Pop culture treasure, high culture trash.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Everything but Yul Brynner

Bobby Fischer, megalomaniac, world chess champion, genius and bigot, died yesterday at the age of 64. In my opinion, his greatest achievement was not defeating Boris Spassky but providing inspiration for the musical Chess, whose Act II opening song "One Night in Bangkok" went on to be covered by approximately 10,000 different artists, each determined to out-camp the last.

One of the most determined was Canadian singer Louise Robey, whose subsequent video also serves as a tidy summary of everything that was crucial in 80s music videos, and possibly the 80s as a decade: Orientalism; the ironic use of wedding dresses; day-glo; black and white checkerboard floors; erotic snake handling; floating golden orbs; the hairstyles of Joan Collins; leotards; white suits; muscle men; name-dropping Somerset Maugham; and anxiety about transsexual sex workers.

The costume design here was clearly ahead of its time. M.I.A. and Tahita Bulmer are but dowdy copycats by comparison! But don't let the fashion distract you. Even Robey's Alexis-Carrington-at-the-Copacabana ensemble can't surpass the beautiful tragedy of Tim Rice's lyrics, which include Siam's/ gonna be the witness / To the ultimate test of cerebral fitness; I'd let you watch, I would invite you / But the queens we use would not excite you (!); and I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.

If the chorus sounds a little like "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)" to your ears, it may be because it was written by Björn and Benny from ABBA. Robey's whitest of white raps also echoes Nina Hagen's in "New York, New York." Perhaps, in a post-"Rapture" world, awkward white rapping was considered the wave of the future. Or even earlier...

1 comment:

gjg said...

Wow, that's a very strange interpretation of that song. I had no idea there was such a thing as Chess covers! I wonder if anyone will ever cover a song from "The Apple"... that'd really be strange.

Cool blog, keep it up!