Thursday, October 20, 2016

Off to the Races: Narrative Music by Mark Edwards

Since Iain Ryan first contributed his piece about Lana Del Rey to the Narrative Music series, her Ultraviolence has crept toward the top of my go-to writing albums. Today Mark Edwards makes his case for the artist, the alter ego and the long-play performance piece as a (the?) femme fatale in modern music.

Read Mark's piece then check out his books (The Devil's Work is out now).

On Lana Del Rey
by Mark Edwards

Lana Del Rey is not a real woman. She’s a work of fiction, a creation, a character dreamed up by singer Elizabeth Grant. Across three albums, so far, Grant has been living out the story of Lana: the ultimate femme fatale, ripped straight from the pages of a Chandler novel, steeped in classic American iconography. Hollywood and Pepsi, diamonds and deserts, Harleys and cigarettes stained with blood-red lipstick, smoked by a shimmering blue pool. Like all femme fatales, Lana is dangerous and messed up, hanging with biker gangs, drinking and playing hard, dressing to kill, mixed up with bad boys, but never with other women.

It’s difficult to look at one of Lana’s songs as a standalone story. The songs add up to create a sprawling novel, a life story told in fragments. But the character is consistent throughout.

And I'm off to the races, cases of Bacardi chasers
Chasing me all over town 'cause he knows I'm wasted,
Facing time again on Rikers Island and I won't get out
Because I'm crazy baby, I need you to come here and save me…

In most of her songs, Lana teeters on the brink of self-destruction. In Off to the Races she is a girl who wants to ‘party later on’, a girl with a ‘Las Vegas past and LA crass way about me’. She’s heading to prison. Again. And she doesn’t care.

In the track Gods and Monsters Lana is at her most nihilistic, deep in the darkness of her own life, quoting Nietzsche and ‘living like Jim Morrison’.

In the land of Gods and Monsters
I was an Angel
Living in the garden of evil
Screwed up, scared, doing anything that I needed
Shining like a fiery beacon

You got that medicine I need
Fame, liquor, love give it to me slowly
Put your hands on my waist, do it softly
Me and God, we don't get along so now I sing

No one's gonna take my soul away
I'm living like Jim Morrison
Headed towards a fucked up holiday
Motel sprees and I'm singing
'Fuck yeah give it to me this is heaven, what I truly want'
It's innocence lost
Innocence lost

You got that medicine I need
Dope, shoot it up, straight to the heart please
I don't really wanna know what's good for me
God's dead, I said 'baby that's alright with me'

This is pop music at it’s most intense, the American Dream gone scarily wrong, the common fate of all those young women who run off to Hollywood dreaming of fame and glamour and fortune. But Lana embraces the self-destruction. ‘I don’t really wanna know what’s good for me.’ She is lost in LA, in a world of drink and drugs, ‘heading towards a fucked up holiday’ – the same fate as Jim Morrison. (In fact, the song can be read as a response to The DoorsLA Woman, with its references to ‘motels, money, murder, madness’.)

It’s a precautionary tale, the culmination of the journey described in an earlier song This is What Makes Us Girls. Here lie the roots of Lana’s story. We know that, in real life, Elizabeth Grant, was sent away to boarding school because of teenage alcohol problems.

Sweet sixteen and we had arrived
Baby's table dancing at the local dive
Cheering our names in the pink spotlight
Drinking cherry schnapps in the velvet night

They were the only friends I ever had
We got into trouble and when stuff got bad
I got sent away, I was waving on the train platform
Crying 'cause I know I'm never coming back.

Grant took her own experiences, her own struggles with addiction and attempts to become an artist, and was reborn as her own creation. She is the perfect hardboiled heroine.

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which terrifying things happen to ordinary people. His first solo novel, The Magpies (2013), reached the No.1 spot on Amazon UK as did his third novel Because She Loves Me (2014). He has also co-written various crime novels with Louise Voss such as Killing Cupid (2011) and The Blissfully Dead (2015).

Mark grew up on the south coast of England and starting writing in his twenties while working in a number of dead-end jobs. He lived in Tokyo for a year before returning to the UK and starting a career in marketing. As well as a full-time writer, Mark is a stay at home dad for his three children, his wife and a ginger cat.

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