Fervour for EVs? Care for Earth and the Environment? Or Merely a Preposterous and Petty Political Game by President Biden?

Some speculations on why and how Tesla wasn’t invited to the party.  

By Elena Vassilieva

“Ladies and gentlemen, this exhibit is not only a valuable piece of American heritage, it’s also the mistress and plaything of our president,” said the tour guide. Photo and words by © Elena Vassilieva.

– Hello, the White House?

– Yes. Who’s speaking?

– This is Cadi of GM! Is Mr. President in? Calling to ask why for Pete’s sake Tesla isn’t going to party with us?

– One moment, please.

– Hello! Hello! Sir, are you there? What do you have against Tesla?

– Cadi, I’m sorry, Mr. President is spaced out. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion. Goodby!

(From the telephone conversation.)

Last night, just before going to bed, I had read that Tesla was excluded from the meeting of the major American carmakers held at the White House under the topical umbrella of EV and environment on 5 August 2021. How so, I thought, that doesn’t make sense at all? Tesla is the largest manufacturer of EVs on this planet, besides, it’s an American brand, despite being a relatively young one, it’s reputable and very well-liked. I stayed up late in search of the clue, but learned very little, except that the Tesla’s CEO himself hadn’t had the foggiest idea there was going to be a gathering in Washington, D.C., and he genuinely seemed as much taken by surprise as everyone else. “Yeah, seems odd that Tesla wasn’t invited,” he responded on Twitter. You couldn’t mistake his perplexity for anything else here, even if you wanted to. However, it appeared that the environmental issues (the very reason for the meeting?) might have been of purely symbolic significance for the White House staff, or better to say, pro forma, unlike the political underpinnings, which might have been exactly the answer to this awkward and nonsensical riddle. After all, the problem of unions and unionisation at the automakers’ factories could have been discussed thoroughly with the Tesla representatives during the meeting, if that, of course, was indeed the issue and reason why Tesla was excluded from the list of the participants. In fact, it would have been a very good opportunity for the automobile giants to compare notes on both topics: how to be sustainable and local as for the production of EVs, and what it’s like to allow unions on their premises. Tesla has an impeccable record as a leading manufacturer of EVs, but Ford and GM, the iconic brands of the American automobile heritage, have a long experience with unions. And what had happened instead?

President Biden (on a whim?) decided he can go ahead and play a bad boy who is still at elementary school, say, first or second grade, not yet fully out of the lying stage where mischief is an irresistible lure. For the occasion, he transformed his staffers into a gang of reckless schoolkids, sort of the characters from that awful “Captain Underpants” series, while being very pleased with himself.

“La Boum!” He said.

“La Boum? Dancing, Mr. President, or what?” Someone asked him shyly, in utter surprise, as Captain, that is, President, wasn’t known by any means as an eloquent French speaker, let alone a Napoleon-like strategist.

“Party, my friend, party, and yes, dancing, too, afterwards!” The Captain was bursting with pride, like a peacock, then he lifted his forefinger, pointing at first at the one who dared to ask the question, then he got up, snapped his fingers, swung around, and said: “Let the honor students [Tesla, i.e.] break their heads guessing why they were left out from being invited to the party of the year. And may the true American car brands shine again, like in the far glorious past.”

The gang seemed to be playing a ‘smart’ game with the rules all too familiar to the members of their exclusive circle: “You all know the rules, my friends: a) Pretend you know more than you know; b) don’t feel belittled because of the hard facts under any circumstances, even if reality threatens to eliminate you as a political player in the long run, in the future, say, in 4 years; c) don’t be intimidated by the army of Musk’s fanboys and fangirls; d) don’t forget that Tesla has no PR-team, unlike everyone else, ha-ha, so there shouldn’t be much outburst or uproar at all; e) remember we are doing the right thing, friends, we are bulli…, shh, punishing the ones who excel at what they are doing, who are the best and who deliver the product all right, but who are uncompromising arrogant EV-tossers, I mean, we need to teach Tesla a lesson, they have to obey our rules of maneuvering and double standards, I mean high ethical standards of course.”

“But Mr. President, they are better than anyone else out there, in the field. They are popular. They are sustaining California, I know that first-hand. You can’t toss them like a coin in the air,” Kamala Harris argued sheepishly.

“Never mind, Kamala, forget about that for now. The rules are the rules,” disagreed the Captain and was ready to move on to the next point.

But inside the gang, there seemed to arise a small commotion, confusion, and disagreement nearly on every letter and issue discussed. “And what about me, Captain?” asked the secretary of transportation, fidgeting in his chair.

“What about you, Pete boy?”

“I, I, I mean suppose I’m being asked why we haven’t invited them? They aren’t invisible, you know. You can’t just ignore their presence on Earth, for Christ’s sake.” The transportation secretary tried to gain self-control and defend himself.

“Now, my boy, what did I just say: The rules! Repeat the rules, it’s under the letter b) Don’t let the facts fool or doubt yourself, don’t let the facts equivocate you! And why on earth are you talking about Earth? Who said anything about Earth?”

“Who? I thought you did, just minutes ago, Captain. Have you forgotten? ‘Isn’t it all about Earth and the environment? Let them assume that’s why we are having this grand party,’ you said.” Someone in the background reasoned.

“Who said that? Me? And which side are you on, anyway?” The annoyed Captain jumped from his chair and searched for the guilty one, then pointed his finger at her. “Don’t think, my friend, act, and don’t repeat what I said ages ago, I might have forgotten it or changed my mind ever since!”

“Shall I say then directly they don’t obey our rules? Or what?” Buttigieg interrupted the Captain again, still visibly preoccupied about what to say if journalists ask him about the party.

“You aren’t that stupid, Buttigieg, engage the gray stuff in your brain, and rehearse if you don’t want to lose your goddamn chair. And let me be clear: subject yourself to the rules and act! And let’s not talk about it anymore.” Solemnly concluded the Captain, in anticipation of having his favourite toy after these tedious preparations for the party.

“Act how? I’ll be the first one to be bombarded with all kind of questions,” ventured to ask the flame-haired woman who looked boisterous, but rather frustrated.

“Here we go again,” said the Captain impatiently. “Who is it?”

Someone, who sat closer to the Captain, whispered: “Jen Psaki! It’s Jen Psaki.”

“Is it you, Jen? Isn’t it your job to throw as much powder in the public eye as possible? Speaking of which, do you wear face powder? You are our PR-woman and you have no idea how to handle the powder, I mean the press? You must be kidding me. Wear your face powder! For best results, American brand, Estée Lauder.” The Captain was annoyed to no end, but on the other hand, seemed quite boosted with his own sudden energy of a 1st grader, and the idea to invite only the ‘good guys’ brought enormous satisfaction to him.

“So it’s all about the game, not Earth, then?” asked the woman matter-of-factly who had been criticised minutes before for stating that the party’s theme was Earth and care for it through the high production of EVs. It didn’t make much sense to her, but she didn’t want to be excluded from the mob of the Captain’s and agreed to play along, even if it went against the grain of her opinion, making Tesla an outsider for no good reason at all.   

On the day of the party, both the White House Press Secretary and the Secretary of Transportation, of course, were asked why Tesla wasn’t on the list of guests. How could they have not? Mr Buttigieg, to his credit, did rehearse his response diligently, but, nonetheless, was caught off guard in the first moment and said candidly: “I’m not sure.” For this tiny and very significant part of his reply he might have gotten reprimanded harshly by his boss. The rest of his message was well-rehearsed and probably taken from the depository of his political speeches, and one can hardly find any news in that piece. Reading between the lines would only corroborate what had happened during the preparations for the meeting, which I had the (dis)pleasure to describe above.

Thus, Pete Buttigieg said on CNBC: “I’m not sure, but what I know is you’re seeing so many leaders in industry. You’ve got newer companies and you’ve got legacy companies that are both saying we’ve gotta move in this direction. The industry structure obviously is complex, and partly what’s exciting is to see some of the oldest and more traditional names in U.S. auto manufacturers and some of the newest companies on the scene all acting in terms of the very core of their business to go electric.”

If Mr Buttigieg is talking here about EVs in particular, then how many leaders are there in the industry in America? And who is the leader of the leaders then? How many newer companies are as successful as Tesla? How many of the legacy companies are as successful as Tesla? Mr Buttigieg, I would gladly grade your work with F. Anyone who had done at least a minimal research on the topic would disagree tremendously with every single sentence, except the first one, in that paragraph of yours above. Your statement, as airy as a bubble, completely lacks a factual support, which almost makes one suspect that the tedious preparations for the party had been conducted, God knows where, anyway, not on this planet. Very few would doubt indeed that the auto industry is complex, but why make it even more complex by excluding the leading company in the industry, the very American young company, that fact would definitely baffle many. Why politicise it even more than it already is?

Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, was less candid than the Transportation Secretary, but as much confused as he, as to how to explain the absurdity of this political move: “Well, we, of course, welcome the efforts of all automakers who recognize the potential of an electric vehicle future and support efforts that will help reach the President’s goal. And certainly, Tesla is one of those companies. Today, it’s the three largest employers of the United Auto Workers and the UAW president who will stand with President Biden as he announces this ambitious new target, but I would not expect this is the last time we talk about clean cars, the move toward electric vehicles, and we look forward to having a range of partners in that effort.”

How odd that the President would set a goal, encouraging the economic activity of certain companies and discouraging the other, the company that is streets ahead of any other American carmaker and way above the level of simply ‘recognising the potential of an EV future and supporting efforts.’ The fact that Tesla is the leading EV manufacturer makes one wonder whether Ms Psaki would have looked much better if she told the truth right away and upfront, instead, she boldly implied that the political motive is behind the exclusion of Tesla from the gathering. Moreover, when asked during the press briefing about it, she flirtatiously stated: “I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.” Hmm, what kind of answer is this? Oh, I see, that was the move of throwing powder in the eye of the public. Now it’s clear. And mea culpa, I forgot that it’s La Boum à la President Biden, who tweeted with the energy and in a show-off manner of a 1st grader: “The future of the auto industry is electric – and made in America.” Now, Mr Biden, where are the majority of the EVs being made right now? On the Moon or Mars perhaps? Not yet. And by which company are they made? By the very one you had so brazenly and shamelessly excluded to invite to your party.

