This Is The End And It’s Still Living: Anita Lane (1960 – 2021)

Various media sources are reporting the death of Australian singer-songwriter Anita Lane, though the precise date and manner of her flying away, like her birth date, and like much of her professional career and personal life, remain publicly obscure. She was a long-time contributor to a German-English-Australian creative axis involving such artists as The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Einstürzende Neubauten, Rowland S. Howard, Crime and the City Solution, Die Haut, Mick Harvey, These Immortal Souls, Kid Congo Powers, and Barry Adamson. A native of Melbourne, Lane emigrated to the United Kingdom with The Birthday Party in 1980, then lived in Germany, Morocco, Sicily, New York and Australia at various times over the ensuing years. In the early 2000s, she largely retired from music-making, returning for good to her native Australia. She spent several years caring for her family in a small coastal town near the Queensland-New South Wales border, then returned to Melbourne, where she died, her peripatetic global experiences ultimately delivering her back to her birthplace for that sad, final bow.

Lane was not at all prolific as a recording artist, releasing but one EP (Dirty Sings in 1988) and two albums (1993’s Dirty Pearl and 2001’s Sex O’Clock) under her own name, all of them outstanding and woefully under-appreciated. Her (slightly) larger mark on recording history was as a lyrical and vocal guest collaborator for most of the aforementioned artists, with a song here, a song there, unpredictable in their occurrence, but always a treat when they landed. She penned lyrics for The Birthday Party’s classic tracks “Dead Joe,” “Kiss Me Black,” and “A Dead Song.” (The header of this post comes from the latter of those three). She was a founding member of Cave’s Bad Seeds, co-writing “From Her to Eternity” and “Stranger Than Kindness,” both regarded among his finest works, by critics, audiences, and Cave himself. She also provided several thrilling vocal parts on ex-Birthday Party/Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s English arrangements of Serge Gainsbourg‘s catalog highlights, and her duet with Blixa Bargeld on Neubauten’s “Blume” is among that group’s greatest achievements.

At bottom line, Anita Lane was judicious, perhaps even guarded, in choosing her projects, but she always made a difference with her contributions. As a long-time listener, I was always pleased when I purchased a record and discovered that she was a part of it, one way or another. While the creative cohort within which Lane primarily moved and worked has certainly been capable of copious macho bullshit over the years, there were and are several personally and creatively strong women active in that orbit (e.g. Lane, Lydia Lunch, Genevieve McGuckin, Gudrun Gut, Bronwyn Adams, Danielle de Picciotto, etc.) who were not just playing a passive “muse” role, but were active, and outstanding, working artists in their own rights.

Their catalogs are all impressive, and worthy of exploration, each with their own unique views and visions as creators and collaborators. Lane, as it happens, was also involved in a long-time personal relationship with Nick Cave through his The Birthday Party and early Bad Seeds days. Reviews or commentary about her often relegate her to that unfortunate “muse” role, or (worse) slot her into some “girlfriend given a job by better-known boyfriend” trope. This has always been wrong, as proven by the evidence of others who actively chose to collaborate with her, and by the objectively brilliant differences that her contributions always made. And also, from the horse’s mouth, by Cave’s own reflections on Anita’s passing, posted here. Key quote: “She was the smartest and most talented of all of us, by far.”

I was pleased to learn that The Quietus had recently published a considered evaluation of Lane’s career, entitled Unearthing A Pearl: Praising the Sexual Mysticism of Anita Lane. Their premise, which I agree with, was that she was most creatively active at a time when the critical and cultural worlds weren’t quite ready for her, forcing her to pave a way for many artists who followed, without ever reaping the plaudits she deserved for her work. I honestly don’t think I can improve upon anything that article says by further expressing its sentiments in my own words, so I simply encourage you to read it as a most fine piece of music journalism. I sort of hope that Anita Lane might have had a chance to see it before she passed, too. 

I would posit that one of the finest visual examples of Lane’s determined willingness and ability to forge, shape, and control her own image comes in the video for a remake of Nancy Sinatra’s signature hit “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” recorded with ex-Bad Seed Barry Adamson. In the video, Lane is confident, sultry, sassy, sensual . . . while carrying and cuddling a baby throughout the shoot. Adamson, ostensibly the auteur for this particular version of that song, is relegated to smart dance steps and tambourine shaking in its visual representation. The short but potent little film turns expected music video tropes on their heads in so many ways, and it’s utterly wonderful in all of its subtle bucking against the established norms of the form.

If you’re not familiar with that song or any/many other works from Lane’s career, I offer a special memorial installment of my “Five Songs You Need To Hear” series below, documenting highlights of Anita’s vocal work, each song by a different artist, each one greater for her contributions. Anita Lane was a classic, in her own deeply-personal ways, and I am grateful for the small, but densely-powerful, body of work she left behind her.

