Four Days is a hell of a ride through some very familiar crime fiction territory - murdered sex workers, a fucked up and obsessed dirty cop, a culture of graft and corruption on every level-societal, familial, sexual, spiritual - that managed to make it all feel fresh and vital again. In short it was a crime-boner-seeking missile aimed squarely at my crotch and if your tastes generally line up with the stuff on this blog, it's absolutely for you.
I happen to know that the man behind the pseudonym has played some loud damn music in his life so imagine my surprise when I asked him for a Narrative Music piece and he delivered one on Lana Del Rey, whose penchant for whispered lethargy and a certain Saturday Night Live appearance that drew some attention a few years ago were the only associations I had with her name, but this piece has got me scrambling to investigate further...
I’ve Got A War In My Mind: The Endless Noir of Lana Del Rey
by Iain Ryan
The video for Lana Del Rey’s seventh single Ride came at the end of a long two years in the limelight. On release, the clip was frequently condemned for just about everything — glorification of prostitution, antifeminism, cultural appropriation, boorishness — and yet I was drawn to something about it. Over repeated viewings, it brought to mind Otto Penzler's classic line from The Best American Noir of the Century, “Like art, love, and pornography, noir is hard to define, but you know it when you see it.” That’s what Ride looked and sounded like in 2012. An immense and obvious act of provocation, yes, and trading a little on each of those things Penzler mentioned, but more than anything else: it was noir.
Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies?
Have you created a life for yourself where you can experience them?
I have. I am fucking crazy.
But I am free.
Ever since, Grant has wandered further and further into her shtick, often appearing more and more interested in the creative and commercial freedom that Lana allows. At the start of Ride she says as much:
Because I was born to be the other woman.
Who belonged to no one, who belonged to everyone.
Who had nothing, who wanted everything, with a fire for every experience and an obsession for freedom that terrified me to the point that I couldn't even talk about it, and pushed me to a nomadic point of madness that both dazzled and dizzied me.
"I just don't want them to hear it at all…I’m very selfish. I make everything for me, kind of. I mean, every little thing, down to the guitar and the drums. It's just for me… I don't want them to hear it and think about it. It's none of their business!"
This theme arises time and again.
Elizabeth Grant doesn’t want to be one person. She wants to be anything she can think up, including a dozen different iterations of Lana Del Rey. The huge fuss made about Lana’s lack of transparent feminism seems to ignore this. But Grant is not interested, not as an artist. She isn’t interested in presenting her personal life, her history, her ethics, her politics or her fame as any sort of corroborative narrative. She has no — and I mean zero — interest in modelling behaviour for young people, despite her popularity with teens. She does not want to be operationally independent or free from corporate influence either. Lana has sold her music and her image all over. Instead, what she wants is to be free from are cultural imperatives. She doesn’t want to do the right thing. Why? Because in noir, that’s not what characters do. As James Ellroy puts it — and damn, there’s a guy happily living outside the culture — “The overarching joy and lasting appeal of noir is that it makes doom fun.” The doomed don’t act with grace and nobility or favour progressive politics, as much as a generation of millennial music critics would like otherwise, not when they’re in character. And Lana always is. Lana is a character.
Akashic Books Online (New York) and Crime Factory (Melbourne). Four Days, his first novel, was published in October 2015 by Broken River Books. He maintains a blog at www.iainryan.com.