Everyone has his preferences for any product, let alone for the product one ‘marries’ for life, and Biden’s product is clearly the one made by the legacy carmakers, but who gives him as the President of the United States the right to exclude the young and successful American company? I hope this is not a strategy of “taking care” of the branch of the tree Biden is sitting on right now? It’s never a good idea to play against your own self, anyway, even a 1st grader knows it. What goes around comes around. No doubt that many would agree with the Tesla’s CEO who rightly perceived this absurd action as a sabotage (Note: another French word!). One also wishes the legacy carmakers stood up for their fellow Tesla, instead of just placating their pride, inflated by the unfairness of the President. See, for instance, Jim Fairley’s message, CEO of Ford Motor Company, tweeted on 5 August 2021: “Today is an important day in the fight against climate change and @Ford is proud to be part of it.” One also truly hopes the environment and Earth are the main incentives for their action. But isn’t Tesla Motors exactly the company that is ahead of anyone else in this regard? Besides, no matter, Democratic or Republican, isn’t it the President’s job to ensure that things are done without favouritism and discrimination, but with tact and reason instead? Or perhaps it’s not the age of reason for some? Or it might be a case of self-trapping in delusion of grandeur. Time will tell, of course.

Voila all the pieces of the puzzle of La Boum à la President Biden have been put together now. – Le voilà bien loti !

P.S. The most embarrassing thing in the whole story for me personally is that President Biden got votes of my personal circle, and I encouraged them to vote for him. He wasn’t my first choice, however, I hoped Mr Bloomberg would be at the wheel, as I respect him on many levels, including his attention to the planet, but, alas, he came too late to the party.

(Written on 6 August 2021, in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.


Not Diana, the Princess of Wales, We Had Known, and It’s Hard Lines on Us

Notes on the Diana-statue unveiled on 1 July 2021 in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace

By Elena Vassilieva

Rosa est pulchra. Sequor te. Iuvo te. © Elena Vassilieva; Photo by Richard Young from “Princess” by © Robert Lacey and © Michael Rand, NYTimes Books (1982).

“Omnes ita perterriti erant, ut nemo resistere auderet. Alle waren so erschreckt, daß niemand Widerstand zu leisten wagte.” – August Waldeck (1891)

The ancient secret to a triumphantly successful sculpture is hidden in time, space, and divine afflatus. While I was catching glimpses of the first Royal Family-commissioned statue of the Princess Diana, I couldn’t stop wondering, why some artists are capable of curving quasi-fetishistic pieces that would be looked at with adoration and veneration, whereas others, although having skills, reputation, and accolades, are nonetheless losing the game? I realised that those breathless ones, who sculpt their pieces with zeal and love, forgetting themselves, must possess the power of turning lifeless material into something that would transcend the boundaries of its own space and influence a human being in such a profound way that the latter would believe indeed the statue empowers him with strength, gives him hope, and galvanizes him into action.

For instance, I still remember when I had stepped inside the garden of the Rodin Museum in Paris for the first time. It was in the morning, after the rain, and all the statues were covered with raindrops, the place was filled with the aroma of roses; I was instantly spellbound and couldn’t leave the garden for a very long time. All the statues there seemed to breath and exude that mysterious something that is called inspiration which brings you utter joy. I thought I would burst into a thousand pieces, that overwhelmed I was by the whole splendor of Rodin at that particular moment. A similar effect I had been expecting from the Diana-statue in the Sunken Garden at her home, while contemplating my future visits there.

High expectations? Not at all. When one thinks that it is Diana, the supernal woman with the air of being once the Roman goddess, from whose image a statue was made, say, of the Diana of Versailles, Diane a la biche, at the Louvre. All of a sudden, magically, she seemed to have stepped down from the pedestal, and then began to live among us. The Roman goddess in appearance and a rather bashful, humble young woman in her demeanour, she started captivating hearts even before she became the Princess of Wales, but when she did, everyone thought that she adorned the title and not the other way around. Now, who would dare to be called the Princess of Wales again? The Duchess of Cornwall, an intelligent woman, turned the title down quite adamantly, kudos to her for this! Perhaps, in one hundred years there will be someone in the House of Windsor who would resemble Diana and will be given the title again.

And perhaps, one day, there will be a sculptor who will be able to capture Diana’s spirit and her unforgettable beauty that was so generously supported by her kind, bright, conscientious, honest, passionate, effervescent, and romantic nature. The nature that is similar to that of goddess in classical mythology: to be a god or goddess but be devoid of the sanctimonious saintliness, in the sense of uprightness and self-righteousness (in classical culture, I find it difficult to name at least one god or goddess, let alone simple mortals, who would have it), little wonder, she had such a strong and complex personality of a perfectionist. The way, for example, she greeted the Italians in flawless and accent-free Italian, while on honeymoon on board the legendary Royal Yacht Britannia in the summer of 1981, reveals a lot about her character, her sense of duty, and her attitude towards the people. One can easily see that she made her best effort preparing this excellent greeting speech in the language of the people she was visiting. One can also guess that when she loved, she loved wholeheartedly and passionately, expecting reciprocity. Another important thing that manifested, I dare say, in her nature of a goddess, was her intolerance to any kind of betrayal, especially by those who were/are brazen enough to claim they knew her that well they were/are allowed, to this day, to judge her public and particularly her private life, be it her former best friend or employee, e.g., the butler, equerry, biographer, or journalist as if desperate to diminish her persona and to steal a piece of the glory and love she has received from the people all around the globe, not knowing that this way they only belittle themselves. There was no dissonance between the external and internal side of her personality, and if there were, then her beauty would’ve been fleeting. But it wasn’t the case.

Depiction of her face and body in the statue in an exact, realistic, manner, as the Princes might have wished, is a task that is per se relatively easy, given that Diana is a classical beauty, and therefore any idealisation of her image is superfluous. One just must go to Paris and spend days and nights at the Louvre, with the Diana of Versailles, copying her boldly; afterwards, one may want to add some refinement and the finishing touches that would make the Princess of Wales recognisable. There is no other way to do it if the precise physical likeness to the Princess Diana is sought, and if the artistic style of sculpting should be realism (naturalism), and if the sculptor doesn’t want to stumble. When one was born with divine looks, one can’t possibly be deprived of them, for the simplest reason that looks are a fact, the truth. Remember what Gertrude Stein once famously said: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose?” This fact matters a great deal here. Every single part of her figure should be studied carefully in order to avoid postmodern kitsch and the effect of “the Diana in name only.” For any experienced and classically trained artist with good logical, spatial, and mathematical skills, it shouldn’t be very difficult to do it at all, particularly because of the initial striking resemblance between the two Dianas. Also, the Princess Diana as a statue shouldn’t be necessarily wearing what she wore in real life, even if the Princes insisted (they aren’t sculptors, after all, and how I wish they were!). Instead selecting an attire that would mirror her spirit and accentuate her personality would be much wiser. Her real clothes are not going to make the statue look like Diana, anyway, if the “it” that brings her back to us sculpturally isn’t there. No doubt, it’s the luxury to know an artist you could trust blindly, only then he can be given full creative freedom, and only then you are going to delight in his creation. But if one has no luxury of the sort at one’s disposal, then the commissioner ought to guide the artist through the process with his approval or disapproval of what is going on in the studio. It’s worth being vigilant to ensure that the artistic vision doesn’t divorce from the commissioner’s vision.

Of course, there are many other ways how the Princess could be portrayed. I shall take the liberty of imagining at least one of them, which might be a marble sculpture of the Princess, inspired by her image on the photo, taken superbly by Richard Young, when Diana and the Prince of Wales were on their summer voyage on Britannia in 1981. It may have also been one of the happiest moments of her life, because she radiates as much happiness there as later, when she is in the company of her beloved Princes, William and Harry. On that photograph, she wears an oversized white blazer and a triple strand pearl choker with a turquoise and pearl flower clasp, a present from the Spencer family on her 18th birthday (see the photo above). It’s hard to say what time of the day it is, but the exquisite airiness of her face has that fragile freshness of the morning and reflects her grace with such an elegant ease. The colours, including the light, are not only gorgeously right here, they are also incredibly harmonious with her whole being, creating an impression of the unity between the Princess and Nature, the space around her, that is. The composition and perspective are so successful that there is the fluidity of the contours and lines between the space of the Princess’ figure and the surroundings. And one thing one simply can’t miss here is the poetic nature of the Princess and the fineness of the moment. Should the sculptor decide that the Diana’s blazer in this marble statue shall be a line diffused into the pedestal, that will do, but should s/he think that the legs are necessary, that’ll do, too. But only if those will be the Princess Diana’s legs, not someone else’s. I would give preference to the first version, simply out of fear that the sculptor won’t be able to curve her legs in a proper fashion. In the end, it doesn’t matter at all which version it is, the sculpture just ought to entrance the spectator and give him aesthetic pleasure.

The statue in the Sunken Garden is executed in the style of realism, yet, it is not the Princess Diana. I don’t know who it is. It does remind me a little of one of the faces Mr Rank-Broadley had sculpted in the past, and did it very well, splendidly, in fact, but the handsome face of the Opening the Lock Gate’s character has little to do with Diana. And whose idea was it to politicise the sculpture by adding children who aren’t her sons? Diana’s personality needn’t be squeezed into any ideological frame and be peppered with the momentous messages of political correctness, for she was, still is, the epitome of kindness and compassion herself. Who would forget her as one of the most public-spirited human beings who ever walked on this planet? As a result, the sculptural ensemble is so inept in its composition, so intimidating in its nearly Herculean size and proportions, and the overt political editing/messaging only adds to its absolute soullessness and sad detachment, all of which is upsetting to a viewer like myself. And had the Princes decided not to unveil the statue on her birthday this year, the world wouldn’t have lost anything, on the contrary, we would’ve been still nursing hopes for THE statue of Diana, the one that would do justice to her. On that note, did I interpret it correctly, Earl Spencer, that you might have been as baffled as many of us upon seeing the unveiled statue in the Sunken Garden? There was a moment on one of the photos where you looked as if you just had a bite of the sourest apple you had ever tasted. Or was it just a wink caused by the sun?

