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December 21, 2012

Book Notes - Camille Paglia "Glittering Images"

Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Camille Paglia's Glittering Images lives up to its subtitle, "A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars." Paglia's essays introduce 29 pieces of art that range from an Egyptian tomb painting to the science fiction film Revenge of the Sith, and enhance her standing as one of the grandest and most iconoclastic cultural critics of our time.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"The ever-provocative Paglia returns with a survey of Western art, captured in 24 essays that move from Egyptian tombs to Titian’s Venus with a Mirror to Eleanor Antin’s conceptual art project 100 Boots. The provocative part? In the end, she proclaims that the avant-garde is dead and that George Lucas is our greatest living artist. This will get the smart folks talking."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In her own words, here is Camille Paglia's Book Notes music playlist for her book, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars:


Music has always directly inspired my writing. Each of my six books had certain key works that I played again and again while working on the manuscript. For example, my first book, Sexual Personae (1990), was modeled on Brahms' symphonies (above all the third), Debussy's tone-poems, Puccini's operas (specifically Madame Butterfly for the chapter on Emily Dickinson), and the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street. I also played movie soundtracks: The Egyptian, The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Vertigo. For my book about poetry, Break, Blow, Burn (2005), I constantly listened to Stevie Nicks' 2001 album, Trouble in Shangri-La, whose resonant, maturely reflective voice I found both useful and relevant.

Throughout the five years of writing my new book, Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, I immersed myself as usual in a wide variety of music. Here, listed chronologically, are a few songs and albums that I found especially intriguing or influential during this long project.


1) Dionne Warwick, "Walk on By" (1964)

What sophistication and class! Too many of today's mega-hits are such regressive child's play compared to this. Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote a passel of fabulous songs for Dionne Warwick (Whitney Houston's cousin), many of them with a samba beat. It was part of the international vogue for bossa nova, heard in many film scores of the period. The original Brazilian compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto (such as "The Girl from Ipanema") were popularized in the U.S. by jazz artists Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz.


2) Donovan, "Season of the Witch" (1966)

An eerie psychedelic reverie from the album Sunshine Superman, which was released when I was in college. One of the most important songs of my career. It's all about refractions of perception and radical shifts in culture. Woodstock hadn't even happened yet, but the communal, utopian, nature-loving hippie-dippy '60s would plummet into the bad-vibes era of the head-banging, heavy-metal and frenetic, coke-snorting disco-club'70s. "Season of the Witch" posits the artist as shaman, intuiting the dark future.


3) David Bowie, "Fascination" (1975)

From the Young Americans album. "Fascination", co-written with Luther Vandross and recorded in Philadelphia, is absolutely magnificent—an ode to the creative process via metaphors of sex and drugs. Other hauntingly powerful songs on this album are "Win", "Right" (which may allude to outlaw sex), and "Somebody Up There Likes Me". I recently completed an essay on Bowie and gender for the catalog of an exhibit of his costumes that will open at London's Victoria and Albert Museum in March 2013 and then tour internationally. I've always been a Bowie fan, but after researching 45 years of his work for that essay, I am awed beyond words. The man is a genius.


4) Duran Duran, "A Matter of Feeling" (1986)

What a gorgeous song! And there are many other strong songs on this Notorious album, including "Skin Trade", Proposition", and the exquisitely beautiful "Winter Marches On." Duran Duran are unfairly dismissed as a synth-driven "hair band". Notorious (which they called their "Alfred Hitchcock album" because several song titles are taken from his films) was recorded during a time of bitter turmoil for the group, which may account for the album's special intensity, registered in Simon Le Bon's marvelous vocals. Steve Ferrone, a sessions drummer who took Roger Taylor's place, is slamming and fantastic throughout. Duran Duran belonged to the New Romantic movement inspired in Great Britain by David Bowie.


5) The Sisters of Mercy, "More" (1990)

Andrew Eldritch's anguished vocals and flamboyant piano work here are tremendous. The Sisters of Mercy style is high Goth—grand, liturgical, and morbid. Its lacerating psychodrama descends from the Doors' "The End", but you can also hear David Bowie's blatant influence in the sonorous vocal delivery of "This Corrosion". Both these songs are on A Slight Case of Overbombing (1993), a greatest hits collection that I played repeatedly while writing Glittering Images. Other impressive songs on this album include "Vision Thing" and "Temple of Love".


6) Savage Garden, "To the Moon and Back" (1997)

From the Australian duo's debut album, Savage Garden. I became obsessed with Darren Hayes' supply expressive, near-falsetto voice. (Married and divorced from an Australian woman, Hayes later came out as gay and married his boyfriend in London.) There is something uncanny about many songs here, including "Tears of Pearls", "Carry on Dancing", and "A Thousand Words". It's a strange quality of hyper-alert desperation combined with ethereal, choir-boy ecstasy.


7) Rihanna, "Rehab" (2007)

From the Good Girl Gone Bad album. Yes, Rihanna is too deep into Auto-Tune. Yes, her producers are masters of obnoxious overkill. Yes, her stage persona veers too much toward Cold Bitch Rampant. But in "Rehab" you can hear Rihanna's fragility, depth, and emotional range. And behind that cryptic mask, Rihanna unceasingly communicates with the world through her photogenic virtuosity—hundreds of sexy off-stage and on-the-beach snapshots published by online tabloids like the Daily Mail.


8) Daniela Mercury, "Oyá Por Nós" (2009)

An electrifying ode to Iansa, the fierce Yoruban goddess of wind and storm still worshipped in Bahia, the most Africanized region of Brazil. A studio recording of the song, co-written by Brazilian superstar Daniela Mercury and another Bahian singer, Margareth Menezes, appears on Mercury's 2009 Canibalia album. But the most thrilling versions are in live performance (freely available on YouTube) with a thunderous Afro-Brazilian drum choir and kinetic, red-garbed dancers, led by Mercury herself. My favorite (where the song is called "Oyá Tê Tê") was at the 2009 carnival in Salvador da Bahia: Mercury is in a gold Carmen Miranda dress, and Menezes is in white. (And that's me in black, glimpsed a few times atop Mercury's trio elétrico, a truck-powered mobile stage.) Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mz8q72K934k


9) Arcade Fire, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" (2010)

Régine Chassagne, wife of Arcade Fire main man Win Butler, has been derided from some quarters for her high, tremulous vocal on this splendid song (from The Suburbs, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year). But it is Régine who puts the voice of the suffering but stoical individual into the epic sweep of this breathtaking panorama, where suburban sprawl moves into the infinite to conquer nature. Arcade Fire reached a superbly high level here of what can only be called existential poetry.


10) Santigold, "God from the Machine" (2012)

From Santi White's second album, Master of My Make-Believe. I was transfixed by the chilly litany of military snare drums on this song and then astounded when I finally realized (after studying the liner notes) that it is White herself at the drum kit. What forceful assertion from a woman musician!—positively implacable (like the sinister war march of Mars in Gustav Holst's The Planets). It bodes well for Santigold's creative future. I love the production on this song as well—the wedding of crisp, rattling drums with wispy, floating choral voices.


Camille Paglia and Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's Facebook page
excerpt from the book

Barnes and Noble Review review
Christian Science Monitor review
Kirkus Reviews review
National Post review

CBC Radio interview with the author
The Daily Beast profile of the author
Fangirl the Blog interview with the author
Globe and Mail profile of the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Los Angeles Magazine interview with the author
On Point interview with the author
VICE interview with the author
Wall Street Journal review
Xtra! profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

The list of online "best of 2012" book lists
The list of online "best of 2012" music lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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