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Antony and the Johnsons--Quintessentially Queer Music

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Living with the dementia of AIDS is no easy trick. I cannot read anymore. That's gone. I am hoping I can write. There was a time when writing was my passion, although I know now that it came from my need to escape the pain of a 12-year relationship on the rocks. I would stay up until 4:30 or 5:00 AM writing the most insightful stuff, in beautiful prose, but now I am not sure that such things exist in my mind anymore. When I send emails, all the people who receive them say they are very musical, with rhythm, melody, and even harmony. They say there is a "sound" to my writing. Perhaps that's true. Perhaps not. I know that I am a brilliant musician and that although I see the world and life theologically, I live the world and life musically and spiritually, which is essentially the same thing.
The one thing that is in my mind tonight regarding sound is the music I recently discovered to my great delight, which is the work of Antony and The Johnsons. "I am a Bird Now" and "The Crying Light" their latest two albums, and his songs "River of Sorrow" and "Rapture" is some of the most exquisitely beautiful music I have ever heard, and I have been a musician for 60 years. I never listen to contemporary bands. I am a harpsichordist and Baroque Period Instrument Freak. I have little experience with alternative music except for Sigur Ros. If Antony's music is alternative music, then I must say that I am in love with alternative music. I think I would rather say that I am in love with Antony and The Johnsons.
Antony's voice is celestial and mournful in a way that puts me in contact with my Queer collective unconscious, the collective unconscious of despair and death and even a certain hopelessness. The grief in "I am a Bird Now" is palpable, and makes me think of the Death Years in the AIDS War, the genocide of the 1980's and 1990's in America. There is a pervasive pathos throughout this perfect, passionate paean to our Queer history, Queer culture, a Queer knowledge of death that throws us into its power and performance. "Rapture", although all about death and more than likely about Antony's loved ones who died during the AIDS holocaust ("all my friends, I've watched them falling, fall in silence to the ground"), is really a song about triumph, the triumph of the Rapture, of ultimate Peace and Rest and Beauty---"Is this the Rapture?".
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There is a femininity to Antony's music, to his poetry and his musical architecture and yet he can never be mistaken for a woman when he sings, even though his voice is so wonderfully androgynous. It is ethereal and sublime. This is utterly Queer music, Queer poetry.....Queer art, created by Queer musicians. The blend of the masculine and feminine is delicious.
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And yet, even though the pervasive melancholy is so palpable, we are thrown into a feeling of life and mostly hope. The difference between Antony and The Johnsons and Sigur Ros is that the latter not only presents us with melancholy and sadness, it also presents us with a power and sense of the Warrior Lover, of Achilles and Patroclus, of Alexander and Hephaestion, of the Amazon Women. When I listen to this latter music, I am pulled into my Queer rage, and I feel the inner Warrior in me, not just the hopeless victim, but the sad victim who is filled with the power of the survivor. Sometimes, with Antony, there is no survival.
I cannot decide which I like better between the two groups of musicians. Perhaps I can listen to each as I need to, and float in the arms of the Queer God/dess as S/He carries me into my collective unconscious of lives and loves lost, of burnings, of impalings, of hangings, of the drawings and quarterings, of the boot and the rack, of concentrations camps and death ovens and upside down pink triangles, of the internal drowning in one's own lung fluid from Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia, and the agonizing death from the purple lesions of Kaposi's Sarcoma in the lining of the lungs or on the liver, and the Lymphomas during the Genocide. I can also float on the arms of the Queer God/dess as S/He carries me into the lives of the Warrior Lovers, of the community of compassion for the dying during the Death Years where self was sacrificed on the altar of Love, Gayman for Gayman, Lesbian for Gayman, of the gymnasiums of ancient Greece where men were taught to love men with honor, respect, and kindness, and a powerful masculinity that was built from the great poets, playwrights, and philosophers, a masculinity that was both powerfully male and also imbued with the feminine of the Goddess.