One may wonder who is going to venture to sculpt the Princess Diana next? George Herbert Tyson Smith would have been best, of course, given his deep interest in ancient Egyptian and Romano-Greek culture. Alas, he is on the other side. Nigel Boonham perhaps then? He created a fairly good bust of the Princess and got her gracious approval despite the fact that he aged her mercilessly, in my view. Lesley Pover, a very interesting and fine artist, got Diana’s bones and bashfulness quite well, but lacked the desired likeness. Tom Murphy, a very thoughtful and skillful sculptor with such a sparkling enthusiasm, he might give it a try, since he has already been experimenting with a few Diana-sculptures. Besides, his Above Us Only Sky-John Lennon-statue (2002) at the Liverpool airport is such a successful work that it had received high praise from Her Majesty the Queen and Yoko Ono. If Mr Murphy could repeat this triumph of his with the Princess as well, that would be a dream come true. However, other talented sculptors may also reside and create outside of Great Britain.

P.S. Oh, but I still have to come and see all the flowers in the Sunken Garden redesigned by Pip Morrison.

(Written on 9 July 2021 in my white clover garden on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.


To Be or Not to Be a Famous Person in the Wax Museum at School?

Can there be a place for a moneyed celebrity with questionable work ethic in the Living Wax Museum’s inventory?

By Elena Vassilieva

“And may we, like the clock, Keep a face clean and bright, With hands ever ready To do what is right.” (From The Real Mother Goose, 1916; © Rand McNally & Company) Image: “What grade are you in?” “Kindergarten.” “Lucky you! My folks said once our boy is a 3rd grader, he’ll be officially out of his lying stage.” © By Elena Vassilieva

The other day, a 3rd grader and my dearest relative, excitingly shared the news with me about the Living Wax Museum, his new project at school. “It’s about a famous person who has a great influence on people. I’ll need to prepare a costume, three props, and a speech about his life. When I deliver the speech, I must pretend that I’m that person.” Naturally, I was very happy about the enthusiasm of the boy who made me take a look at the list of all the influential people the children were given. This year, he said, it included celebrated personalities from all over the world, not only from Massachusetts as in the past. The 3rd grade teachers at the Mullen-Hall School in Falmouth were allowed to use their discretion in adding the names. And they did a very good job enriching the list with 66 names.

I was glad that they haven’t forgotten the pillar of the pillars, William Shakespeare, the Ritz loving Ernest Hemingway, and the advocate of the unfortunate, Louisa May Alcott, among the authors, but was surprised not to see there the beloved J. K. Rowling. Perhaps, the evil fighting Harry Potter is out of fashion nowadays? The list of scientists appeared to be very well-balanced: Marie Curie and Rachel Carson are standing here hand in hand with Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. And who would dare to disagree with such an excellent pairing? Equally smart was the list of the chosen U.S. Presidents, which included Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, George Bush the first, Barack Obama, and JFK. The happy memories of the economic well-being of America during the Clinton’s presidency were preferred not to be recalled, very likely, the Monika Lewinsky scandal was considered a highly sensitive material for the young brains, and, taking the age of the Wax Museum’s participants into account, it was probably the right decision. Never mind Clinton’s new book with James Patterson, “The President’s Daughter” (2021), that had just been published. The second Bush and Donald Trump were both happily omitted.

The category of the Firsts has Bill Gates’ name in it, with the remark: one of the Microsoft founders “that became the richest man in the world.” But for some reason, the extraordinarily popular and brilliant engineering mind, Elon Musk, who, according to the Forbes, is richer than Bill Gates at the moment, was left out. The fact that Mr Musk, a fellow of the Royal Society, very active with his space projects and Tesla, which makes him a good caretaker of our planet, doesn’t seem to be enough to win a spot on the list, alas. The British would be delighted to see John Lennon on the list, but Sir Paul McCartney isn’t among the chosen ones, although he is in his finest and busiest creative mode, having recently, in December 2020, released his new outstanding album, “McCartney III,” a cookbook (2021) with his daughters, Mary and Stella, in memory of Linda McCartney, children’s book, “Hey Grandude!” (2019), and another one along with a memoire, “The Lyrics 1956 to the Present,” underway. Despite their artistic differences, John Lennon and Paul McCartney are unthinkable and unimaginable without each other as creative personalities, especially in their early years, hence it seems rather odd that they aren’t mentioned here at the same time. Martin Luther King Jr is rightfully on top of the list of all the activists along with Sojouner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and…Oprah Winfrey!

Frankly, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me when I saw Oprah’s name on this expansive list. Why is she there? What kind of activism is she promoting? No doubt, it is very easy to assemble her costume. Just find a pair of funky round glasses, a cashmere sweater in the girls’ favourite pink or purple hues, combat boots, and voila you are Oprah Winfrey. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, sort of her homemade puppets-friends, would make tremendously good props (stiff cardboard and construction paper would do to replicate these two). Then, all a child would need is to interview them, making sure the ‘waxed’ Ms Oprah encourages her puppets-interviewees to tell all the untruths, then indulges in them profusely, and gasps here and there for a larger effect.

But joking aside, it is the most serious thing that makes me wonder how on earth the status of the moneyed celebrity with rather questionable ideals and beliefs (say, hypocrisy and mercenariness in the name of social awareness) that she is propagating to the society can make her eligible for the public school’s Living Wax Museum? How can such a celebrity inspire our children in a positive way and be a worthy role model if she, so brazenly, in broad daylight, encourages (or shall I say extracts?) lies from those whose memory is unreliable and who conspire against their own family? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to recommend only those personalities whose moral compass is in good working order, especially to the children of that young age? And why not consider someone local, too? For instance, I would rather see the name of Emma (née Moore) Barrow on the list, who started her teaching career in 1935 in Alabama, and then, in 1959, became the first black teacher and principal here, at the Woods Hole School. She ardently advocated women’s and civil rights, especially the right for education for everyone, and fiercely fought against racial and gender discrimination. Emma Barrow believed that a woman shouldn’t be discriminated and denied a job if she chooses to bring up her children without nannies and, after they’ve grown up, return to work. The woman who spent 50 years of service in education and was given the 1985 Human Relation’s Award, one would think, surely deserves a spot on the Living Wax Museum’s list at the very school where she taught. I had the honour of meeting Mrs Barrow, and she was one of the most beautiful and loved people on Cape Cod, not only because of her intelligence, but also because of her genuine kindness and her utter dislike of hypocrisy and lies.

According to Dr Forster Cline and Jim Fay (1990, 2006), “most children, from kindergarten through about the second grade, go through a lying stage,” so why should the 3rd graders then, fresh out of their “lying stage,” be introduced to those social role models who have integrity problems? Yes, of course, there is also parental guidance, and one can count on their control and their own social filters as to which personality from the list to choose, but in a child’s school life, a teacher is automatically assigned a very special role and granted authority to guide him. After all, the child spends most of his day at school. An 8- or 9-year-old would probably think that everything that is being told and mentioned by his teacher should be regarded doubtlessly as right and correct. In fact, the child may agree with his teacher rather than with his parent, with as simple an argument as this: “My teacher said so, therefore it must be true.”

Isn’t it the Wax Museum’s main idea not only to broaden children’s horizon and stimulate their intellectual and creative curiosity, but also and, foremost, to give them the right direction as for their social awareness and responsibility? This way children will form a very strong sense of right and wrong, which will help them, when they are teenagers, resist all the ill-informed influences, generated by social media, and other social upheavals, much more successfully. So it’s worth thinking twice, in my view, who may and who may not be on such a list. On June 11, the First Lady, Dr Gill Biden, whilst with the Duchess of Cambridge at the roundtable, at the Connor Downs Academy in Cornwall, England, said that “early childhood education is so important to lay the foundation for all of our students.” It’s hard not to agree with her on that, and I hope this message won’t just stay in the realm of political rhetoric but, first and foremost, will resonate in a classroom.   

(Written on 21 June 2021 in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.

The Books and the Duchesses of the House of Windsor

Books for sale! Books for sale! Or the Royal case of assorted goods.

By Elena Vassilieva

Image: The Honeymooning Couple: “What are you in the mood to do next, honey?” “I just feel like whining again.” “Me, too.” © Elena Vassilieva

All those, who are interested in Royal affairs, have been offered so much food for thought lately by some of the duchesses of the House of Windsor that I don’t know where to begin. The hard-working women had to transform themselves, even if temporarily, into true Cinderellas, probably sacrificing their beauty sleep, matcha cocktails, tea with homemade cookies, and God knows what else, in order to add a check on the list of their deeds and to dazzle millions of their loyal social media followers and fans with… the books. Yes, the duchesses nowadays seem to be quite preoccupied with the books, no, not reading, but writing them. I wish they did read first, at least the books, written by their Royal predecessors and relatives, say, HRH Prince of Wales, before taking a daring journey into little-known waters. Had they read, some of them would have known better as for the quality standards set up by their family members.

Of course, some are weathered in the business already, Sarah Ferguson, for instance, as she has so many books of various genres in her collection. The Duchess of York is conquering a new genre now. She is busying herself with royal historical romances. “Her Heart for a Compass” will see the light in a couple of months. But I wonder whether her “The Enchanted Oak Tree” (2020) had inspired the Duchess of Sussex to produce her aspirational, but ill-fitting “The Bench?” There will be more on her book later.

Firstly, a few words about “Hold Still,” a book, curated by the Duchess of Cambridge, who, being the most conservative out of the three duchesses, chose the safest road, taking on a role more of an organiser and curator rather than a creator in a joint venture project with the National Portrait Gallery. Also, “Hold Still” is not a work of fiction or art, but a photo documentary, “[a] Portrait of Our Nation in 2020,” filled with the moments wonderfully captured by the people of diverse background during the pandemic. Conceptually, the book is a reflection of the ordinary people’s emotions and circumstances at that or this instant during the challenging year. To her credit, the Duchess had also interviewed them, showcasing organisational skills of a businesswoman. No wonder that the book turned out to be a solid and soul-stirring photo album. Another notable and laudable fact is that the proceeds from the sales will go to charities. The only disappointing and very puzzling thing is the title. Why would anyone think of the title that had already been taken? The same title belongs to Sally Mann’s memoir book with photographs (2015). I know that musicians steal titles from each other occasionally, often from their commercially more successful fellows, presumably, to draw attention, and although I cringe every time I see it, I can understand them. But the Duchess of Cambridge’s project isn’t seeking commercial success. Instead, the book’s social message, to document how people cope and support each other in hard times, is the main purpose of this endeavour. So it’s hard to follow the logic and logistics behind such a rushed and inexplicable decision, especially when one considers the seriousness of the project’s theme. Of course, there is no copyright for titles, but, nevertheless, there shall be nearly a natural desire to avoid the sameness at any cost. After all, the prospect of earning a reputation of copycats, God forbid, is quite daunting.

