Screaming the Poetry
The proliferation of multi-tasking public figures has come to be something of a yawn-inducing factor in media-savvy circles and beyond. More and more, consumers are urged to question why we should complete the arduous task of exploring art, literature, and music when it can be found all in tidy multi-faceted packages, albeit of questionable quality. New generation entertainment entrepreneurs have taken the five senses hostage with simultaneous releases of DVDs, CDs, tell-all books, signature scents, and even intimate apparel. It seems to be one of the markers of the current zeitgeist, this thirst of performers to corner every market available. In this environment, total disregard has come to be the coping mechanism for many people who consider themselves true lovers of the arts, arts being anything from underground hardcore music to Pulitzer Prize winning literature. Approaching media with this disillusionment in mind, one expects to find little of merit in the arena of genre-crossing artists.
Such being said, Exene Cervenka’s Magical Meteorite Songwriting Device deserves a reprieve from ever-forceful prejudice against the products of a musician-turned-artist. First and foremost, Cervenka is not a musician-turned artist. Her public career, from the beginning in 1977 upon the formation of the seminal Los Angeles punk band X, has been defined by a healthy irreverence for boundaries between art, literature, music, poetry, fashion, and performance art. Cervenka has been credited in popular culture for insinuating the vintage-gothic-dolly fashion so enthusiastically, and sometimes ill advisedly, repeated over the decades since her pioneering ensembles. With band mate John Doe, she has been given the nod of incorporating poetry and spoken word into the American punk music scene of the 1970s. Music continues to be made, boundaries continue to be defied, and Exene Cervenka has lost none of her drive to express, create, and move forward musically, artistically, and, as evidenced by her soulful collages, personally.
Pushing boundaries has been part of Cervenka’s agenda since the beginning of her public career. Magical Meteorite Songwriting Device fulfills expectations and excitement of long-time fans, and can also stand alone as a solid representation of mixed media art today. The content of the collages, as noted in the introduction by longtime punk chronicler Kristine McKenna, has a less than mysterious origin. Many of the pieces are built around ephemera from Cervenka’s past 28 years as a musician on the road. With this context clue given, the pieces fit into an overall theme of wistful Americana and the journeys of the heart of the artist, which remains ultra subversive and dark. The pieces, though, are not, but each is layered with much texture and meaning. The similarities of Cervenka’s method in art and music cannot be lost on X fans viewing the collages. The style is straightforward, but revisiting the pieces, or songs, over time reveals more meaning or detail than was perceived initially. McKenna references artist Kurt Schwitters in describing Cervenka’s style, but emphasizes that Schwitters’ harsh elements are not to be found. Cervenka’s work, according to McKenna, aligns more neatly with collage artist, Jess, whose work, like Cervenka’s, is said to embody such elements as nostalgia and a feeling of enchantment.
Cervenka’s collages include elements such as beads, ticket stubs, vintage photographs, bullets, stencils, playing cards, and jukebox song labels. Romance (thwarted or otherwise), yesteryear, gender roles, art, music, and an undeniable sense of American culture are running themes in the more than 40 collages included here. Cervenka’s voice as an artist, musician, and a woman comes through clearly in elements such as messages embossed on label tape, or ransom-style lettering that spells out personal sentiments. The range of content in the collages has a wide appeal. Self Control, for instance, expresses an aesthetic of punk past with a red, black, and white montage of bullets, skulls, and tattoo-style wording. Given! conveys a sense of classic X attitude in pink, black and silver colors, vintage graphics, and a bold message. Cervenka’s penultimate message seems be expressed most clearly in a large collage, given a two page spread, entitled Cynthia Moth. Lush colors, layer upon layer of vintage graphics and wording, and a palpable mood make the collage jump from the page, screaming the poetry that Cervenka is so known for in her life as a musician.
Magical Meteorite Songwriting Device is a pleasant surprise, a textured journey, and a personal message from the artist. It is both a diary and a chronicle of a career and personal life. Through the collages, Exene Cervenka tested the risky waters of expressing herself openly and indelibly, and the effect is magical.