest performer. I said, “Well, there’s that chick
with the shaggy dog hair gimmick.” She killed with her song, her voice, her singing. I’ve seen her before, but I hadn’t paid too much attention. The only thing I remembered was her gimmick, the hair over her face. I sort of recalled that she sang very well. I decided to look her up, find out more about her.
Oh, yeah, Chandelier. I like that song. I like it a lot. I found an NPR article. According to that article, Sia became “the celebrity she didn’t want to be” after releasing a song called Titanium, so she quit showing her face. She’s performed with her back to the audience, and she’s been known to put a bag over her face. That reminds me of the Unknown Comic from back in the 70’s. He was corny, but entertaining. My ex, my little kids, and I got a kick out of him. It doesn’t make sense to me that Sia covers her face. I mean, it isn’t as if that makes her less famous. On the contrary. I guess she wants to be only art. Not a person, just art. At least, in front of an audience, in front of a camera. Her songwriting and her singing kill. Even I, who hadn’t been paying attention, hadn’t been aware of this superstar, had been aware of some of her incredible songs. Now I know who wrote them.
You know, I think I get it. Sia wants the focus to be on her art, not on her. O.K. I get that. Like H.D. She got upset with Ezra Pound, because he published a picture of her. She wanted to be a disembodied voice.
Years ago, a creative writing instructor told me if I wanted to make it as a poet, I needed a gimmick. He said there used to be some poets who performed naked. (I think he said Ginsberg, but I don’t remember for sure.) He laughed, and shrugged his shoulders, as if he thought it was ridiculous, but amusing. He also told me getting published was just about who you knew. He said he and his friends published each other. He and his friends had (I suppose they still do) lit fame and professional success.
I never really understood what he was getting at when he told me this. Was he downplaying the idea of being published? Of being a poet? Back then, I thought he was all that. He could do no wrong. Everything he said was perfectly true. If I disagreed, I assumed something was wrong with me. Today, I see him in a different light. I think he’s sometimes full of shit. I guess it’s kind of like falling out of love: the thrill is gone. He’s just a man.
I think getting published is more than just who you know. The work matters too. And luck.
I’ve been thinking about gimmicks. Generally, I dislike them. But I guess I’m not always opposed to them. Sometimes they are the brand. Ozzy Osborne, Alice Cooper, come to mind. Johnny Cash, dressed in his signature blacks. Kiss. Grace Jones. Amy Winehouse with her big hairpiece. Elton John, Liberace. Does Marilyn Manson still perform?
Elton John has toned down the props and glimmer, hasn’t he? But I think he’s still known for the specs, isn’t he? I like some of his songs. What I like most about him is that he brought Leon Russell back into the spotlight, performing again, getting his due props. I love Leon Russell.
I always felt that Lady Gaga relied too much on gimmicks. I’m not really a fan, per se, though I do recognize she’s got a great voice. I like her. I think she’s a nice person. I’ve never met her, but my daughter, her husband, my niece, and her husband did. My son-in-law’s cousin is the “cool Nebraska guy” of the song You and I. Of course, he and Gaga have both moved on since then. I asked my daughter once if I could post some of the pictures they took with Gaga, but she ignored my email. Obviously, that was a, “No.” O.K. Whatever.
I suppose my dressing in black can be thought of as a gimmick. Freddie the Freeloader once told me he thought my dressing in black was boring. Asshole. He liked insulting me. I think he got off on it. I hate myself for having allowed it. I always told myself, “He didn’t mean that.” Of course he did. But at least I learned something about myself: I needed to raise
I don’t really know why I dress in black. I’m just drawn to it. When I was a kid, my aunt’s husband died of cancer. She moved to California, where we lived. She was dressed in black the first time I saw her. Widows wore black. (Is that a thing anymore?) Two years later, her family got on her about it, telling her she had to let it go, start living again. She was only thirty.
Seeing my aunt dressed in black made a big impression on me. I was about seven. I sometimes wonder if this is why I’m drawn to black. I don’t really know. I was thirty when I got divorced. I was in my mid-thirties when I started wearing more and more blacks. I don’t know if there is some unconscious thing going on. I only know I don’t feel right if I don’t wear black. Some people get on me about it. My daughter says it’s boring. Well, hell.
“I’m in mourning. I mourn the sins of man,” I once told someone. Mind you, I meant males, specifically, but I didn’t tell him this.
Dressing in black doesn’t make one an artist. But some artists dress in black. Some artists wear white. Flamboyance doesn’t make an artist. But some artists are flamboyant. I like black, because I’m drawn to mystery. The mystery of life. I’m drawn to deep and dark. The only black I don’t like is black magic. The mystery of being human fascinates me.