Mildred, Margie, Annie, Clarice

by ONSIND

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Introduction

Hello!

Firstly, thanks for getting hold of this record! In an effort to stir things up a little bit, and step out of our comfort zone, we set ourselves a pretty weird challenge with this one. We decided to write songs about characters from popular Hollywood films . More specifically, we decided to write about ‘female’ characters that have had a significant impact on popular culture. The way we measured this wasn’t exactly scientific, but one thing each of the characters we picked share in common, is that the person portraying them won the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ Oscar for their troubles. Hopefully that’s a fairly good barometer for mainstream ‘impact’.
The songs are intended to be both critical and sympathetic. It seemed like an interesting way to explore the way that gender is represented in popular culture, without simply making an obvious point over and over (i.e. Hollywood is sexist). This way we got to explore other issues from within the stories, as well as the wider context- how the stories are received and how they impact on our understanding of gender roles etc. Without getting into too much boring detail, we wanted to explore things like the gender binary, the ‘male gaze’, performativity, objectification, heteronormativity, heterosexism, essentialism and other oppressive, hierarchical value systems and dualisms and how they might be perpetuated, or undermined by mainstream cinema.
We also wanted to write four good songs too. Hopefully we’ve managed to accomplish at least some of what we set out to achieve.
What follows are four songs about four famous characters; two protagonists, and two antagonists; two ‘law enforcers’ and two ‘carers’; a rookie FBI agent and a veteran Sheriff; a dispassionate autocrat at a mental institution, and a sadistic former pediatric nurse. The themes of the songs include cannibalism, helplessness, fear, mental health, murder, therapy, greed, intrigue, disability, fame, deception, creativity, desperation and torture among other things. So that’s a bit of what you can expect!
We hope you enjoy this record! It was a lot of fun to write and record. There are possibly some very mild spoilers in the lyrics (and explanations), so we recommend watching the films some day if you haven’t already seen them. The songs, as you’d expect, are totally packed with references!

Love

Nathan and Daniel
(February 2012 )

***


Three of the movies in question are adaptations of novels. Please note that we are not dealing with the novels here, just the movies! Sorry!
Each character is female bodied, white, (apparently) heterosexual, middle class, cisgender, and able-bodied. The justification for choosing four characters from the same broad social demographic is that this is the way that the overwhelming majority of leading female characters in mainstream cinema are portrayed. It would be interesting to explore, for example, Halle Berry’s character in Monsters Ball (2001), Hilary Swank’s character in Boys Don’t Cry (1999) or even John Cameron Mitchell’s character in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), but these movies are less well known and the characters in question are sadly rare anomalies within a dominant and largely homogenous Hollywood hegemony.

credits

released 01 April 2012
Recorded by Johannes Rowlinson (January 2012).
Backing vocals and cornet by Laura da Costa, Piano by Johannes Rowlinson, Additional Instrumentation by Naomi G and Jc.
Cover art by Chris Clavin.

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ONSIND Durham

ONSIND is a band from Pity Me, Durham (UK).

We have released music ourselves and through Plan-it-X, Discount Horse, Something Honest to Dance To and Specialist Subject among others.

Get in touch! nathanisacynic AT gmail DOT com
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Track Name: Mildred
Lithium or lengthy C.B.T.?
I’ll keep taking the pills if you keep giving them to me,
And I don’t want to prove you have a heart,
Behind that cold exterior cause I’d have no idea where to start.
It’s a long way down to the bottom; it’s a steep climb up to the top,
It’s a gamble when you don’t know how to stop,

I keep running from the storm and you have done you’re best,
To regulate and medicate the dark clouds forming in my brain,
But Mildred drop the act with me,
Oh when we get together we can talk it out and then you’ll see,
We all need shelter in the rain,

It’s nausea and numbness; it’s stiffness and fatigue,
I’ll keep taking the pills, why won’t you take a few with me?
When I look into your eyes, that icy glare belies a softer side,
But you’re held captive too, we were both lobotomized,
It’s a long way down to the bottom; it’s a steep climb up to the top,
It’s a gamble when you don’t know how to stop,

We all feel crazy sometimes

It’s a long way down to the bottom,
It’s a tough climb up to the top,
It’s a gamble when you don’t know how to stop,
We all feel crazy sometimes,
And you’re the same as me,
Yeah you’re the same as me,
You know that I keep running from the storm,
And you have done you’re best,
To regulate and medicate,
The dark clouds forming in my brain,
But Mildred drop the act with me,
Oh when we get together I can make us both a pot of tea,
Then we can talk it out and see,
It’s not as simple as it seems,
Sometimes it helps to feel the rain.