“These Boots Are Made For Walking,” from Delusion (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Barry Adamson (1991)

“The Fullness of His Coming,” from Dirty Pearl by Anita Lane (w/s/g The Birthday Party) (1993)

“Blume,” from Tabula Rasa by Einstürzende Neubauten (1993)

“Overseas Telegram,” from Intoxicated Man by Mick Harvey (1995)

“Firething,” from Members of the Ocean Club by Gudrun Gut (1996)

Five Songs You Need to Hear (Baby, Please Come Home)

I’ve written before at length here about how much I hate the mercenary use of Christmas music in public spaces through the shopping season in the weeks-to-months preceding the Great Unwrapping. That said, I don’t hate all Christmas music, especially when it’s deployed sensibly and with sensitivity in the privacy of one’s own home, getting jiggy with the spirit of the season, independent of the need to acquire for acquisition’s sake. So as the big day draws nigh, I return to my periodic series here to present another Five Songs You Need To Hear, all of these with a festive (?) seasonal feel. This is the 21st article in this series, so if these songs hit your sweet spot, you can click here to get all of the previous “Five Songs” installments (scroll down after you click that link to move past this current article). Happy listening, as always!

#1. COIL, “Christmas Is Now Drawing Nigh”

#2. Half Man Half Biscuit, “All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”

#3. Hljómsveitin Myrká, “Jólakötturinn (The Christmas Cat)”

#4. The Residents, “Christmas Morning Foto”

#5. The Fall, “(We Wish You) A Protein Christmas”

Five Songs You Need To Hear (And That’s The Truth)

With all the excitement around our move to Arizona, I note that my normal monthly flow of articles here at Ye Olde Blogge has been a bit disrupted of late. So in trying to achieve a new normal during the last month of this most weird year, it seems a “Five Songs You Need To Hear” post is in order, since I haven’t managed to get one out here since September. I return fully to the original premise of these pieces today, as the following five songs have nothing in common except that (a) they have been rocking my world recently, (b) you may not have heard them, and (c) I think you should do so, right now.  This is the 20th article in this series, so if these songs hit your sweet spot, you can click here to get all of the previous “Five Songs” installments (scroll down after you click that link to move past this current article). Happy listening, as always!

#1. Awa Poulo, “Mido Yirima”

#2. Alice Donut, “The Puny and Revolting Men of Advertising Smile”

#3. First Aid Kit, “Come Give Me Love”

#4. Frank Zappa, “Watermelon in Easter Hay”

#5. Fleetwood Mac, “Earl Grey”

Five Songs You Need To Hear (To Everything There Is a Season)

Goodness, October’s looming, and I’ve not offered one of my ongoing Five Songs You Need To Hear articles in September! Guess I should rectify that this morning, if only to satisfy my own obsessive tendencies. And, of course, to goose your curiosity on some music that you might never have heard before, but should. I’ve already written a few pieces this month about new things that are rocking my world, so rather than reiterating or re-culling cuts from those albums, the five songs below represent older things that have re-emerged into the active playlist hereabouts, with pleasing results. In each case, some external factor jogged my memory, so I also offer a little narrative before each song on why I’m playing and loving it now, in some cases after many years of not having heard it.  As always, you can click here to get all of the previous “Five Songs” installments (scroll down after you click that link to move past this current article), which are now at 19 posts and counting. Your Head A Splode.

#1. “I Am The Walrus” by Spooky Tooth. (Why: It played over the end credits of the Watchmen mini-series, which we enjoyed. It’s a shockingly visceral take on a very cerebral Beatles cut).

#2. “Weakling” by Swans. (Why: We watched the outstanding Where Does A Body End documentary this week. Two hours and forty minutes of pummeling, along with some great, informative interviews. Perfect. Brutal. Sweet. Also, note the cover of the 1983 album from which this cut was culled, and compare/contrast to the mask I am wearing in my current profile photo).

#3. “Sweet And Dandy” by Toots and the Maytals. (Why: First, because we watched the film Yardie recently; it was partially set in the early ’70s Jamaican gang war era that framed the epic The Harder They Come film, the classic soundtrack of which featured this song. Second, because Toots Hibbert died this month, alas).

#4. “Come On Over” by Olivia Newton-John. (Why: I wrote a whole article explaining this one).

#5. “Uncloudy Day” by The Staple Singers (Why: We also watched the outstanding Mavis! documentary recently).

Five Songs You Need To Hear (I’m Only Bleeding)

In 2004, I took on a self-imposed project to write and post a poem a day on my website for the entire calendar year. I got it done, but it was a slog. On August 31, 2004, the day’s bit of poesy was called “Twice As Far Behind As Yet To Go,” noting that the year had hit its two-thirds mark, and how it was feeling a bit endless on one plane, but with an end visible ahead on another. With a little editing, it’s a perfectly apt sentiment for August 31, Anno Virum, as well:

It’s summer, yet an illness falls like snow,
atop an ice of hatred hard below.
The dire year drags relentlessly, although
there’s twice as far behind as yet to go.
The joys of friendly discourse are benumbed.
We’re isolated, bludgeoned, stricken dumb.
But as we plot the “to” against the “from:”
there’s twice as far behind as yet to come.
Off in the distance, maybe, we can see
a shoreline from this sea of misery.
Perhaps we can feel hope, to some degree,
with twice as much behind as yet to be.
(The writer sighs on reaching a plateau,
with twice as far behind as yet to go).

