Monday, April 1, 2019

Porcupine Tree – "Baby Dream in Cellophane" (1995)

If you . . . wanted to
You'd find . . . inside my mind
Things so surreal

The previous 2 or 3 lines featured a Clara Engel song that was inspired by Leonora Carrington’s 1976 novel, The Hearing Trumpet.

Carrington wrote fiction and nonfiction, but is best known for her surrealist art.  Here’s one of her early works, a self-portrait she painted when she was not quite 21 years old:

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Desmond Morris’s 2018 book, The Lives of the Surrealists, includes brief biographies of 30-odd surrealist artists – including Leonora Carrington.  (By the way, that’s the same Desmond Morris who wrote The Naked Ape – a book about human sexual behavior that just about everyone in my generation read avidly – in 1967.  Morris is not only an expert in animal behavior but also a surrealist artist who has completed some 2500 paintings.) 

Carrington lived perhaps the oddest life of those 30-odd surrealists – and that’s saying something.  Given the date of this post, you might think that I was yanking your crank about Carrington.  But everything I’ve written is true.

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Leonora was the daughter of an English tycoon, and grew up in a mansion with servants, an Irish nanny, a French governess, and a religious tutor.  She did not get along with the nuns at her school, and was expelled twice for her refusal to follow the rules.  (One of the rules she refused to follow was writing with only one hand.  It seems she could write – and paint – with both hands, and the nuns at her school took her ambidexterity as proof that she was abnormal, even diseased.)       

“Green Tea” (1942) 
According to Morris, 

In one of her earliest acts of rebellion, when she was only fourteen, she pulled up her dress in front of a Catholic priest.  She was wearing no underclothes and she asked him “What do you think of that?” 

I don’t know what I would have said if I had been that priest.  (There’s probably no safe answer to that question.)

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Carrington was eventually shipped off to a finishing school in Paris, but was expelled once more.  Nonetheless, her family had her presented at court and gave her a “coming out” ball at the Ritz in London in hopes of arranging a suitable marriage for her.  

But Leonora rebelled – she refused to be “sold to the highest bidder,” in her words – and became an art student instead.

When she was 2o, she met surrealist artist Max Ernst at a London dinner party held in his honor.  Carrington found Ernst irresistible, and vice versa – despite the fact that he was married, the two promptly ran off to Paris and shacked up together.

“Portrait of Max Ernst” (1939) 
The move to Paris didn’t cure Carrington of her exhibitionism.  From the Morris book:

At one party . . . she arrived wearing nothing but a white sheet that she later allowed to drop, leaving her stark naked.  She and Ernst were thrown out of the party.

(I’m not sure it was fair to give Ernst the old heave-ho – as far as we know, he kept his pants on.)

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Carrington and Ernst were living in a French village when World War II broke out.  According to Morris, Leonora went off the deep end when the Germans interned Ernst in a French concentration camp:

She stopped eating, started drinking and began to suffer from hallucinations.  She sold their house to a local farmer for a bottle of brandy and friends drove her south to Madrid, where her erratic behavior became extreme.  One day, she was discovered outside the British Embassy, screaming that she wanted to kill Hitler.

Someone got word to Carrington’s parents, who had her committed to a Spanish lunatic asylum, where doctors used leather restraints to tie her down to her bed and treated her with chemical shock therapy, which induced convulsive spasms.

When the parents decided their daughter should be moved to a mental hospital in South Africa, they sent her old nanny to Spain (by submarine, no less) to escort Leonora there.  But Carrington gave her nanny the slip in Lisbon and made her way to the Mexican Embassy, where she begged the ambassador – an old friend – to get her the hell out of there.

“Portrait of the Late Mrs. Partridge” (1947) 
The only way the ambassador could accomplish that was to marry her – which he did.  The two sailed off to New York City, where Ernst was living.  (He had married Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy art patron who had helped arrange his escape from the Nazis.)

Carrington’s behavior while she was in New York was decidedly odd.  On one occasion, when dining in a restaurant, when she covered her feet in mustard, and on another she took a shower fully clothed when visiting a friend’s house.  It was not clear whether her eccentricities were surrealist events or moments of madness.

That’s the great thing about being a surrealist artist – you can do any crazy thing that pops into your feverish little head, and tell everyone that it was just art.

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In 1943, Carrington and her husband-of-convenience moved to Mexico.  they were amicably divorced a few years later, and she eventually married Emerico Weisz, a Hungarian photojournalist.  They remained married for over sixty years, but things didn’t always go smoothly between them:

Her husband . . . was something of a saint.  He stayed with her to the bitter end, despite the fact that he was the victim of her sometimes raging temper and, on one occasion at least, was physically attacked by her.  She took a number of lovers and left [her husband] several times, but always returned to him.

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Leonora Carrington continued to create art almost until the end of her very long life.  (She died in 2011, when she was 94.)

“Warning Mother” (1973) 
Morris described her art in these words:

Her paintings, always skillfully crafted in a traditional manner, take the viewer into a fantastic private world full of monsters and arcane rituals.  Some are like demented fairy tales, others like elegant nightmares.

Carrington’s images came from her unconscious, and she believed that those who viewed her paintings should rely on their unconscious to understand them.  

“I don’t really think in terms of explanations,” she told one interviewer who asked her to explain what the animal figures in one of her painting symbolized.  “This is not an intellectual game.  It is a visual world.  Use your feelings,” she told another curious interviewer. 

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Porcupine Tree – which has been called “the most important band you’ve never heard of” – was originally a joke . . . literally.

In 1987, English musician Tom Wilson and a school friend of his – who had grown up listening to Pink Floyd and other progressive rock groups – decided to create a fictional rock band, which they christened Porcupine Tree.

The two made up an elaborate backstory for their made-up legendary band, complete with several hours of music that had supposedly been recorded and released back in the seventies.

Wilson eventually decided some of the music he had created as part of the hoax wasn’t bad.  He sent out a few copies of a demo cassette titled Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm to a few music critics and fellow musicians.  

His next cassette-tape album was titled Love, Death & Mussolini.  Only ten copies were made.  (Wilson doesn’t have a copy.)

Porcupine Tree began to develop a cult following, and Wilson eventually hired some other musicians so the band could perform live.  Over the next couple of decades, Porcupine Tree released ten studio albums, several EPs, and a dozen or so live albums.  

“Baby Dream in Cellophane” was released on the group’s fifth studio album, Stupid Dream, in 1995. 

Click here to listen to today’s featured song, “Baby Dream in Cellophane.”

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

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