***

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975). Directed by Milos Forman. USA: Fantasy Films.
Louise Fletcher (Mildred Ratched), Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar, 1976.

“What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin'? Well you're not! You're not! You're no crazier than the average asshole out walkin' around on the streets and that's it.”
¬ -Randle Patrick McMurphy

Mildred Ratched has to be one of the most formidable villains ever put to celluloid. When watching One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest you can find yourself becoming physically tense and palpably furious at the screen. It’s a hugely compelling story, and on the whole, resists black-and-white morality, but it’s hard to see Mildred as anything other than a two-dimensional foe. There are tiny hints at an underlying humanity, but these are buried beneath a performance so powerfully loathsome that Louise Fletcher beat fellow nominee and two-time previous winner Glenda Jackson to the Best Actress Oscar in 1975. It’s such an astonishing performance that it’s easy to forget that a compassionate and caring human being exists beneath it. Watching Fletcher’s tearful acceptance speech having seen the film is a jarring experience. It’s like you’ve trained your body to hate someone evil, and are then faced with that same person effortlessly exuding magnanimity, humanity and dignity. She begins: “well, it looks like you all hated me so much, that you’ve given me this award for it”. It’s a powerful movie in terms of what it says about mental health, and on a personal level, I found writing a song addressed to Mildred was a useful way to examine my own mental health problems, with an all-needed degree of removal. As we say in the song, Mildred was lobotomized. Her author(s) removed her compassion and her humanity, and left a callous robotic shell behind. In gender terms, Mildred subverts traditional expectations. She is not mothering, she is not caring, she is not nurturing. She is cold and hyper-rational. She is as ‘crazy’ as anyone else in that mental institution. But she is a work of fiction, and it’s important to remember that.
Track Name: Margie
I never thought I’d write a love song for a cop,
But then produced the antidote,
To feelings that I never longed to stop,
Two hearts beating,
A roadside execution,
Let’s start at the top.

One half smoked cigar,
A stolen Tan Ciera car,
I’ve lost my will to lose my will again,
Now Margie you’re my only friend,
I know it gets hard,
But spare a thought for Jerry Lundegaard,
That pleasant day,
His planning fell apart,

There’s more to life than money,
It’s corny but it is true,
And somewhere out there in the tundra,
Is a briefcase filled with cash,
That nobody can use,

All this malfeasance for no reason,
Has my patience at an end,
A painting on a postage stamp,
A loving hand across your belly,
The comforts you defend.

Trudging through the snow,
From Brainerd up to Fargo,
The sight of limbs becoming branches,
Mists of blood and money loaned,
A third trimester road show,

Somewhere out there in the tundra is a briefcase filled with cash that nobody can use…

***

Fargo (1996). Directed by Joel Coen. USA: PolyGram/Working Title.
Frances McDormond (Marge Gunderson), Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar, 1997.

“So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day. Well. I just don't understand it.”
-Marge Gunderson

Fargo is a great movie, and Margie Gunderson is an amazing character. Next time you put Fargo on, why not tick off the references from this lyrics sheet off as you see them, Practically every line is a reference (some more oblique than others). Have a go! It could be a new game- like some bizarre version of I-Spy. Or a straight edge drinking game.
Track Name: Annie
I had a dream about you,
We shared a house and your sweet tooth,
Caught hold of me, now Misery,
Won’t set me free.

I had a dream about you,
Old Mother Nature showed up too,
And in her rage, she left me,
Crippled, burned and bruised.

I had a dream about you,
Redemption pounding down,
Such cold abuse,
And in the text, we missed the clues,
We bought the ruse,

I had a dream about you,
Helpless children dying on the news,
Such an unnatural subversion,
Of the rules,

Tell me a story,
And make it good,
An accidental author with a,
Detrimental taste for blood,
Annie’s claiming violence as a
feminine trait,
Let’s ditch compliance,
We’re not constrained to fate,

So tonight I’ll be Liberace for you,
Please show me all that you can do,
Let’s rip the pages from this paperback,
It’s our story too.

***

Misery (1990). Directed by Rob Reiner. USA: Castle Rock.
Kathy Bates (Annie Wilkes), Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar, 1991.


