Billy Bragg wrote this hauntingly beautiful song which was inspired by American photographer Cindy Sherman. All the images used in this video montage are of Ms. Sherman.
Bragg talked about this song and the inspiration behind it in the May 2009 issue of Q Magazine –
“It was an obsession that started on an American tour sometime in the mid-80s. I got into buying postcards, to paste onto the wall in my flat back home. Pictures of mythic figures like Paul Robeson, classic portraits such as Max Yavno’s Muscle Beach, 1949 and Lewis Hine’s iconic Powerhouse Mechanic. Many portrayed musical heroes like Eddie Cochran. Some were just odd, like the 3D-effect Astronaut’s Prayer, which pictured the Apollo spacecraft floating above the Moon’s surface accompanied by Albrecht Durer’s Praying Hands. These ephemeral objects were to be found everywhere – on sunny afternoons in radical bookshops and late at night in redneck truck stops. There were 6″x4″ pieces of Americana that I hoped would offer insights as to where I might fit into this vibrant culture that threatened to engulf me. Of all the pieces of of this jigsaw that I collected, there was one that both intrigued and disturbed me. It was a colour photograph, dark and side-lit, of a child with black, curly hair, human eyes and ears and an upturned pig’s snout. The child’s face was smeared with dirt, maybe blood, and as it gazed out distractedly at the viewer, it was placing something into its mouth. What stuff of nightmares was this? The postcard itself gave no clue as to what was being portrayed. It simply stated: Untitled #140, 1985. Photograph by Cindy Sherman. It transpired she was a photographer from New Jersey who, in 1977, began producing a series of photos called Untitled Film Stills. Beneath the film poster and alongside the screening times, there would be stills from the film showing moments of drama or action. Cindy Sherman’s photos always depicted a single female white. Sherman’s subjects had the aura of the femme fatale about them and every woman in Sherman’s pictures was the artist herself. As the ’70s turned into the ’80s, Sherman moved to colour photography and the women she portrayed took on the aura of victim. Her subjects were now photographed on the floor, perhaps thrown there by an angry lover or left there to cry themselves to sleep. Next, an element of menace crept into her work. Her women looked out with a single manic eye from a mess of hair, fists clenched. And then, in 1985 – just where I came in – things got weird. She produced a nightmarish series of photographs called Fairy Tales, which draw the eye to them like pictures in a circus freak show. The pig-faced child was one of these and, yet, there was no hint of what was happening in this image – save that here again, disfigured and disguised, was the artist herself. An urge to find some meaning in her photos led me to write a song about Sherman, Cindy Of A Thousand Lives. It was one of the most impressionistic tracks I ever recorded but when plans were made to release it as a single, the record company were unable to secure permission to use her photos in the video. Disappointed, I drifted away from her work. A couple of months ago, I came across a clip on You Tube. Someone had made a montage of her work using my song as the soundtrack. As I watched the images fade into one another, I was struck by their power. New photographs appeared that I had never seen before, still full of that weird beauty and attractive menace. So hats off to you azcarf44, you’ve made the video clip that I always wanted to and you’ve enticed me back to the work of Cindy Sherman.” – Billy Bragg
A big thanks goes out to my fellow you tubers who clued me in on Q Magazine and Bragg’s column. I never would have known about it otherwise.