Martha Wainwright performs “I Am a Diamond”: An Unofficial Slideshow About Cassie Chadwick

Martha Wainwright performs “I Am a Diamond”: An Unofficial Slideshow About Cassie Chadwick

This is Martha’s performance of “I Am a Diamond,” a song by her late mother–Kate McGarrigle, and two aunts, Anna and Jane. This recording is actually from Sing Me the Songs that Say I Love You, which is a recording (available on CD and DVD) of a memorial concert for Kate. Her brother Rufus takes second lead, singing in a remarkably high register. The sisters apparently wrote the song for an intended musical about the life of Cassie Chadwick, which unfortunately was never produced. Originally born as Elizabeth Bigley in Eastwood, Ontario in 1857, she seems to have been involved in check fraud while still an adolescent and then followed her sister Alice down to Cleveland Ohilo in 1875. Here she  assumed the first of a series of alternate identities, as Madame Lydia Devere, a clairvoyant, which she seems to have financed with fraudulent bank loans. After a brief marriage to Dr. Wallace Springsteen in 1882 (he filed for divorce after being confronted with her bad debts), she set her self up as Madame Marie LaRose, another clairvoyant, meeting her next husband, John Scott, who she married in 1883, but only after getting him to sign a prenuptial agreement. She filed for divorce in 1887, citing adultery (seemingly her own).

Between 1889-93 she served four years in prison for forgery at the Toledo penitentiary, and then returned to Cleveland where, under the name of Mrs. Cassie Hoover, she set up a brothel on the west side of the city. At this place of business, she met her fourt husband, wealthy widower Dr. Leroy Chadwick, whose patients included many of the cities elite, some of whom had elaborate mansions on Euclid Avenue, also known as Cleveland’s “Millionare’s Row.”  After marrying him in 1897, she asked a lawyer friend of her husband to take her to the home of Andrew Carnegie (one of the richest men in America at the time) , where she apparently checked (or pretended to check) the credentials of her housekeeper. When she came back she “accidentally” dropped a paper, which the lawyer took up; he was rather taken aback to see that it was a promoisssary note for $2,000,000 with Andrew Carnegie’s signature. After swearing the lawyer to secrecy, she “revealed” she was Carnegie’s illegitimate child, who showered huge amounts of money on her. The lawyer gallantly arranged for a safety deposit box for this promissary note, which was apparently one of many.

As secrets will, this one leaked out and Ohio banks began to offer her their services, which she availed herself of, securing some $20,000,000 in loans over the next eight years. She correctly guessed that no one would ask Carnegie for fear of offending him, and the interest rates on the loans was so usorious that the bankeers were hesitant to admit to granting them. For eight years, Cassie enjoyed the high life, buying diamond necklaces, thirty closets of clothes, and a gold organ, earning the nickname of “Queen of Cleveland.”  Af the end of 1904 it all came crashing down when one of the bankers finally called a loan in; Dr. Chadwick filed for divorce and left for a European tour; and Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin was forced into bankruptcy. She was sentenced to fourteen years in prison and a substantial fine, but died after serving less than two years, in October 1907. (The above is basically and abreviated version of her Wikipedia page).  I hope the background is useful in making sense of the slideshow, if not necessarily of her character, although the McGarrigles’ lovely song offers an intriguing and sympathetic perspective upon it, further enhanced by Martha’s evocative vocals.

Rufus Wainwright’s “Little Sister”: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s “Little Sister”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“Little Sister” is Rufus in high classical mode, with very symmetrical violin figures. This makes sense, as I am fairly sure that the song is–at least in part–about the relationship between Wolfgang Mozart and his sister, Marie (aka “Nannerl”). She was actually four and a half years older than he was, and he first became interested in music watching his father Leopold tutor her. She too was a musical prodigy (esp. on the harpsichord), and she too toured the courts of Europe with her father and brother. Occasionally, she even seems to have gotten top billing. Unfortunately, she got older, was forbidden by her father to marry the relatively impoverished man she loved, and forced to marry a rich old guy. She also wrote music, which her brother praised, although virtually none of it has survived. There’s even a French movie about her (which I haven’t seen yet). I bring this up, simply because some of the song’s lines actually make much better sense if you see them as being about Wolfgang and Nannerl.

Of course, it is also about Rufus and Martha (although I couldn’t find any pictures of them sitting at the piano together). I was particularly struck by the “have no shame” line, a line that Martha herself seems to be recalling when she describes her growing up (I imagine it was pretty hard to compete with Rufus for people’s attention). Anyway, I wanted to put this up in part to announce my new Unofficial: Martha Wainwright page

In any event, I hope people enjoy the slideshow, and I’m looking forward to seeing Rufus again at Belly Up in Solana Beach on May 24th (my first chance to see Rufus perform in a club!).

Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”: An Unofficial Slideshow (I’m actually in this one)

Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”: An Unofficial Slideshow (I’m actually in this one)

Well, I’m back from my trip and–like many people–I came back with photos and videos. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with them and feeling the need to put together another Rufus slideshow, I decided to make a virtue of necessity and expose my talents as a photographer and filmmaker to the world. I’ve long been interested in doing one on “Oh What a World” from his Want One album. I actually conceived it as my second Rufus slideshow, after “Tiergarten” last summer. I think I originally thought of it as a New York song because of the repeated references to The New York Times. Made about six months later, this slideshow emphasizes the “world” in the title, although the visuals are almost all from the western hemisphere. Anyway, I now see it more as a song about aging, generational change, and the hectic pace and surreal nature of modern life. There is a faint ecological message, but it’s pretty muted and pretty easy to miss.

Just a warning, Rufus does appear in the slideshow, but almost entirely in the third and last section. When you get to the second section, after the train clip, DON”T PANIC–that odd bearded guy is actually me (I doubt Rufus will ever let himself go to that degree). The video clips of animals, Antartica, and Chile are all mine, as are the photographs of Argentina, Antartica, and Chile. There are also a couple of photographs of Havana, and of the Bridge to Nowhere in the Guthrie Theatre, as well as Symphony Hall in Minneapolis where I saw Rufus last December.The parents in the second section are mine, and the baby is actually my sister (on the grounds that most Caucasian babies more or less look like Winston Churchill). The transportation clips are mostly purchased from Videohive. I actually like it, with the song’s swaying rhythms rather nicely complementing the animal movements and even making my unsteady camerawork look like it might be deliberate. Hope you enjoy.

Rufus Wainwright’s “Natasha”: An Unofficial Slideshow

I had the idea for this one while flying back from Minneapolis. I had always liked the song “Natasha”; it just had a lovely simplicity, and the implied theme, about the difficulty of opening yourself up to intimacy, of making yourself vulnerable to another person, was certainly one to which I could relate. In some ways, it also seems to be about beauty, which is underscored by the haunting melody. Although ballet is never referred to in the song, it just seemed to fit both the song’s almost awestruck appreciation of beauty, while at the same time constituting a kind of beautiful gift for the song’s subject (and recipient). In some ways, this is similar to the slideshow/video I did for “Hallelujah” in that it combines live performance (from Live at the Fillmore), with slides and film clips. I also used several overlays, and I think they worked very well this time, almost magically falling into place. In any event, It is as if Rufus has given us a gift, and I’ve taken it and dressed it up, trying to highlight some of its beauties, even to in a small way visualize them. I hope you like it.

“In the Bleak Midwinter”: An Unofficial Slideshow

“In the Bleak Midwinter”: An Unofficial Slideshow

It may be that after “I’ll Be Killing You This Christmas,” I was feeling the need to balance out my Christmas karma, but mostly I was just poking around YouTube listening to various Rufus Wainwright tracks and I ran into this, which is actually from Renee Fleming’s 2014 album, Christmas in New York. The album is basically composed of duets between Renee and another artist, and “In the Bleak Midwinter” is the one song she does with Rufus. It’s also a lovely poem which I distantly remember from my school days, composed by Christina Rossetti of Goblin Market fame.  The sad and slightly stern woman who appears twice in the slideshow  is Christina (she’s the speaker, and I use those stills of her when she talks about “I”). While I’m not quite sure, I think the heart shaped key fob that appears near the end of the slideshow may actually be Ms. Rossetti’s. The music is by Gustav Holst, who some will remember as the composer of The Planets. I was trying to achieve a sombre but reverent mood, in keeping with the tone of the song, and I hope I have come close to achieving it, but obviously the final arbiter wil always be the audience.

Rufus Wainwright’s WW III: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s WW III: An Unofficial Slideshow

This is a real change of pace, but it’s kind of an unusual song for Rufus, one that I suspect he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. Written with Guy Chambers, “WW III” was intended to be a pop song, although the subject of global apocalypse is an unusual choice for someone interested in pop success. It actually appears on the second disc of the deluxe edition of Rufus’ “Best of” album. Since I pretty much had all of Rufus’ major lp releases, I never really bothered to listen to “Best of” collection and–in fact–only heard this song for the first time a few weeks ago. I was immediately struck by its beautiful piano line and the remarkable criss-crossing, building harmonies of the conclusion. The subject was also arresting, in that Rufus doesn’t usually write songs with such an overt political meaning (“Going to a Town” would be the exception). Granted, there is a romantic layer, but the song comes across as about 70% geopolitical. In the YouTube comments to the original video, I can see some people found the lyrics rather awkward (e.g. “Don’t bore us / Get to the chorus”), but I actually see them as an astute expression of the limits audience’s can impose on pop stars; people who want catchy hooks, not bleak ruminations about coming disaster. It is, of course, very Rufus-like to express all of these complexities and contradictions in a pop song, and a breathtakingly beautiful one at that. Hope you like it.