Now, back to the duchess who, unlike her sister-in-law, is as unpredictable as a loose cannon, and exhibits the most erratic and contradictory behaviour to the degree that at times it seems that ‘that woman’ is driven entirely by her impulses. Her drive to compete and overshadow the other duchess, to daze the public and to make profit is so strong and overwhelming that I wouldn’t be surprised if she hasn’t been able to sleep well at all lately. There is also much ado about her noble title, which she doesn’t want to lose, after all, it’s her ‘Pushmi-Pullyi’ that opens the doors for her to all kind of lucrative enterprises, but also a sacred cow (thanks so much for reminding me of this, YRH Prince Philip!) that shelters her, at least, on her home soil from dire straits of criticism. In a frenzy, during her many PR actions, Ms Markle often forgets that shamelessly using her Royal title and displaying it like the ‘Pushmi-Pullyi’ in a circus for self-advertising purposes requires certain social obligations as for her behavioural style in public, even when under American sky. It’s about time that she gets reprimanded by the Firm’s “grey men in suits” whom she mistrusts and despises so much as she had admitted herself in the interview with her friend Oprah Winfrey. Perhaps, it isn’t a bad idea either to ask her for the royalties for exploiting the Royal title, which adorns her opus and which is, in my view, the only extraordinary and remarkable thing in the whole book.  

The Bench” is written for children of age 3-7, according to Ms Markel, but its social messages are so aggressively promulgated here that the book doesn’t come across as a children’s book at all. She says one of the main ideas of the book is “inclusivity,” and that is, no doubt, an honourable idea, but this is exactly where the book as a children’s book becomes fatally flawed. The author proclaims equality and the feministic stance of the father, but she fails so miserably to include the main reader, a child, that is, for whom the book was made for. The book doesn’t seem to excite the child’s imagination at all, nor does it awaken his curiosity. And since it lacks humour, imaginativeness, and playfulness, the key features that define a good children’s book, I doubt it will circulate for a long time, if at all. Although the illustrator made efforts to revive it, the lack of the literary input from the author leaves the book very disengaging and non-organic.

As a side note, today, in my archive, I’ve found some silly poems by Fiona Trumbull, a relative of mine, who was 7 years old when she wrote it at school. I’d like to cite one of her poems here in order to illustrate what kind of rhymes a child of this age finds fanciful, even if it’s only a case of one particular child. And although Fiona isn’t a little girl anymore, she’s a teenager now, her lovely rhymes still make me laugh.

The Bees

Do bees wish they were trees?

Do they want to jiggle like keys?

Do they want to be green like leaves?

Do they hate to be yellow?

Do they have a nice fellow?

Have you noticed the colours, sounds, and even a tiny bit of philosophy and social critique in her poem? I wish Ms Markle took a field trip to school in order to learn how to write for children and what exactly children of that age prefer, if she had failed to read the most inspiring Scottish tale “The Old Man of Lochnagar” (1980) by the Prince of Wales. The tale that has withstood the test of time.

While she offers a catalogue of different benches and fathers with their children in the book, one bench remains in focus, the one Ms Markle had gifted to Prince Harry and their son, with a very daring inscription-poem: “This is your bench/ Where life will begin/ For you and our son/ Our baby, our kin.” It’s hard to miss her self-importance, resentfulness, and an instructive tone of a prophecy-monger here. ‘Where life will begin’: might it be that she implies her Prince had no life before they had met? Most likely. Given that Harry hadn’t had the foggiest idea that he was a poor prisoner, trapped inside the House of Windsor, until his saviour, Meghan Markle, arrived on the scene, falling from the sky, out of the blue. And thus, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Prince Harry got the surprise of his life. We all heard that in the Oprah-interview. Now we also know that many statements from those friendly conversations contained numerous inaccuracies and lies. Hence, everything that had happened to Prince Harry before his ‘saviour’ appeared shall be erased? That, too, we had displeasure to witness in one of his other public faux-pas-moves. In any event, Ms Markle is taking a lot of risky responsibility on her shoulders. It’s her nearly maniacal desire to emaciate the Prince’s memory of everything that doesn’t have to do with her and give him instead tabula rasa. There is something deeply and frighteningly Shakespearean in this strategy of hers, remember how some of the heroes in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” woke up and had no clue how on earth they were able to change overnight that much that they couldn’t recognise themselves? Therefore, the Prince’s past shall be deleted and replaced with everything that refers to ‘our kin,’ Ms Markle probably decided. Out of all words to use such a heavily loaded word ‘kin’ can only be dictated by resentfulness towards Harry’s former home. She is saying that she is giving him a new home where she will be the ruler and Commander-in-Chief and where Harry will be a liberated, happy-go-lucky father-babysitter and occasionally a businessman. Luckily, the ‘Pushmi-Pullyi’ won’t let the Duke and Duchess dine with Duke Humphrey too often.

The striking oddity of this poem upsets and unsettles the reader’s humour (at least mine) because benches are usually given in memory of those who had already departed for the other side. And that subconscious association is so unwelcome and incongruous in this children’s book. However, the bench in the poem symbolises their departure from the Royal Household. In the heaviness of the word ‘kin,’ she inserts all her expectations and ideals, e.g., of their cloudless and dazzling future as a family that ought, in her view, to overshadow all other Royal family members and thus incite their jealousy, a sort of vengeful and spiteful move. And although this deeply personal matter becomes public good, thanks to their own relentless publicity efforts, the conspicuous impudence of this whole enterprise finds its roots in utter hypocrisy on so many levels.

How else to explain the contradicting behaviour of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they show their bitterness and utter displeasure about the Royal Family and the Firm, accusing them of many things that have never occurred, and yet, they aren’t shy to take advantage of their Royal affiliation and benefit handsomely from it? Frankly, how many writers who submit such a low-quality work would get published? The only answer is no one, I sincerely hope. Of course, now every other writer must think he is a genius, after having read this awkward piece. The fact that by publishing the work of such a substandard quality the publisher automatically lowers literary standards and devalues the work by other writers, and that is quite disturbing. Many aspiring children’s writers would probably find such practice appalling and very exclusive. So much for the inclusivity the Duchess of Sussex is trying to preach. But most importantly, why shall we let our children read books written by the people who, instead of introducing literary work of outstanding merits to us, bring double standards and exhibit unscrupulous behaviour? The people who let their phantasy go wild in their interviews and have no single ounce of phantasy in their work of fiction. Yes, most certainly, we are blessed with the freedom of speech here, and anyone can utter whatever s/he pleases, but it doesn’t mean that it gives them the (moral) right to make us witness how they follow their gold-digging instincts so blatantly, at the expense of others, in front of our children, in such an aggressive way. The hypocritical neutrality of some of the media and even support (e.g., I was appalled by the NPR piece on “The Bench”) for her project is disheartening, as if the whole thing weren’t about children, culture, and our society in general. Are you telling me, Ms Markle, that the snow is black, the grass is blue, and that this is all true? It reminds me of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen where the little child perplexedly gasps right in the midst of the bogus praises from the crowd: “But he hasn’t got anything on.”

(Written on 25th June 2021 in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.)

“The Bee” by Fiona Trumbull was cited here with her permission.

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.

The Cultural Dissonance between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the House of Windsor

Notes on the Oprah Winfrey’s Interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

By Elena Vassilieva

Image: Lion: “Que dites-vous là ?” Licorne: “À qui a jouer ?” Lion: “À moi !” Licorne: “Memento: clavum clavo pellere.” © Elena Vassilieva

Last night something utterly unusual and peculiar happened. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex walked into my dream. Prince Harry, while taking care of chickens at their new beautiful house in California, rather concernedly and earnestly said to his wife that they ought to apologise to his grandmother, the Queen, and the Firm as well. To which his beloved wife replied, appearing also concerned and moved almost to tears, “Oh, honey, you are so sweet, so caring and selfless, you really are. And I’m so proud of you and I appreciate it, you know I do. It’s so cute you would have such thoughts, hon, but don’t you think they ought to apologise to me, to us after what we’ve been through?” “You know, Meg, I sort of regret we had that interview with Oprah. Now we are berühmt-berüchtigt more than ever, and how I wish we never went there. I said too much. And you said even more, often pointing at me as your source of information. What’s gonna happen now? How shall I look them in the eye?” Harry was putting his hands on his head and seemed to be genuinely embarrassed and distressed, Meghan rolled her eyes, then said firmly, “Don’t you remember, honey, how much I suffered there? We suffered? Don’t you remember how trapped we were there? And they didn’t care! We are so happy now. We have everything one could wish for. Didn’t you say it yourself that the main thing we have each other?” Harry seemed to agree, yet, looked frustrated and stricken with sadness. At that point the dream was interrupted by a rooster.

Thank God, the rooster was that loud that he woke me up in the middle of the night and took these heroes away from my dream where they didn’t belong at all. Mea culpa. The evening before, I watched their infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey. My friend, a human geography professor, agreed to keep me company, although, after seeing only a quarter of the interview, he excused himself and left. He thought it was boring and, frankly, he couldn’t understand what Meghan Markle was talking about. A university professor and a native English speaker, whose ancestors sat at the same table with Abraham Lincoln, asked me several times what Meghan meant. Then, giving up completely, he just said how oblique her speech was and how hard it was not to notice her sense of entitlement. “If she was like that inside the royal circles, she must have made a very unfavourable impression. She seems to lack humility, too. And who has time to read and listen to the tabloids, anyway?” was his verdict. Oprah herself at times looked as if she struggled to follow Meghan’s string of words. Although I thought she had, indeed, a very empathetic way of interviewing. Clearly, she was very smart and careful not to upset the pregnant woman she’s befriended over the years. When the Duchess of Sussex said that some members of the Firm were curious about the skin colour of their then unborn baby, taken aback by it so much, Oprah didn’t insist Meghan disclose the names of those who said it. Right now, it seems, anyone at the House of Windsor, except for the Queen and Prince Philip, could be a suspect, and it’s rather unfair. Had she revealed their names, at least, they would have had a chance to defend themselves or felt pressured to make a public statement.