So....what is it about this music, other that its connection to my Queer collective unconscious that makes it so enthralling, so beguiling? Certainly, the poetry is remarkable, lyrical and filled with imagery and majick, but it is the music qua music that fascinates me as a musician as well as the profound connection which Antony brings to my soul. The music is thoroughly triadic and melodic, something altogether too infrequent in contemporary noise band and scream bands. There is a wonderful weave between the major and minor mode, the repetition with slight variation each time there is a repeated line of poetry, the tone painting on words like wind as it whistles through the trees. There are the exquisite timbres of cellos, violins, harps, gongs, keyboards, and even sung quarter tones. Certainly, the rhymthic structures are quadruple and duple (with the exception of "Hitler In My Heart" where we are given 5's and 7's), but within those thoroughly square and masculine rhythms, there is a litheness, a suppleness, a winding and breathing, a certain fluidity that is thoroughly feminine. But, it is Antony's poetry which pulls at my mind, my heart, and my Queer spirit.
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"One day I'll row up I'll be a beautiful woman,
One day I'll grow up I'll be a beautiful girl.
One day I'll grow up I'll be a beautiful woman,
One day I'll grow up I'll be a beautiful girl.
But for today I am a child, for today I am a boy.
For today I am a child, for today I am a boy.
One day I'll grow up I feel the power in me,
One day I'll grow up of this I'm sure
One day I'll grow up I know the womb within me
One day I'll grow up I feel it full and pure.
But for today I am a child, for today I am a boy.
For today I am a child, for today I am a boy."
This is the Warrior Cry for out time in the Queer World. To sins a paean to the child, to the boy and to the great possibility of growing up to live in the beautiful eternal feminine, gender Queer, gender bending, neither male nor female and yet both. It is the fulfillment of the Gospel of Thomas where Jesus, when asked how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, said, "when there is neither male nor female, when the two are made one." It is this ancient Eastern truth about the "is" ness of things, "when the upper is like the lower, when the inner is like the outer". These are the things of which Jesus spoke, of which the "Tao Te Ching" and "Inner Chapters" speak. These are the things of which we read in the Sutras and the Vedas. This is an ancient knowledge, and, I would conjecture, an ancient Queer Knowledge.
When I was in seminary in the 1980's, working on Queer Liberation Theology before there ever was even a glimmer of such a field in any credentialed theologian's eye, I learned to bring my Queer knowledge to things such as The Hebrew Scripture and The New Testament. I recognized well the relationship between Jesus and "the beloved" John for what it was, and saw, decades before the "ground breaking" book on this subject was written, just what the Gospels told us about that relationship and why it was most definitely sexual in nature. I was trained well by my feminist liberation mentors to recognize that John was privy to the Mysteries and to certain secret teachings of Jesus of which the other disciples knew nothing, that the words Jesus spoke to John and Mary from the Cross are the very words one lover speaks to his partner and his mother upon his own death. I leaned this from my own Queer experience in the Death Years during the Genocide, when I was a chaplain, when dying partners would "give" their living partners to their mothers and vice versa. So it is now that I bring that Queer knowledge to the great Holy Books of the other great religions of the world, which, in turn, taught me about Queer Spirituality. I bring my spiritual understanding, that came from projecting my Queer knowledge on to conventional spirituality, to my listening and to the world of Antony who live in the Faerie of The Divine Feminine, with it's correlative Divine Masculine. Antony, who lives with Athena and Ceredwin, Lilith, Kali, Durga, and Morgan Le Fey also live with Mercury and Loge, and the Druid priests and boys and Lords Shiva and Vishnu. He lives in the world of Queer Spirit, a Spirit of peace and life abundant, a Spirit of harmony and the circle, a Spirit of co-operation, consensus, and creativity, a Spirit of everlasting Life. It is in the wideness of that Queer Spirit in which the world will find its saving grace. it is Antony, along with his "sisters" who opens the door to such grace.
This is the Queer aesthetic that we receive as a gift from both Antony and the Johnsons and Sigue Ros. If the latter is Queer, then that is because I think all Swedes look Queer and because Queer is so normal in Sweden, their country of origin,that they may as well be Queer, no matter what their sexual orientation. One need not be Gay to be Queer, although it is certainly preferable. I know a few straight Queermen who embody the Divine Feminine in their lives, and I know a lot of Gaymen who are not really Queer. That, however, is the subject of another article.


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I am 63 yo veteran of the Stonewall Riots in June, 1969 in NYC. I have been an activist for equality since I came out publicly as Queer in 1965 at the age of 18. I am a concert harpsichordist and teacher, and a Spiritual Director in private (more...)

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Antony and the Johnsons--Quintessentially Queer Music