NEMESIS the video
As you will see below we are presently working on a promotional film for 'Flowers of Angst' from the new album: 'Life in the Loading Bay.' To try and orientate myself again to the mores of this curious artform I had a nose around on YouTube where there are 40 (gosh!) videos related to Shriekback. 'Related' is an important word here for some of them stretch the point a little I feel ('This Big Hush' over images of Russel Crowe, yet!).
Still, there's good ol' Nembo in his deviant glory and a string of comments which I felt I'd like to adress.
Nemesis video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bMM61Y5CEU
Directed by Tony VanderEnde, Arista Records 1986
The main thing seemed to be some confusion on what the song is about. Normally I always plead the artistic 5th ('if I could explain it I wouldn't have had to write it etc etc') but in this case, quite rarely for the Shrieks, there was a pretty clear agenda which -I dunno- I would have thought was pretty comprehensible -especially with the video spelling it out. Still, I hated the idea of all this incredible clarity going to waste so I thought I'd turn on the demystifiers. For 'any who think such elucidation..worth the trouble' as Eliot says in his notes to the Wasteland -Eliot who is quoted by Col.Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (see below).
Please note this is far from the last bit of arty pretentious cross-referencing you'll be hearing in this piece.
Oh yeah, there was one guy (on the YouTube comments) who thought the video was '80's Baroque' (which I thought was quite good) but also that it was a case of chucking a load of images more or less randomly at the screen and hoping for the best. Now, hold it right there, sunshine..
Here's the skinny, the hard word on Nemesis, the song and the video.
The seed idea was, of course, from Apocalypse Now (which, as we all know, was based on Conrad's novel 'Heart of Darkness'). Simply the notion that one could make a deliberate moral choice to do evil rather than good (you may recall the scene where Colonel Kurtz (Brando) talks about the Viet Cong soldiers hacking off the arms of the Vietnamese children who had been innoculated by the Americans: 'I thought, my God, the genius of that...understand that these men were not monsters...they had wives, families, they fought with their hearts..yet they had the strength..the strength to do that'.) In Conrad's book it's more about embracing the savage immorality of Nature: 'the horror, the horror'.
Please understand that I liked this NOT because I myself wanted to go around murdering babies and nicking traffic cones but because the notion was strange and vertiginous: what was good about 'good' unless the other option was available? The sheer perversity of it was bracing. And it did have a refreshing clarity: rather than the 'I am serving a Greater Good' rationale of most horrible bastards from Stalin to the Yorkshire Ripper.
It was a thought experiment and one that chimed with a number of other cultural moments: Eve eating the apple of course ('very little fruit is forbidden'), the Decadent movement of the late 19th century -doing the Wrong Thing on purpose, essentially- and the earlier Decadence of Imperial Rome. And -and! - the mighty Nemesis the Warlock from the 2000AD comic -an upright-standing deerlike alien with a nose like a harpoon.
Nemesis the Arch Deviant whose weirdness was persecuted by the fascist Torquemada ('be pure, be vigilant, behave!') but whose own morality was highly ambivalent. I decided to conflate the Greek goddess of cosmic retribution with him because, let's face it, while she embodies an important principle, she doesn't have a nose like a harpoon.
Lots of interesting stuff about Nembo here:
So -yeah, do evil, you evil doers but, you know, actions have consequences, ('karma can take us at any moment') there will likely be a time when 'the dead come home'.
'Parthenogenesis'? Ah yes, about that. Sounded good, kinda rhymed, only microscopic creatures and the Virgin Mary can manage it.. hey, what can I tellya?
'Priests and cannibals, prehistoric animals' - I was imagining a procession of the primal and the gigantic; innocently terrible. All clumsily, heroically, marching into town along with the damaged and vengeful. To a good shoutalong tune which might, in a paralell, happier universe, be sung at football matches
The three verses are divided neatly, satisfyingly into:
1: The Theory, our hero (me -hah!) is imagined as a mediaeval scholar gone to the bad -our art director Al Macdowell (now a big grown-up art director in Hollywood) and I referenced the Durer woodcut 'Saint Jerome in his Study' as an image of the theological and contemplative life in which our man makes the decision to go for evil (as he demonstrates by spilling ink over the 'good' side of the God versus the Devil parchment and snuffing out the candle). The controls are set.By the way, this is the nearest we got to the Gothic. We were and are not, emphatically, a Gothic -or a goth- band. Not that there's anything wrong with goths -I rather like them- but we're just not.
2: The Badness in action
(btw, this was, apparently, the verse that got us banned from all UK TV networks -especially the dangling scrotal sac of 'elixirs that we refine from the juices of the dying' -tinned tomatoes, actually).
We're obviously going for some Greek pagan/Roman decadence filtered through the painters Titian ('Bacchus and Ariadne', particularly) Boronzino and Rubens (Al and I wandering earnestly around the National Gallery taking notes of what we were going to rip off -sorry 'reference').
The monkey I requested should have been a chummy little guy that would cosy up to my depraved scholar and suggest helpful abominations, however, they could only get a very old and pissed off monkey who clearly resented being wheeled onto one of these human's ridiculous 'promos'. No-one could get near him and my overtures to 'work with me here, man' were met with spitting, claws and -eventually- a bite which necessitated a run to get a tetanus shot in a fabulously expensive private clinic (we couldnt wait around in A&E like shitmunchers- we had a pop video to shoot, Goddammit)
I like very much the unplanned moment as the Rubenesque lady delivers the 'poison kiss' to the little boy. There's a lovely (or weird and sick, your choice) sense of dubious initiation which their faces probably accidentally, but beautifully- register ('naughty aunty, how I would look forward to her visits..').
We went for a green, decaying feel through lighting and make up and referenced Rembrandt's Belshazzar's Feast where the Babylonian king gets his commuppence from Yahweh for tooling around with His People (the 'writing on the wall').
The idea was to get the phrase: 'thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting' -in Hebrew- bleeding through the wall but special effects weren't really up to it. As you see we were reduced to having Carl rub the wall to encourage the ink through.
Carl also turns up here as (possibly) the other necrophile aristo from up the road; so languid after his hideous exertions he struggles to nod assent when I -as his host- say 'cover him up I think we're finished?' (more tea, vicar?)' The Tree with Heads was an alchemical symbol, I think. What of I forget. A large amount of Arista's money, maybe.
The choruses were mock heroic in the style of dodgy filmmaker Leni Riefensthal (who you may remember from such engaging romps as 'Triumph of the Will' and 'Victory of Faith'). All swirling clouds and tracking. That and a drug fuelled amdram Gilbert and Sullivan production.
Then, of course, Nemesis arrives at the end to consume me and Carl's depraved little set up in his big krill-sifting choppers.
Be warned, kids.