Another thing that makes one’s eyebrows raise was her complaint that she wasn’t assisted in preparations for the royal role at all. What was Samantha Cohen doing there then? Catching butterflies with her perhaps? According to the article in the Harper’s Bazaar, she had invested many hours (for 6 months!) into couching the then future Duchess of Sussex for her royal duties. Did Meghan Markle expect to have a souffleur for every single occasion and in every corner of the Commonwealth? She didn’t arrive at the House of Windsor as a helpless ingénue. She entered the Firm as a woman who had a previous marriage and a career in show business. So how could she have possibly underestimated both the seriousness of her personal responsibility and the load of her royal duties while inside the Royal Family? Didn’t Prince Harry warn her and others publicly, saying that not every woman will be willing to be his wife, given the circumstances (a complex book of the Royal dos and don’ts, let alone the annoying and ever present tabloids)? Why did she take this fact so lightheartedly?

Another comment she made regarding the ones who are not the immediate Family goes back to that same compartment of the ethical codes and norms established at the Royal House. Even if one lacks experience and knowledge as to how to behave in this or that situation, doesn’t one rely then on common sense and intuition guided by kindness, intellect, and basic civility of hers/his? Conforming to the traditional social norms isn’t something as difficult as building a starship, or is it? Also, one certainly shouldn’t have such expectations that, once married into the Royal Family, everyone there from now on would be at his/her disposal night and day. Even if one had in mind the Hans Christian Andersen’s “Princess and the Pea,” it still would work the way it did in the fairytale only if the attitudes and interests of both parties/sides coincided. The puzzle-trap (i.e., the pea) the Prince’s parents prepared for the rain-soaked Princess was effortlessly solved by her, and hence her ‘princessness’ was proved and approved. In other words, her capriciousness was anticipated and even encouraged. Was the same thing expected of Meghan when she appeared on the scene? I doubt it.

Most likely, the elementary ethic (discreetness, loyalty, and diligence, this holy trinity, foremost) was hoped for and required by the Firm. It’s always quid pro quo, of course, as everywhere else: if you follow our rules and traditions, we’ll respect and support you. But if someone believes that as a new member of the Royal Family one is automatically entitled to command at his or her discretion, regardless of the traditional behavioural standards of this house, one will always risk to be perceived as transgressive and untrustworthy, no matter how good-hearted his/her intentions are. And if, for instance, something like this occurred: “Hi, guys! I’m Meghan. I left my country and my career for my prince and for my royal title, so make sure you are my obedient servants. And don’t forget that I’m from a free country: I do what I please, and I’m pleased what I do.” Would it be acceptable? No, very unlikely that this sort of attitude of une femme aux manières hardies would be tolerated. Not in the House of Windsor, in any event, and even in America, it would be rejected in many places. To many it would appear as poor taste and rudeness of a vulgar commoner. My professor friend didn’t approve of such manners, in fact, he found it rather disconcerting and embarrassing that an American woman is a cause of so many scandalous moments and so much stress in the British Royal Household. Obviously, at the institution as old as this one, everyone, including every single butler and cook, has a very strict book of rules, which a newcomer simply must study diligently if s/he would like to be accepted and well-regarded there. Besides, is it permissible to enter someone else’s house as a new relation and then try to transform it right away, turning it upside down, simply because one grew up in a different social setting? That goes back to Meghan’s comment regarding losing her voice there. How naïve it is indeed to expect one’s voice to be heard right away at such a conservative institution as the British Royal House. Shouldn’t one first prove oneself and excel? It’s already a great deal of recognition that the Queen has been so welcoming and kind to her. What an honour to receive an invitation to share a blanket to keep one warm while on duty! What an honour to receive a set of pearls from the Queen.

How come one wouldn’t try his/her best to appreciate it instead of crossing the line? How come one wouldn’t think that the Queen is also a human being who has heart and soul, who has served Great Britain and the entire space of the Commonwealth for 69 years, rain or shine, never making a wrong move and never uttering a single complaint? How come one would forget that Her Majesty is also a mother and a wife, whose husband is at this very moment in hospital? Why wouldn’t Her Majesty need moral support at such a sad moment? The more I think about it, the more bewildered I am how one can be such a devoted husband and father as Prince Harry is, but would be so oblivious to how hurtful his actions may be to someone who is related to him by blood and who is his Commander-in-Chief. Wouldn’t it have been possible to resolve all the issues privately first, without going global and public, without creating that awful Billingsgate effect in the mass and social media in particular? True, it’s the time when people get fancied, loved, praised, crushed, judged, and even “cancelled” in the vast space of social media, but there are also those who were reared having a different system of values. Why would one want to subject Her Majesty to this repugnant ordeal? And if Harry and Meghan found themselves ‘trapped’ inside the Firm, Prince Harry shouldn’t have felt ashamed and should have asked for help for his wife when she needed it so urgently. Why and who would have refused to give them a hand? It would have been utterly inhuman if that were the case. Still, it gives the Duke and Duchess of Sussex no right to show this callous disregard for the Queen who has always respected their wishes and values. Clearly, it’s not a game, but, nonetheless, the Queen is a winner, in my view, for Her Majesty didn’t hesitate to apologise for the things she didn’t do, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex haven’t.

As Prince Harry in my dream said he wished he didn’t do that interview, I wish I didn’t watch it. It is heartbreaking and dispiriting to see how awkward and bizarre the world is becoming, from the ethical point of view. How egotistical, narcissistic, and insensitive people can be even towards those who love them. Of course, there is nothing new in it, but each time I observe it I would like to fly to another planet. Mr Musk, please hurry up with your starship. And, yes, it certainly sounds as if I were desperate to harangue on the subject of the contemporary moral codes, and I must say I am, indeed.

(Written on March 8, 2021 in the Sky Control room on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.

The Perfect Beat of Møme’s and the Love Story in the “Flashback FM”

Notes on Møme’s and Ricky Ducati’s album “Flashback FM” (2021)

By Elena Vassilieva

Image: “L’étésien, aussi loin que la vue peu s’étendre.” By Elena Vassilieva

Møme, the French enfant terrible in the electronic music world, and the Canadian musician from L.A. Ricky Ducati released their long-awaited collaborative album “Flashback FM” at midnight, February 12, 2021. Møme, known for his vigorous and attractive beat and his creative versatility, is one of the brightest producers on Earth today, ever since his momentous artistic endeavour “Panorama” saw the light in 2016. The terra-australis-inspired “Panorama” was perceived by the musical critics as an overnight success of “petit génie de l’electro” (RTS, la radio du Sud), but even his earlier EPs “Eclipse” (2014) and “Cosmopolitan” (2015) are a splendid body of meticulous work that is equally refreshing. The classically trained Møme (Jérémy Souillart), who seems to have had a very strict and rigorous piano teacher and a very open-minded and encouraging guitar mentor at the school of music in Nice, acquired all the necessary skills to create music according to the rules common in classical music, but as he pleases. And the result speaks for itself. Right from the beginning, he had decided to use only his own samples. He plays piano and his favourite guitar; he records sounds found in natural and social environment, and inserts them into his French Touch-ed and Chillwaved House that is an aromatic bouquet of elements from various musical genres and styles. Just take a look at his last year production of Mr. J. Medeiros’ “No Singles” EP, which is on my list of the best musical projects of 2020, where Møme’s beautifully intense instrumental piece “Japan Mental” complements Medeiros’ work so nicely. Or listen to his very engaging soundtrack to the Alpine movie “Shelter” (2019), and you’ll know right away what I mean. He is a serious competitor and rival to any electronic dance music creator, even the seasoned one.

Their Paris-L.A. collaboration started about 3 years ago, although Møme and Ricky Ducati (then busy with his project Midnight to Monaco) had already created together the popular “Alive,” which adorns “Panorama,” and “Sail Away,” part of the fascinating EP L.A. “Møment II” (2018). The “Flashback FM,” “a mixture of the retro and futuristic vibes” (Møme), was envisioned as a radio station, which plays all the 15 tracks that serve as a narrative space, where life of their characters evolves. An excellent conceptualist, Møme pays attention to every single detail in the conceptual design of the album. All the songs are connected with each other sonically through this radio theme and also through the characters’ sentiments wrapped in a flashback. The lyrics, a fruit of Ducati’s imagination (with Sonny Sachdeva and Nicole d’Anna’s occasional help), are a realistic depiction of life; some are easy and light-hearted (e.g., “She’s Gone,” “Flamingo”), some are earnest, reflecting on the conflictual side of life (“They Said,” “I Know”). The characters’ emotions, their complicated relationships, their search for happiness, the other, and home are almost Sisyphian, and are a significant part of the lyrical content. The synthwave-y “In Control” is one of the best songs on the album lyrically. The way the character is brooding over the complex existential problems, while driving with the autopilot turned on in the given time and space, is compelling and profound.

After the release of the video clips for the most vibrant songs on the album “Got It Made” and “I Know,” they shifted the focus to the two male heroes. “Got It Made” and also “Friends” have a boost of inspiration from Daft Punk. The positive and pulsating energy of “Got It Made” is so strong and forceful that one ends up returning to the song again and again, and dancing to it till s/he drops. And it’s hard to resist Møme’s perfect beat here. In the superb video, directed by Pauma, out of nowhere, in the middle of the deserted and futuristic city, two handsome characters appear. They are described by Møme as robots, although they aren’t your ordinary machines, not the sort of Kraftwerk’s robots, either, who are reduced to mere tools that would repeat: “We are the robots. We are the robots. Я твой слуга. Я твой работник.” On the contrary, the Daft Punkesque, humanlike creatures, are so happily in love that they seem to notice only each other, whilst fully engaged in a playfully seductive dance, wonderfully choreographed by Ablaye Diop, Louise Adj, Manon Bouquet, and Abel Djelali. This love story, set in the colourful, digital cityscape and Martian landscape, creates a very special uplifting atmosphere and conveys the memorable impression of happiness. Now, what kind of robot is capable of doing that?

