' Cinema Romantico: The Night I Got Zola'd

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Night I Got Zola'd

My sincere, desperate apologies to everyone for writing about music again on this movie blog but 1.) Music for me in 2011 is turning into what movies in 2007 were for me and 2.) After what happened last Saturday I had absolutely no choice but to write this. Regular readers know that in the face of such epic beautifulness my fingers are unable to prevent themselves from typing. I tried to fight it off, but it poured out anyway. Thank you for your patience.

Working The Stage is a euphemism often associated with seeing Bruce Springsteen live. In fact, during the "Magic" tour of 2007, writing for the venerable New York Times, Jon Pareles employed that very phrase. Often during his shows, Bruce will run from one end of the stage to the other and back, over and over. I had never seen another performer in person do this so consistently......until last Saturday night.

Last Saturday, Chicago's heat-ridden Pitchfork Music Festival was mostly a drastically disappointing affair. (Except for this song by Cold Cave. That song knocked me all the way to Door County, Wisconsin. Freaking fantastic, and just as good was the band's second lieutenant keyboardist who looked like Win Butler but acted like a Male Regine Chassagne, in as much as he spent as much time dancing away from his keyboard as he did playing on his keyboard. Loved that guy.) The Blue Stage, the smallest venue at the fest, was running behind, the sound had been an ongoing problem and most fest-goers were fleeing for D.J. Shadow followed by the headliners, The Fleet Foxes. Imagine you came on at the tail-end of a scorching day to a sparse crowd with sound bleeding over. I'd waited all day for this but I'll be honest, I was worried. And then......

Ladies and gentleman, the 6th Female Bruce Springsteen.
She made her entrance in a dress that wouldn't look entirely out of place on Stefani Germanotta, a dress that brought to mind a blonde-haired medusa in an eerie painting of a toiling, rolling sea, and, lo and behold, she worked that stage like New Jersey's most famous son, turning the fest's tiniest stage into a twilight-infused, tree-ringed St Peter's Basilica. She abandoned the microphone stand time and again and ran from one end of the stage to the other and then back again and then back again and then, etc. Just like Bruce. She danced, and she didn't dance in the way of soulless choreography - no, she danced freely, doing as she pleased, unconcerned with what anyone may have thought, which, to paraphrase John Cusack in "High Fidelity", gave her grace. She spun and lifted her hands to the heavens and headbanged. And her voice......she sang......it sounded the same as......

......a fallen angel that looks like Kate Beckinsale in "Underworld."

In my obscenely melodramatic existence I have this ridiculous need to quantify every female artist I listen to in relation to Bruce Springsteen which is why there is this ongoing battle in my mind for The Female Bruce Springsteen, and every artist that has ever held the title has encapsulated a portion of Bruce that I hold dear. Lucinda has the voice and Neko has the lyrics and Kathleen has the emotionalism and Tift has the earnestness and Gaga has the histrionics and now Zola, the 6th Female Bruce Springsteen, has the stage presence and, even more, the euphoria. 

She is always described as "goth." I call her goth. When I told my sister I was going to Pitchfork I explained I was going primarily to see "my goth girl." It's shorthand, I suppose, but this stigma is unfair. In the aforementioned article by Mr. Pareles he also wrote this about Springsteen: "He’s as serious as any public figure alive, but he leaves audiences euphoric." To listen to Zola and to see her live is to see someone that makes music awash in solemn, albeit hard-hitting, bone-crushing, seriousness, but leaves you euphoric. No, no, no, she leaves you drenched in euphoria.


Sarah Vowell, in her classic essay "American Goth" in which she became a goth for a day, wrote this: "Goths...are the pale-faced, black-clad, vampiric types with forlorn stares framed by raccoon eye makeup. The name derives, of course, from 'gothic,' a style, according to my dictionary, 'emphasizing the grotesque, mysterious and desolate.'" So we are meant to assume, I suppose, that the music of Zola Jesus - which envelopes you in a sort of fierce sameness, marked so often by those martial drums that come across like a romantic's heartbeat, that, if you're paying attention, branches out into different, subtle directions - is "grotesque, mysterious and desolate." I can only speak for myself, of course, but I have never - not once - been struck with that feeling from a Zola Jesus song. Last year when I first fell in love with her music I wrote this: "Her music makes me feel like I'm driving through New Mexico beneath a cloudless sky with a killer cup of coffee and a full heart." I stand by that sentiment.

Goth, not goth, whatever, all I know is last Saturday I wasn't at a Springsteen show but, for the first time in my life, still felt like I was on E Street.

(Note: You can watch a song from her performance here if you would like, and I recommend that you do, but please, please, please be advised that the sound is rather rough and it doesn't truly do justice to the sensation of having been there - because no video ever can and because you really needed to be there to feel that immense wall of sound - but it might at least give you an idea.)

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