Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dresden Dolls: unhook the stars and take them down

The shorter Cassandra's message is, the longer it will be repeated. The Bretons tell that, off the coast of Brittany, on certain perfect early mornings, the Cathedral of Ys rises from the waves, with bells ringing and priests chanting, and then sinks back. The versions of the legend differ on whether La Cath├ędrale engloutie is blessed or accursed, but viewing its brief appearance portends death, or perhaps passage. The Weimar republic has always seemed to me something similarly doom-bringing, cut off even in the blossom of its sin, like Hamlet's father. Fritz Lang, Erich Maria Remarque, Max Reinhardt, but perhaps most of all---Brecht and Weill. The cabaret is a spire of wild freedom momentarily exposed by the dark sea; what we need is dry land, but sometimes that is far away.

The Dresden Dolls are the heirs of everything Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes developed in Street Scene, every celebration of vice as a proof of life, the plea for romance in a town so full of emptiness. The Dolls's second album, Yes, Virginia, wears the ghoulish grin that shocked us when we heard the Weill wail of the tormented whore in love with the brutal sailor Surabaya Johnny, and the innocent child-like dreams of destroying everything of Pirate Jenny. The Dresden Dolls's music is strangely reminiscent of Tori Amos, but they make her misery look bourgeoise. Both do take pleasure in their pain. And this is the only freedom they can manage in our modern Metropolis.

So constantly a ghost must recur to tell wild-eyed Hamlet of how the fascist poison "barked about most lazarlike with vile and loathesome crust" the body politic. And we hear, but become wilder, and Cassandra holding hands with Ophelia sinks beneath the waves.

Listen to the Dresden Dolls's new album.--But if you haven't heard their self-titled initial effort certainly get that first...

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