The mood in the song and video clip “I Know” is quite different due to the circumstances the characters are forced to endure. The lovely playfulness of “Got It Made” is replaced here by the tragic darkness of impossibility of the physical touch and intimacy. The love story ends in the literal (in the clip) physical and emotional crush of the characters. “I Know” is the album’s pièce de resistance, as it’s more original than the Daft Punk-driven “Got It Made,” also the emotional depth of the song is very moving. The robotlike heroes are a metaphor for the progressing digitalisation of our existence and society where social interaction is being more and more pushed and transferred into the virtual realities. But we are still humans, aren’t we, and mustn’t forget it. It’s also a reminder to us of what role a human being has in this universe. The question whether the AI would ever be able to replicate human emotions remains open, though I doubt it would. But the hypothesis that humans could/would become half-machines in the future seems dangerously plausible, and I dread it.

Of course, there are also songs here where the sketches of the female portraits are made, but they are not as vivid, let alone sensual, as the male ones. The female who just left the character in the rhythmic and breezy “She’s Gone” or even the sweet “Flamingo,” an energetic, warm, and humid song that has some sonic references to Møme’s “Club Sandwich,” both make a fleeting impression. “She’s Gone” sounds like a variation of “Cantare,” I’m curious how the song will be received by the Latin American audience? The Pitbull’s ft. Lenier version of “Cantare” has more than 5 million views since January 2021. And it seems like the “Flashback FM” creators may have had precisely this aim in mind, going mainstream, that is, when choosing the period soundscape. The song “Moves” is slightly tired and uninspired, although stylistically it is that sort of song you would really want to slow-dance to, as in the 80s, but melodically it is so unremarkable that you would wonder whether both artists got out of breath at that point and decided to take a break. I wish they had Vladimir Cosma’s “Reality,” performed by Richard Sanderson for the movie “La Boum” (1980), as a Vorbild, while writing the song, then the desired effect would’ve been there. And the effect of Il n’est ni bon ni mauvais would’ve been avoided. But perhaps that was precisely the desired effect? Also, lyrically, the rhyming of ‘money’ and ‘honey’ is a huge ‘no,’ unless it’s a deliberate move to stress this paradigm, but then it’s utterly unromantic, isn’t it? Remember “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles?

Ricky Ducati offers mostly smart vocal execution on the album. His vocal style is particularly gripping in the triad “They Said,” “I Know,” and “Got It Made”, the key songs that are holding the whole album together and the listener under a spell, and he is very impressive in “They Said.” In good trim are his vocals in the dancey “My Attention,” the song that is reminiscent of the Weeknd. I didn’t expect everyone’s darling to land here, but maybe my ears playing tricks on me? Whatever the case is, it’s a sprightly and lively variation. But shall Ducati wish to add more vibrant flexibility to his vocal space in the future, that would be of benefit. Møme’s response to the lyrical and vocal side of the songs is being expressed best in his tremendously fine guitar lines, which are essential part of the sonic narrative in the songs in this saga of distances, longing, roads, car rides, radio, broken hearts, friendship, and love. All the instrumental tracks are very fanciful and captivating. “The Final Dream” is a lush and elegant piece of the synthwave, filled with joy and optimism, despite the somewhat sad title.

This is a formidable and tidily produced album, conceptualised as the period sound (of the 80s and the 90s), that is meant to be played on the radio, but at the same time, it’s a little bit disappointing that with this choice of the musical style they limited themselves greatly to a parade of the cliché-pieces, such as “She’s Gone” or “Flamingo.” It’s a pity, as it seems to me that because of this Møme couldn’t play here to his full artistic potential. On the other hand, it’s understandable if they want to experiment and please a different listener than someone like me. But, luckily, they have the songs on “Flashback FM” that I also like.

Congratulations, Møme and Ricky!

(written on the snowy Shining Sea bikeway on Cape Cod on February 15, 2021)

Copyright © Elena Vassilieva All Rights Reserved 2021

What O’clock Is It at the Sands of Time? Or the Dream No. 7

by Elena Vassilieva    

Photo: “Qu’est-ce que c’est que ceci ?” “Le songe à trois cornes. Vers les trois heures.” By Elena Vassilieva

The place was unfamiliar, and it was very crowded there. The sound of the constantly opening and closing doors and the murmuring waves of the crowd didn’t seem to spoil my good humour at all. I was in another room searching for the day in the old book that was dusty and smelled like dried roses. In that nearly empty room, there was a small window, through which I could watch the crowd on the other side. Out of the blue, I saw you there and I waved to you. You noticed me nearly right away and smiled, moving towards me. Two Louis XV antique chairs were standing next to each other in that room. “Please, have a seat.” I said and pointed at the larger chair. “Are you trying to delight the crowd? Or are you trying to get lost in it? What have you been doing there?” I asked, smiling my surprise.

     “I’ve been on the lookout for some good oranges for my father. I barely made it through the crowd. Look!” And you were about to take out an orange from your netlike bag when, suddenly, the bag got loose, and all the oranges fell down and rolled all over on the floor.

     “Oh, oh!” I cried, “I’m so sorry. Luckily, there is no one else here, just you and me. Nous ne sommes pas ici pour enfiler des perles, mais des oranges,” I laughed when we began to pick the oranges from the floor.

     “Why are you speaking French to me? I’m not French.” You said.

     “Neither am I,” I said. “Are you jealous of him?”

     “Jealous? Me?” You blushed, as if I were reading your thoughts.

     “Yes, you. Or someone in you.”

     “Why should I be jealous?” You finally uttered, looking at the oranges in your hands.

     “Why not? You like him, and he likes me. Don’t you know he adored you, he may still do? And that would’ve been a great honour for you. Δ was written for you, or with you in mind. Haven’t you looked for yourself there lately? He did it gloriously, without stealing a note from you. Why didn’t you meet him when he went to your land to find out what your Sound is like, and what it is made of? Maybe you weren’t there already? But had you been there, would you have met him? I wonder if you really would? You found excuses not to join me to see the Carthaginian ruins and Chanel dresses that spring at the NGV, as if I were to bury you alive in those sands and winds of the ancient Egypt. I was hoping Nefertiti’s touch would lure you there. But you pretended you didn’t hear (from) me. I could certainly sense that Chanel dresses might evoke nostalgia in you for your beloved impostorous primroses: yesterday’s Anna Karenina and today’s wannabe Chanel innocent flower, ‘una persona honesta y tranquila’, for whom you were dancing your head and heart off and who was shamelessly stealing my breezes when she began to put on airs for you and was desperately trying to convince you that I was as mad as the Mad Hatter and she was your only sound ‘Sound’. And you seemed to be so fine with it and so fond of it. You pretended you weren’t there at all. Not for me… He looked up to you, you know that yourself, now it’s your turn to look up to him, want it or not. The Muses are with him, in any case. You can learn from him how to be brave and sincere, at least occasionally. Does the hypocrisy code of your circles would agree with the system of values your father taught you? I very much doubt it.

     My dearest Knights warned me to be careful and not to get hurt by you, although they have regard for you. ‘It’s a double-edged sword you are about to touch. I hope you know how to handle it,’ the Knight of Luxsolis kept saying. I didn’t listen to them then, heading again and again, like he, to your beautiful land to grasp your Sound that has been washed by the Sun and the Ocean and caressed by the stars. I remember how the Knight de Bérénice reminded us wisely that it’s in crows’ nature to steal: they would do it even when clad in Chanel dresses. They would watch every single footstep of yours, flying into a rage every time you do a wrong move. ‘Why would one want to be chained and be kept in a cage? This is certainly hard to comprehend. Absurdity, though as old as the world,’ the Knight de Bérénice would ask over and over again. ‘One must derive pleasure from it,’ he would say, shrugging his shoulders. ‘Please forgive me for putting it down like this.'” I finally said, taking the last oranges from the floor and suddenly realising that you were also in the room and I wasn’t just talking to myself, and that I was in the middle of the monotonous and nasty soliloquy.

     “Thanks for the cold water! I still must learn how to be with a woman like you.”

     “Water and fire are opposites.” I said. “A woman like me?”

     “Like absinthe. As for him, I admire him a great deal. You, too?” You gazed at me intently and then hastily answered your own question, as if afraid of my reply. “Oh, I shouldn’t have asked that at all. It’s plain as a pikestaff: you are head over heels in love with him. Of course, you would rather say, ‘madly in love’, wouldn’t you?” You studied my face again, then threw your hands in the air, then put them on your chest, shut your eyes, and repeated in a thin, childish voice, “Oh, I’m madly in love, madly in love!”

     “Ce sont lettres closes,” I said. “The odd thing is that you would allow yourself to be so acidic. And I would never share my thoughts on this matter with you, never, but I would happily do it with Lord Gellaitry, if I needed a shoulder to cry on.”

     There was silence for an instant. Then you said, eager to change the subject, “Is he in the crowd or above it?”

     “Lord Gellaitry?”

     “No, He.”

     “Isn’t it obvious that he’s above the crowd, but with love and care for them in his own heartfelt way, without losing his Self and sacrificing it for the sake of being loved by them? He would lose his Self with the Muses only, sacrifier aux Muses. But then his Self would emerge in whatever he would create with the Muses. It might be a true indulgence, self-indulgence, too, like it or not. He believes in l’art pour l’art, and that there is huge happiness in it. After that, if the crowd loves it, you’d better keep your hubris under control. You can’t possibly be in the crowd if you want to please them. It won’t do. You’ll get scattered the very same way your oranges just did. The crowd won’t listen to you if they see you among them, especially if they sense you are trying-too-hard to delight them no matter what.”

     “How does it work then? And how would you know about his Muses?” You asked.

     “I wouldn’t. It’s a guessing game. Ask him and the Knights what they think. And the Muses aren’t only his, they are mine and yours, too, if you know how to seduce them. Seduce the Muses, not the crowd. I suppose it’s smart to fly above the crowd, after you have pleased and satisfied your own Self with the Muses, without having despised the crowd. You need to touch them in a very simple, but honest way. You are giving yourself to the crowd, or at least, part of yourself.”

