Famous for twenty-five minutes?
Crazy confession. When I saw the latest Review Editor’s selection for reviewers to scrutinise I chose the above on the basis I was getting a new release from Edie Brickell. It was almost an understandable slip: I knew the name and there was only one Edie (as far as I knew) currently ploughing the popular music trail. So when First Reflections dropped on my welcome mat, I felt more than a quiver of surprise at my somewhat crass mistake. And that was before I even played the disc inside.
Edie Brickell is, of course, a journeywoman songstress, one of whose co-compositions turns up on the recent Shawn Colvin album. Edie Sedgwick, in her first incarnation, was one of the Warhol camp followers of the Sixties, whose pretty, skinny appearance became less pretty and more skinny as the decade rolled on. “The personification of a poor, little rich girl”, according to Gerard Malanga, she died in 1971, freaked and frazzled by the dysfunctional intensity of a short life on the Factory floor. Never did Andy’s quarter-hour quip on fame have a more suitable and more tragic subject.
The Washington-based duo Edie Sedgwick have not chosen their name without deliberation. In fact, I would suggest rather that Justin Moyer, the principal power in this two-piece, has been the prime mover behind their working title. As multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, he clearly appears to be the driver of this vehicle, although Ryan Hicks’ taut percussion is a significant component in the creative mix.
Moyer clearly sees in Edie Sedgwick a metaphor for our own times—post-rock, post-punk, post-modern, past caring perhaps. He says of his inspiration that she was “a long-legged, saucer-eyed savant, who became, in numerous films, whatever Warhol wanted her to be. By evoking her image, we seek to assume it and, in the process, reify Warhol’s significant-in-its-insignificance pop-art religion. We are the Campbell soup cans of Kurt Cobain’s decade: we want to become walking, talking, beautiful blanks”.
Such statements of intent can return to haunt even the most significant of rock’s auteurs. Bowie’s interest in Lindsay Kemp and performance art now seems embarrassingly dated. The Sex Pistols’ concern with the ethics of Situationism, via the Svengali antics of Malcolm McLaren, has been derided as empty posturing by latterday critics. But let’s make a stand: when processed pop wallows in its own shallows, it’s quite refreshing to have a band making intelligent noises and challenging statements instead of merely preening themselves for an appearance on MTV.
I mean, when was the last time the Rolling Stones, never mind the Backstreet Boys, told one of their screen interrogators: “For the pathetic yespersons guzzling the poisonous Kool-Aid of history/posthistory, today is the ridiculous ground zero. At this intricately constructed, would-be turning point of late industrial capitalism, the world stands divided into two equally miserable camps”. And these post-millennial warnings are simply the taster provided by the sleeve notes.
But what about the work itself—thirteen neurotic cocktails each titled in honour of the icons who people our movie dreams, our glossy star-obsessed magazines. Thus “Winona Ryder”, “Sean Young”, “Sean Connery”, “Christina Ricci” and “Tom Cruise” emerge as the dramatis personae of Moyer’s musical vision. As the liner manifesto stresses: “Edie Sedgwick refuses to hide behind a randomly chosen Right/Left cause du jour or the cool, cynical ice-fires of witticism, instead stoking a heartfelt stand for the obvious idol our age has taught us to embrace . . . the cinema celebrity”.
The tracks are short, sharp shocks, sparse and spartan cameos—the album runs to around 25 minutes in total—built around angular bass-lines, machine-gun drum stabs, and Moyer’s miminal poetry. Try, for example, the unabridged text of the cut called “MacCauley Culkin” (sic)—“I don’t want to grow up in pampers, jockstraps, condoms / with Wendy, Tinkerbell in Never Never Land”—a savage, if brief, lampoon on childhood dreams and adult realities.
In fact, while the musical arrangements recall artful new-wave nuances from Devo to Pere Ubu, XTC to Wire, much of the narration has a quality of subversive and vogue-ish spoken word. In fact, if Manhattan social commentator Victor Bockris is looking for the Beat Punks of his recent collection, perhaps Moyer and Hicks are as close as he is likely to find on the contemporary scene.
Edie Sedgwick, dubbed a drum and bass act in some quarters, are actually far from that. Their urban vignettes are difficult to digest, straying occasionally into territory generally inhabited by the free-jazz fringe or sonic experimentalists. Yet their album has an edgy, disturbing energy that is difficult to ignore. I could imagine their spatter gun ratter-tat sending you reeling in the nocturnal dungeon of a small club; on CD, in the antiseptic atmosphere of the critical laboratory, their output is definitely, if slowly, growing on me.