Recently I had a conversation with my dear friend Vyvian aka Luuli about Frida Kahlo. We were hanging out in Mexico City after a gig, and Frida looms large over that city. Her famous home is close to the center of downtown, and her face pops up all over the place, from souvenier-market coffee cups to museum banners to enormous street art masterpieces.
The thing about Frida, I was saying to Vyv, is that she invited you into her life. Indeed, you really have to understand her story in order to really appreciate her work. Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940) is just a painting of an androgynous lady in a chair until you find out that she looks like that because, according to the appropriately-named Theartstory.org, "Scholars have seen this gesture as a confrontational response to Rivera's demand for a divorce, revealing the artist's injured sense of female pride and her self-punishment for the failures of her marriage."
You may well appreciate her draftsmanship and color choices, but you will fail to grasp the depth of anguish and fury that the portrait contains. Her life was totally inextricable from her work. They were the same thing.
Vyv is that kind of artist. She has transformed herself into an art project. Her look and her lifestyle are the same thing as her music, the same thing as her photography, the same thing as her social media presence. They are all rolled together into one fabulous, beguiling, sometimes terrifying work, and you’ll never really get what this “Luuli” is about just by listening to the music, or following her Facebook posts alone. Every piece of the art project that is Vyv Looper offers a bit more insight into the heart at the center of the storm.
I admire Vyvian immensely for her self-as-art-project lifestyle. I also cannot conceive of doing it myself, and I told her so that sunny afternoon, riding around in the top part of a double-decker bus. “I could never be like you and Frida,” I said. “The absolutely last thing I would ever want is for a bunch of strangers to think they know something about my life.” This was right around the time that I had shut down my personal Facebook page, and done the best I could to scrub the internet of any trace of my name. I had suddenly and violently disconnected my private self from my musical persona.
The problem of course, is that people adore openness in a public figure. They love to feel like they have a personal connection to the artist and their work, like reading that biography or newspaper article gave them a unique insight into the art. Like they really get it in some way that they didn’t before. Like they’re in on the secret. The artist’s life becomes the narrative that links all the various art pieces together, and there is something deeply satisfying about piecing together a life, trying to understand the person behind the work, and the extra depth that understanding brings to the art. I've done it with a few of my very favorite artists, including a decade-long preoccupation with David Foster Wallace. The feeling of uncovering some fellow obsessive’s internet stash of DFW audio interviews is very, very compelling, and drives one to dig deeper, to try and learn more. Further, those same interviews take on an entirely different texture when cut with the knowledge that this charming, brilliant oddball on the tape would be dead by his own hand inside of ten years.
Long-deceased artists may be able keep some of their secrets, but in our current media ecosystem everyone from your sister to the president of the United States is just falling over themselves to share every gnarly detail of their lives with anyone who'll listen. This is the golden age of the personal narrative, when all your favorite celebrity's personal peccadiloes are at your fingertips, and freely shared. And there I was, withdrawing from public view just as fast as I could.
The sun beat down as I worried aloud to Vyv about my concerns that my withholding access to my personal life keeps people from enjoying my music as much as they might. “Maybe,” she said as she stared out at the city, “but you have your label.”
She had nailed it. This label allows me total creative control from start to finish. I can release my own music with exactly the sound I want, in whatever buffoonish concept-album format I feel is appropriate, accompanied by precisely the visual style that I feel best compliments the music. More importantly, I can use it like a spotlight to bring attention to artists whom I feel need to be heard more widely. I choose to express myself through the choices that I make, not the narrative I have crafted. You, the irOri listener, are -I hope coming to trust those choices, becoming willing to follow me down whatever weird sonic rabbit hole I insist is worth checking out, because it has been so far.
That, in the end, is close enough to the Frida style of openness for me. I can carefully craft an aesthetic and an attitude and release it into the wild when I feel the time is right. Maybe you won’t learn everything about me or my personal life, but I kind of think the anonymity adds to the experience. It lets you project whatever you want onto our art. Think of it like one of those old vinyl releases where there’s practically no text in the whole package. As much fun as it is to pore over liner notes, isn’t it ultimately more satisfying to just put on the record, close your eyes, and zone out for a while?
And if you really need to know what I think about stuff, there’s always this blog. ;)