     “You need to take your ego out of the box and set it free, for the sake of the Muses then?” You continued.

     “Perhaps. But the people who manage your affairs, should be madly in love with what you are doing. Otherwise, why would you rely on someone who hasn’t the slightest idea of what you are doing and of what you really want to do? This way you rely on their wishes, not yours, suppressing yourself. And that can’t be good for your soul, just can’t.”

     “How would you know it can’t be? You sing scales all the same. But it’s more than just scales or keys, definitely more,” said you, slightly irritated.

     “No doubt, it is. Why pretend trusting someone who pretends to be your dear friend, but doesn’t really care about your most sincere worries and concerns?” said I. You didn’t say a word, but seemed to be brooding over it.

     “Oh, I may know what you don’t want,” I continued, ignoring the sudden change of mood, “and these two things, at least the way you are imagining them, may be the worst for you, for anyone, come to think of.”

     “And what would they be?” asked you.

     “I can give you a hint: it’s all about excesses, boundaries, and presence or lack of self-control.” I said.

     “Oh, how so?” you smiled.

     “Because they are another box where rarely a man is capable to find the way out without being harmed. You’d better not wish for them.” I said and kissed you on the cheek. You seemed to be pleasantly surprised. After that you asked:

     “Are you going to see him?”

     “Are you going to see him?” I repeated. We were silent for a moment. You looked at your oranges, and I looked at my book.  

     “Would you care for an orange?” You said. I just shook my head.  

     “Don’t tell me we need Lord Gellaitry this very moment,” remarked you in a gentle voice with a smile on your face. I leaned towards the window and said “Don’t tease.”

     “May I take a look at that book of yours, Alisa?” You ventured to ask, after a pause. You startled me, saying my childhood nickname aloud.

     “Yes, please, by all means,” said I, showing you to the table. You randomly opened the book and read it aloud:

     “‘You’re holding it upside down!’ Alice interrupted.

     ‘To be sure I was! Humpty Dumpty said gaily, as she turned it round for him. ‘I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right – though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now – and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents – ‘

     ‘Certainly,’ said Alice.

     ‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

     ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there is a knock-down argument for you!’”

     We looked at each other and started laughing. I was about to give you another kiss on the cheek, but you said, “No, please, don’t!”, then you closed the book and left. The oranges for your father were lying on the table. I took one of them and smelled it.

     P.S. That was just a dream.

     (The dream took place on a very warm and humid night of July 9, 2018 in good old Stonington, CT, recorded on the next morning and edited for clarity on January 26, 2021 in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod. “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll was cited here. To D.D.)

Copyright © Elena Vassilieva All Rights Reserved 2021

The Pitchforkian 100- and 50-layer Cake and the Belated Note to Moses

By Elena Vassilieva

Photo: © Elena Vassilieva « Qui a mangé le gâteau? Pas moi. »

Today, finally, I was going to congratulate Moses Sumney on his landing on the Pitchfork’s list of (arguably!) best songs and albums of 2020. The list flew to me on Twitter from the ecstatic Moses himself on the day he had spotted his name there, but I was too busy to pay close attention to it then. And when I glanced at it a few days later, I was so flushed with puzzlement and crashed with disappointment that it escaped me completely to send my congratulatory note to Moses. In fact, his position at #3 didn’t seem to me satisfactory either, given how good his double album græ is, culturally and politically motivated, handsomely produced, and adorned with his musing and soul-touching vocals. He should have been #1 among their musical choices, I thought. The laboriously arranged list of their crème de la crème made me wince, however, as it appeared to be, naturally, extremely subjective (read: endorsed by the Pitchfork cartel, of course, strictly figuratively speaking! God forbid!), but also very equivocal as for what criteria they had in mind whilst compiling it? Political message perhaps? Gender or race maybe? Emotional stability vs. instability, no? The pandemic mood? Commercial success? And what about the quality of the product itself, say, originality? Most names on the list are familiar faces, some are mainstream oriented, some are indie with a strong fandom. You would think the selection should be guided by the quality of the product in the first place, leaving all other factors off the radar, or not? I thought I’d still give it a shot, at least, to a handful of their 100.

I started with the #100, Ela Minus’ dominique, a rather pretty song about the exhausted self of the lonely insomniac, very neatly produced by Ela herself, with a terrific beat of the ex-drummer and a gracefully moving techno sound of the machine lover, with simple lyrics and pleasant vocals of “the half-human/half-machine” (Ela) that are eerily reminiscent of Still Corners’ Tessa Murray, particularly in the very beginning of the song. Whether it was a conscious homage to the Still Corners’ goddess of sensuality or a pure coincidence, is hard to say (the homage hasn’t been acknowledged; let me know if it has), but the startling likeness, obviously achieved through Ela’s beloved machines, didn’t agree with my taste. What is wrong with her own lovely voice, I couldn’t stop wondering, and gave another listen to her à la Sylvan Esso volcán (2016). I wish she would deploy her vocals the way they would become recognisable and associated with her artistic persona only. Alternatively, why not simply to hire the fancied vocalist herself? But the machine-cloned vocals that would remind the listener of a different (pretty much alive!) vocalist should hardly be encouraged. This is why dominique didn’t seem to be the most interesting choice from Minus’ very well-crafted “Acts of Rebellion” where she cleverly connected all the 10 pieces with the same sound thread.  

After that I felt myself being catapulted into the #1 position, right to Fiona Apple, the topping of the Pitchfork’s cake. The intriguing percussion and piano intro of her I Want You to Love Me pleased my ear, but right after that song, I wished I had stopped someplace else before flying into this raging tempest. For instance, at the Weeknd’s Blinding Lights, everyone’s darling (although I prefer the Chromatics’ version of the song, so elegantly done by Johnny Jewel), or Helado Negro’s unpretentious and delicate I Fell in Love, or Fleet Foxes’ melodious and ubiquitous Sunblind (I only wish the production were less busy and more colourful here), or at Arca’s capriciously dashing Mequetrefe, or at the 1975’s uninspired and sarcastic If You Are Too Shy (Let Me Know), or at Drake’s sincere and reality-driven Laugh Now Cry Later, but a stop at Run the Jewels’ Just (ft. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha) is a must if you aren’t escaping the societal peripeteia and want to have an admiring look at how little it requires to send a very strong social message that is also very convincing and ear-pleasing aesthetically.

Fiona Apple, the topping, however, turned out to be a cacophonous theatre of one (I dare say bitter!) woman. In her own words, she is “pissed off, funny and warm.” The state of being “pissed off” seems to be the conceptual framework for her album “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” where you will hardly find any fun or warmth, but you will witness the show of flying indulgently into a temper. And you would also bombard yourself continuously with the dilemma-like questions: If you love yourself, will you be loved? If you love people, will they also love you? But if you fall in love with someone, Cupid knows whether s/he will fall in love with you, too. You will have to take your chances. If you beg for forgiveness, can you also beg for love? No, it probably won’t do, not in the long run. On the other hand, you don’t want to run from love, it also won’t do, it will eventually haunt you like mad. All these heartbreaking banalities were circulating in my head while I was desperately trying to understand what her theatre is about and why on earth she tops the list?

Perhaps her character’s resentfulness and anger, presented here deliberately with such a bewildering aesthetical rawness, make her eligible for the crown of their list? The album has a striking similarity to her folksy Hot Knife (2013). Kudos to those artists who make efforts not to be self-repetitive, although it’s inevitable to repeat oneself, but if the repetitions are moderate and tasteful, they can be beneficial to both the listener and the artist. That peculiar ‘something’ that gives the listener pleasure and makes that particular sound identifiable and longed for, matters a great deal. There should be more to it than just an unrequited love wrapped in a cursed sand paper, I kept speculating as for Fiona Apple. Can it be that it’s just like Edvard Munck’s Der Schrei der Natur? Hmm. The sort of cabaret genre she had chosen for her album requires very good vocal acting, which, alas, isn’t offered here, in my view. The unconvincing acting simply ages her character prematurely, making it appear so uncontrollably vengeful and angry that it’s repelling. But maybe that was the aim?

Also, unlike the Pitchfork reviewer, except for the line “Running up the hill,” I’m not finding Kate Bush here, not even for a second and not even when inebriated by love or absinthe. But she must have listened to the music by Paul McCartney, The Beatles, XTC, and Tori Amos while working on the album as I hear them there, especially in I Want You to Love Me, and they are big shoes to fit. If her album is “boarding on literature,” as the Pitchfork reviewer said, then I’d like to scream louder than Fiona Apple and the Munck’s hero together: “Help! Help! Je n’y entends rien, cela me passe.” But, refusing to give up, my ultimate thought was that perhaps Fiona Apple decided to reflect on the Trumpian America with its frustrated, upset, resented, demoralised, depressed, and hysteria-clad democracy? But had she decided to impersonate America with all its frictions and self-inflicted wounds, wouldn’t it be there, in the lyrics? All the harsh words (“bang it, bite it, bruise it, kick me, evil,” e.g.) are pretty much limited to her personal space of disillusionment. (See Moses Sumney’s piece Cut for comparison.) To place her opus therefore in a political paradigm would’ve been too far from the truth, it would’ve been just my interpretive projection a priori, without a single proof found in her lyrics. Aesthetically, to the listener like myself, her album seems to be an enormously disappointing puzzle on the taste-maker’s (?) list, the Pitchfork cartel, that is. And what is to be done? To bake your own cake.

As for Moses, I couldn’t locate him anywhere in the Twitter space, not lately. Hmm, he must have vanished into thin air? After all that loud banging and screaming right above you, I’m not suprised, Moses. “In the meantime, we’ll get it straight. I hope our friendship can recuperate,” as you said it so well in your In Bloom.

(written in the Sky Control room, on the night of the winter solstice and the Great Conjunction, December 21, 2020)

Copyright © Elena Vassilieva 2021. All rights reserved.

Tuning to the Sylvan Esso Frequency

By Elena Vassilieva  

On Sylvan Esso’s feminism and activism, “Radio” and “Free Love.”

