Saturday, April 17, 2010

Crystal Swing

For those of you who do not know them, Crystal Swing is a band from Cork, consisting of Mary, the mother, and Dervla and Derek, her daughter and son. Mary plays the keyboards, and her clothing and gestures are right out of 50s America. Dervla fancies herself a purer, more Irish Shania Twain, and Derek is.... well, a cross between Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Gumby.

Recently, Crystal Swing made it onto Ellen DeGeneres's show. It was a boon to Irish people all around, but Irish people in Dublin, if I can generalise for over a million individuals, think that Crystal Swing are funny. As in, silly funny.

When I first saw Crystal Swing, I thought that they had to be kidding. I thought for sure that they were ironic -- pretending to be all innocent and country bumpkinish, but really, this was all a ploy to differentiate themselves from other bands, and their performance was faux-innocent. But my friends in Ireland assured me that they were serious. Very serious. I couldn't understand -- I mean, check out Mary, and her little head bops, and her hair style and dress and makeup, and facial's so June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver! She can't be serious! And the kids -- siblings -- singing about sex to each other, all the while looking at the camera with faces of pure innocence! Is this a joke? I was really confused.

Things only got worse (for my comprehension) when Panti -- a famous drag queen here in the Dub -- did a parody of "He Drinks Tequila" in her weekly show, referring to her band as Cryshtal Shwing. I thought that Crystal Swing were already parodying something else, so how could Panti parody a parody? Is there a word for this? Linda Hutcheon, where are you when I need you?

But recently, after watching way too many YouTube videos of these folks, I figured it out. Crystal Swing are popular because they tap into what we all want, but are afraid to admit we want. They stand for hope in a world of cynicism. They make us want to believe that life could be so simple and clean. They are ... pure and innocent, and we all want to taste just a little bit of that. I heard them interviewed on Irish radio a few days ago, when they were in Los Angeles for Ellen's show. At the end of the interview, the host said that they were "genuine, warm people," and that they were good people, "and that's the truth." The fact that he felt the need to mention that last part -- to clarify that he was talking truthfully -- is telling, because it's hard to know if anyone (the performers or hosts or cheering audience members) are taking the piss. Audiences are made defensive by their earnestness. Watching Ellen DeGeneres watch Crystal Swing while they perform on her show is telling: she dances around a bit, but every few seconds, she looks over at one of her crew. The look is small and discrete, but it is clear. She is asking: are these folks for real? Do you actually LIKE this? Because, uh, I think I actually like this, but I'm not sure I'm supposed to, because I think maybe they can't really be serious. And then I would be the silly one.

And the truth is this: people like Crystal Swing, but more importantly, they want to like Crystal Swing, but they fear they will look like fools for doing so. So the telling looks appear, and the under-the-breath guffaws break the surface. I understand, because I do it as well. How could I enter into pure enjoyment while watching them, without feeling like other people might think I am naive and have bad taste? It's only possible to like them if... well... if you pretend not to. This whole discussion reminds me of what Carl Wilson writes about in his book about Celine Dion. He hates her music -- he finds it mewling and appalling -- but still, he is driven to understand why so many people are moved by it. He meditates on the nature of taste, and the elements of ego and aesthetic judgment that constitute taste.

I could say a lot more about Crystal Swing and how they provide a way to measure our perspective on contemporary life, but instead, I'll leave you with Derek, and his mouth full of adolescent teeth, doing the Hucklebuck on Ireland's Late Late Show:

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