If all goes as planned, Marcia and I will wave off 2020 from a new house somewhere in Northern Arizona, knowing that we’ll be in the final three weeks of the worst Presidential term in American history. Please Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Brahma, Flying Spaghetti Monster, [Your Deity Here], let it be so. It’s harder to predict the state of the virus and the festering sores of institutional inequity at that future point, though I suspect that with an anti-scientific, greed-fueled, sexist and racist administration perhaps twitching in its death throes, its purveyors and enablers may purposefully make things worse before they have any possibility of getting better. But again, LORD willing and the creek don’t rise, come the end of January, we will most hopefully be in a place where those who steer our collective colorful caravan are actively interested in seeking a path toward health, justice, social equity, security, safety, stability and charity. We’re desperately in need of a new compass pointing that way.

A stirring soundtrack for that trip wouldn’t hurt either. Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to this installment of my ongoing “Five Songs You Need to Hear” series. Which was motivated primarily because I just nabbed one particular song that you most definitely need to hear, right now: Public Enemy’s 2020 remix of their towering 1989 anthem “Fight the Power,” from Spike Lee’s equally thrilling film Do The Right Thing.  The core riffs, beats and rhymes of the original version of “Fight the Power” are just so iconic all these years on, and I am most pleased that P.E. have returned to this classic with a topical and timely update, involving some of the many talented folk they have inspired over the years.

I vividly remember hearing “Fight the Power” for the first time when Marcia and I saw Do The Right Thing (one of my all-time favorite films) in Washington DC on or very near its release date, and it opened with Rosie Perez dancing and boxing on the big screen with that song just absolutely kicking!!! It remains the only time I can ever recall an audience clapping, standing and whooping for an opening credit segment. (You should watch it now). As provocative and inspirational as the song was in and out of its original context, it’s dismaying to think that it’s been 31 years (“1989, a number . . .”) since Spike released that great film, in which the climactic scenes hinge upon a black man being choked to death by a police officer. I guess I hoped, dreamed, maybe even believed in 1989 that things would have changed by 2020 in ways that such acts would be inconceivable, not commonplace. But nope, we’re not there yet. And we’re maybe not even twice as far behind as yet to go on that front. We’ve got work. Let’s do it. Voting smart would be a great step, for starters.

The other four songs in this month’s installment are also 2020 cuts with topical themes, food for thought, fuel for action. You can click here to get all of the previous “Five Songs” installments (scroll down after you click that link to move past this current article), which are now at 18 posts and counting. Loads of musical wonders and weirdness await intrepid explorers there. Get down to the sound of the funky drummer!

#1. “Fight the Power: Remix 2020 (Feat. Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG and Questlove)” by Public Enemy

#2. “Amoral” by Napalm Death

#3. “Asylum Seeker” by Gordon Koang

#4. “a few words for the firing squad (radiation)” by Run The Jewels

#5. “Please Don’t Fuck Up My World” by Sparks

Five Songs You Need To Hear (It Felt Like A Kiss)

It’s been a little while since I did one of these ostensibly-monthly featurettes, so today seems like a fine day to return to form and schedule. For this installment of “Five Songs You Need to Hear,” I’ve picked cuts that are all from 2020 releases, and are by bands who I’d never heard prior to This Foul Plague Year. I’m always pleased to find exciting new artists of interest, in keeping with my “the best music ever made is being made right now” ethos. While I didn’t specifically intend it to be that way, after compiling this list, I noted that there’s a decidedly international feel to the selections, with the artists featured representing Mexico, Canada, Norway, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. That’s been fairly typical of my listening this year, and I suspect my year-end Best Albums list will be fairly multi-culti accordingly. Beyond those thematic links, the five songs have nothing else in common stylistically, but I am loving them all, I doubt you’ve heard them all, and I think you will enjoy them once you give them a spin. You can click here to get all of the “Five Songs” installments (scroll down when you get there to move past this article), which are now at 17 posts and counting. Loads of musical wonders and weirdness await the brave and intrepid there. Get ’em in your ear holes!

#1. “Chapter III: The Mortician’s Lamenting Dirge” by Deathnoisefrequency

#2. “Relativistic Jets” by Par Ásito

#3. “Texas Drums Pt I” by Pottery

#4. “Spiritual Change” by Etuk Ubong

#5. “The First Thing I Remember” by Slow Is The New Fast