“Misery is alive! Misery is alive! Oh, this whole house is going to be full of romance, Oooh, I am going to put on my Liberace records!”
-Annie Wilkes

The line "Annie's claiming violence as a feminine trait" is adapted from a line by Izzy Jarvis (www.izzyjarvis.com).

The reason I like Misery a little more than I perhaps should is that I find it really interesting on a meta-level. It was released in 1990, a time where women were breaking many of the mainstream barriers that had long since been insurmountable. The Hollywood boys club was obviously nervous about this. In some ways Annie Wilkes can be seen as a projection of male insecurity at the inroads women had been making, particularly in the creative industries. How awful, for the lead character to be told to rewrite his story to please this overbearing female audience. Annie ticks so many boxes of ‘femininity-gone-wrong’ that it’s difficult to view it outside of the prism of gender.
What we have is a sane, rational, male protagonist, held captive and tortured (emotionally and physically) by a woman. The woman in question is also held captive, but by her own emotional irrationality, so much so that she does the most abominable things under the guise of ‘caring’ (her former victims include young children). It’s a typical horror trope: women are ‘supposed’ to give life, not take it away. She is also a spinster, and apparently childless; as well as being ‘ugly’ in a Hollywood sense (that is, middle aged and overweight). How fitting that she should love Liberace, the flipside of the femininity-gone-wrong coin- a man so effeminate, that his name became short-hand for ‘rampant homosexuality’ in right-wing circles.
Of course, you can look at it from a broader perspective and read it as meta-narrative about the dangers of trying to do something original after having great success doing something bland and generic. Or it could be a comment on studio executives meddling in the creative process of storytelling. Whichever way you read it, it’s pretty interesting. At least I think so.
Track Name: Clarice
Lecter asked me round for dinner,
And I nearly went, just on a whim,
But I’ve no common ground with him,
Cause I don’t eat my friends,
I asked him how he got his scar,
He said “it’s rarer than a window on an abattoir”
Some lab, somewhere, there is a jar,
I’d love to apprehend,

If I sang a song for you,
Would you sit and eat with me,
Suspend your disbelief,
Defy your canine teeth,

Chilton didn’t have a lot of luck,
I guess the nail that’s sticking up,
Gets hammered down alright,
I’m losing track of all the times,
I’ve been asked to justify,
A choice I made, why I try,
To live my life by standards I,
Am hopeful qualify as fair and right.

Screaming, the voice of a child,
Petrified to see inside,
Clarice and me,
We took a look, now we’re trying to set them free.

***

The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Directed by Jonathan Demme. USA: Orion.
Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar, 1992.


“Animals are my friends ... and I don't eat my friends.”
-George Bernard Shaw“
I do wish we could chat longer, but... I'm having an old friend for dinner.”
-Dr. Hannibal Lecter
“The nail that sticks up, gets hammered down”
-Japanese Proverb | Born Against | Propagandhi

This is our first song about eating flesh, or more specifically, not eating flesh. Arguably, the focal point of Clarice Starling’s personal journey in The Silence of the Lambs is the scene where Hannibal Lecter forces her to recount and relive the moment where, as a recently orphaned child, she unsuccessfully attempted to rescue a lamb, after sneaking into the slaughterhouse to investigate where the screams she could hear were coming from. What she longs for now is for an end to the screaming.
There are so many interesting things about The Silence of the Lambs from an animal rights/Critical Animal Studies perspective. The fact that the anti-hero eats human flesh is a novel way of illuminating and deconstructing the notion of ‘species’, and of the ‘insuperable’ line between different living beings that we, as human animals, have constructed. This is also highlighted in Buffalo Bill’s symbolic journey from caterpillar to moth (or from ‘male’ to ‘female’). It should be noted that LGBT groups heavily criticized the film upon its release for its transphobia and homophobia. The film actually acknowledges this criticism, when Clarice states: “there is no correlation in the literature between transsexualism and violence. Transsexuals are very passive”. Nevertheless, Buffalo Bill symbolically reaffirmed the myth that ‘trans’ was synonymous with ‘weird’ and ‘dangerous’. It might not be a coincidence that Jonathan Demme then went on to direct Philadelphia; perhaps an act of contrition towards the LGBT community.
From a personal perspective this song laments the near constant hostility, indignity and mockery those who choose a veg*n lifestyle face. Beyond the stupid cyclical arguments and personal attacks is a world of cold ambivalence. But just because Clarice’s lamb died, doesn’t mean she wasn’t right to try and save it. Long may her efforts, and the efforts of those who feel the same way, continue.