Chelsea Hotel #2: An Unofficial Slideshow

Chelsea Hotel #2: An Unofficial Slideshow

Listening to Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2” was a kind of revelatory experience. While I had heard the song before, it suddenly seemed to have a remarkable emotional depth where all sort of insights lurked. Although I had heard it before a few times (mostly Cohen’s version, I think), I had not heard it with his introduction in which he explains how he came to write the song about what seems to have been a fairly brief encounter with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel in New York (uploaded by rhino49 in 2008). As Rufus’ live version also includes a brief introduction from Cohen in which he praises the yonger singer’s performance, it seemed obvious that what I needed to do was stitch Cohen’s introduction to the live audio of Rufus’ performance, with a few pictures of other celebrities who stayed there (yes, that is Joni Mitchell, and–in other photo–Rufus, although long after the events narrated in the song) while keeping the focus on Leonard and Janis. In some ways, although I didn’t plan it that way, this is a logical followup to the “Leftover Wine: Little Girl Blue” slideshow I did last week, while the joining of a revealing live introduction to a different version of the song being introduced echoes what I did earlier on “Bluebirds Fly.”  Anyway I promised something accessible and moving after last week’s “As an unperfect actor” (which has actually gotten a more positive response than I expected), so I hope this achieves that. I hope you think so too.

 

 

Rufus Wainwright’s The Art Teacher: An Unofficial Slideshow

Rufus Wainwright’s The Art Teacher: An Unofficial Slideshow

There’s something strongly aesthetic in Rufus Wainwright’s appeal, one that goes beyond physical beauty. It’s there in his voice, his melodies, his considerable artistic ambitions and range of endeavor, even in his occasionally playful sense of fashion. I think that is one of the reasons why I chose this is as followup to the Bluebirds Fly  and Hallelujan slideshows. Certainly and underlying theme of that was the potential transcendance of art and even the artist in that he or she can continue creating minor (or even major) epiphanies in people’s lives long after they are gone. This one, sticking fairly closely to the song’s narrative, looks more at art’s role in our more personal, private lives, even in those parts of ourselves that we never reveal to anyone.  The main liberty it takes is the way it plays with subject and object, so that Rufus is sometimes the desiring subject (the young girl who narrates the song in memory), and at other times the desired object: The Art Teacher.  Hope you like it (the audio is Rufus’ performance on Tiny Desk Concert).

I was somewhat taken aback when my when–after watching the slideshow–my  psychologist suggested that it felt so personal because it was, and that the woman narrator’s memory of the art teacher paralleled my own with an important person in my life.  After a moment’s reflection, I realized he was right, so this one’s for Gordon, and Rufus, of course.

 

Hallelujah: An Edit of Rufus Wainwrigh’s version of Leonard Cohen’s song (with Choir! Choir! Choir!)

Hallelujah: An Edit of Rufus Wainwrigh’s version of Leonard Cohen’s song (with Choir! Choir! Choir!)

To some extent, this video/slideshow is a product on my anticipating getting to see Rufus (and possibly even meet him) at the Northern Stars event at the Ford Theatre in Los Angeles this Sunday. I actually had another slideshow ready to go, which I quite like, on “The Art Teacher,” but it is more or less set in New York. In other words, it was not Canadian enough. Bluebirds Fly, my last slideshow has gotten a good deal of positive response, and I suspect one of the keys to its success was its sense of place in that it is very much set in Montreal.

Certainly Rufus’ interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is one of his most successful and famous covers, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it until I ran into Choir! Choir Choir!’s version on YouTube (a highly successful video on just about every level, by the way). This 2016 performance was part of the Illuminato festival in Toronto, a festival which has been going on since 2007, and that Rufus has been involved in at least 3 or 4 times, according to the Luminato Wikipedia page. I have been to Toronto three or four times, but never for this festival, which I now would really like to attend, possibly in 2018. I quickly found some terrific images from the festival, and I had the idea of interweaving slideshows with the video (not exactly a mashup, but certainly a heavily edited version of the original). Thus the verses are mostly slideshows portraying details described in the song, often illustrated with evocative images from the festival, and sometimes with pictures of Rufus (who I sort of re-conceptualize as David), while the choruses are mostly from the original video (the most difficult part was getting the audio to synch properly). Almost half of this passage2truth edit is simply the Choir! Choir! Choir! performance with Rufus (which is pretty terrific), I keep the original end credits, and try to make clear that I am only responsible for the inserted slideshows and the edits (in other words, where film clips begin and end). I think it may have even more impact than the original, but I am probably too close to it to judge. In any event, I hope you like it or–if nothing else–it will inspire you to go see the original uncut (or at least not by me) video on YouTube (it’s got almost six million views). In a way I can’t quite explain (other than it being the Toronto-centric counterpart to the Montreal-centered slideshow from last week), it does seem like a natural extension of the feelings first explored in Bluebirds Fly.