Photo: © Elena Vassilieva, The Playground Free Love, 2020

It’s March of 2015, and the Tiny Desk concert at NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., has just begun. The young woman with a funny bun on the very top of her head seems to have no bones at all when she is making waves-like dance moves. I’m curious how on earth she is able to be so rhythmically precise and light as a feather while wearing her bulky white platform sneakers? “But if you, guys, want it to, like, do a little moving together, just imagine you are the seaweed in the Ursula’s cave,” she urges the audience to join her, making everyone laugh at once. Who is that whimsical beauty, the Moominvalley’s Little My-like character she is portraying, who can be affable and bold, smart and naughty, kind and subversive?

For a very long time, I thought Sylvan Esso equals Amelia Meath solely. Oddly enough, I could only hear her (en)chanting, with morning crispiness, voice that was singing about the everyday of a woman that is down-to-earth and yet full of daydreams: “I’m the song that you can’t get out of your head.” A woman that is yearning for the simplest pleasures on Earth, say, a warm embrace of the one she is in love, or a cup of very strong coffee brewed in a percolator in the middle of an ordinary and busy day. That level-headed woman would rather confront than break things and flee, or inflict self-harm. “Oh if my ears were as big as the ocean, I could hear all your devotion. Play it right!” She would run away in her imagination only, just for the sake of her self-indulgent playfulness, provided, she has a worthy company. She is a young woman of an independent spirit. At least, these are the clues I gathered from the raw, stream-of-consciousness-like lyrics on Sylvan Esso’s earlier albums.

When I discovered Sylvan Esso through that NPR Tiny Desk Concert series, I had been a passionate Wagnerian, but a novice in the territory of electronic music, let alone its subgenre of folktronica. Thanks to their introduction, I immediately became quite a devoted lover of that genre, expanding my cultural horizon further. Nearly right after I got acquainted with Sylvan Esso, I also dared to step inside the magical musical box of the celebrated and influential Australian electronica artists Cut Copy who have been on the musical scene since 2001. Only then, I began to see and hear Amelia’s partner, the talented Nicholas Sanborn, the man behind another music project, Made of Oak. Of course, one may find it perplexing, but the truth is that Sanborn’s sound arrived to my ears through the Cut Copy’s founder and adventurous talent, Dan Whitford. Nick and Dan share a very similar taste for rhythmic textures and beats, very often exotic in the best sense of the word, say, African and Aboriginal. Needless to say, what a delightful surprise and joy it was to have Cut Copy’s remix of Sylvan Esso’s Radio in the early June of 2018.

The song’s harsh critique of the political maneuvering inside the music industry resonated well with fans, fellow musicians, and, ironically, even radio DJs. The main idea of the song was to show the music industry’s demanding and very often unfair attitude towards musicians, and also to highlight the fact that the mainstream music is being played on radio stations much more often than independent music. Sylvan Esso protested strongly at the situation of injustice and inequality. Although Cut Copy didn’t say anywhere explicitly that they were driven by the same idea of unfairness, one still may interpret their willingness to make a remix of the song as their wish to join the protest. Moreover, the remix is anything but a mainstream piece, displaying a smart attire of attractive hooks and unexpected turns. Just recently, Dan Whitford continued the topic by questioning Spotify’s position towards the artists in terms of their economic wellbeing, let alone Spotify’s CEO’s reasoning behind it. Daniel Ek gave a surprisingly preposterous suggestion to musicians for improving the situation: Make more songs, and you’ll earn more money. It does sound nearly exactly as the first line and the chorus of Radio: “Gimme a new single! Make me a new baby! Slave to the radio!” The most brazen words in the song had to be bleeped/edited, of course, in order to be played by radio stations freely, without getting complaints from all the puritanical listeners. Should the artists take the ill-fitting advice from Spotify’s CEO, it is inevitable that the quality of their songwriting would suffer tremendously, argues Dan Whitford, and the platform will be flooded by the substandard or derivative product in no time at all.

Political or apolitical Cut Copy’s remix of Radio might be, at any rate, it succeeded in making me as a listener to have another fresh look at the original version of the song and Nick Sanborn as a dexterous and very engaging producer. His minimalism, combined with his feminism (in a similar way John Lennon famously declared that he was a feminist) and egalitarian philosophical outlook, is quite impressive. Yes, it is, once one realizes how careful and smart his production technique and style towards Amelia’s vocals and lyrics are. No wonder the naïve listener (at least, in myself) sees and hears only Amelia at first because Sanborn as a producer deliberately and fully focuses his attention on her, in order to highlight the conceptual side of their songs. Even when he opts for some experiments, e.g., making a track sound as if it were being played on an antique pathephone, he is approaching it with great care and consideration so that it wouldn’t interfere with the colorful palette of Amelia’s voice, but also with her rhythm, tone, and intonation. After all, it’s still a nonconformist frontwoman’s repertoire, nearly always showcasing its daring and anti-puritan aesthetics that stretches easily even to her own body image. The “folk girl” who would like you to take off guard with her unshaved armpits, a ring in her nose, Spice Girls’ shoes, sex-appealing dance moves, and the free spirit of Sylvan Esso.   

“I’ve always been interested in breaking binaries,” said Amelia in the recent conversation with Bob Boilen during presentation of their new album Free Love at NPR. She also not that long ago bravely made her bisexuality publicly known, the fact that gives an additional meaning to their, as they stated themselves, polysemic Free Love which is about “the anxiety of being in the world and how to love freer,” echoes Sanborn supportively. “But it can mean so many things depending on your mood,” adds Amelia. Each out of the ten songs composed under the conceptual umbrella of Free Love has its own message, be it a social or environmental one, such as a speculative vision of the fragile and cruel world in What If or complicated human relations in Free, the lifestyle of an artist in Train. Or a message about one’s emotional state, where one is flirtatiously encouraging the other to open the heart in “the unapologetically hooky and catchy” (Nick) Ferris Wheel or about the uncertainty and anxiousness of the falling and being in love in Ring when the relationship turns out to be a trap. Or another, this time amorous, nod to radio in Frequency where the character, while being in the woods and among flowers, in the middle of nowhere, is romantically longing for the other who is thousands miles away and with whom she isn’t acquainted at all, but who excites her imagination so much that she happily lives fully immersed in that desirous fantasy. Sylvan Esso’s long-time friend and a true renaissance man, Moses Sumney, directed a video for the song, in which he beautifully translated the relationship into the interracial and same-gender interplay. Or the message can simply be a contemplative state of being with a good dose of silliness, such as the mischievous heroine in Runaway, Make It Easy, and in the joyous ode to NYC Rooftop Dancing.

Although both Amelia and Nick admitted that they have matured over the years, especially in how they make choices for encrypting different messages in their songs, they are still very fond of the youthfulness and bashfulness of the character they are creating. It has that feel to it of the “Victorian teenage, letter writing, romance”, says Amelia self-deprecatingly. It’s a character that is interested in the daily life, its societal, political, and emotional experiences, and is exhibiting an “emotional range of our lives,” as Nick succinctly describes it during their conversation with TJ Morgan on KEXP. “We are feeling the rhythm of the day,” he continues, even “the mood of the weather is influencing our songwriting, but we also inspire each other.” “It’s like that with us,” says Amelia, putting her hands one into another, showing how intimate their creative process in the studio is. “Feelings first,” she laughs. “We have developed our own language in the studio,” adds Nick, “right to the point when it may appear completely incomprehensible to the outsider, but we understand each other just by looking at each other.” “It’s a lot of back and forth about what’s working and what’s not working. And if something is not working, it’s us arguing and then figuring out why it’s not working, and what the song actually wants. It’s almost like the song becomes its own other person in the room that we are trying to discover.” Aside to their close creative partnership, they are inspired by their newly built studio in the North Carolina woods filled with toads and blue-tailed skinks, but also by as “simple” an instrument as Nick’s modular synthesizer, which never stops surprising him.

No wonder the production on Free Love is a splendid and curious piece of boldly crafted work that gives you an impression of one long and venturesome day in the character’s life. The admirable thing is that the lyrics, melody, and production don’t divorce here at all at any instance, but instead coincide in their purpose to illustrate the heroine’s feelings and thoughts. All songs contain tiny different quotes, references or discursive fragments, be it from a (sub)genre of the House music or just a short dialogue such as in Train, or a monologic declaration “I love you” in Free, the song that is very evocative of Joni Mitchell’s aesthetic. The vocal style in the sparkling and bubbly “Look at – look at – look at – I can see everything” line in Rooftop Dancing is a gracious nod to an Australian artist Elle Graham from Woodes, who was supporting Sylvan Esso on their tour in Melbourne in January of 2018. The children’s laughter and rhyming in the song, a sample taken from the archives at the Smithsonian, reminds the listener of the future to which we as a society strive, where there is a chance for everyone to have a happy childhood and equal rights. “Sunlight beaming out over the bridge / We’re all running, outrunning death.” The Sylvan Esso’s character is a rebellious and justice seeking American girl who finds it utterly unbearable to stand at the side. It isn’t therefore surprising at all that today’s problems in American society are being reflected in their songwriting. Like their character, Amelia and Nick aren’t shy to join public protests to support equal rights for LGBTQ community or to encourage people to vote for change. As it happened this year, on October 31, when they took part in the “I Am Change” march in Graham, NC, where, to their horror and dismay, the police pepper-sprayed the peaceful rally that included small children. They also expressed their skepticism about digital platforms, e.g., Spotify, “owned by terrifying conglomerates” (Amelia) that are exploiting artists and their fans. “I’m rethinking my relationship to capitalism right now,” she sighs. The keynote that will probably find place in the everyday of their fearless and freethinking American girl on their next album.

(written on October 4, 2020 in the middle of Atlantic, on my way to Martha’s Vineyard)

© Copyright 2020 Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.

“But lately now, the other night,

Upon my bed I sat upright,

And bade someone bring me a book,

A romance, and this I took

To read and drive the night away,

Since I thought it better, I say,

Than chess or backgammon tables.

And in this book were written fables…”

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Book of the Duchess, trans. by A. S. Kline, 2007.

Mostly random thoughts on some cultural events and creative personalities.

Photo: The London Plane Tree. © Starbuck Trumbull

P.S. I keep a book of dreams where I lead a parallel life and where you are often my heroes.

“La piraña. La naranja. Tú.” – C. B. P. de M.

© Elena Vassilieva. Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.