Sociopaths are People Too
By Jeff Moody
David Byrne beats the odds. AGAIN.
By the time I sat down to type this, I’d already chewed through the straps of my own self-restraint, so let me begin by saying this: Imelda Marcos was a vain and greedy creature during the time that her husband Ferdinand Marcos ran the Philippines like John Gotti ran the Gambino crime family. For more than two decades Mr. & Mrs. Marcos were partners in crime, working the levers of Philippine politics for their own personal gain, gleefully plunging an already impoverished populace deeper into economic miasma. They were swine, and in February of 1986, the citizens of the Philippines finally put an end to their nonsense and chased them from Malacanang Palace with the clothes on their backs and all the pesos they could stuff into their pockets. Currently, Ferdinand is roasting in hell alongside his peers (in some B-list despot wing, I imagine) while Imelda and her offspring continue to run for and win (!?!) lesser seats in the Philippine government.
What Byrne has done here is stunning… he manages to humanize Imelda Marcos. Together with Fatboy Slim (providing beats, composition, and all-around dance floor oomph) he’s created a disco “Evita”. There are TWENTY different female vocalists (A LOT OF HORSEPOWER), and each singer is perfectly matched to her song. They all take Byrne’s material and run like hell with it, (TWENTY-FRIGGIN-TWO TRACKS) while somehow maintaining the unifying theme of the Imelda perspective.Some favorite moments:
Nellie McKay in “How Are You?” – McKay is reliably effervescent as Estrella Cumpas (Imelda’s former nanny, whose character appears at several key points over the course of the song cycle), chatting about the hot weather, getting a soda, taking English lessons, all to a Little Stevie Wonder-like keyboard bounce that flips (magically!) into a samba during the chorus.
Camille in “Pretty Face” – The young and beautiful Imelda plans social improvement projects and urges Filipinos to show the world their “Pretty Face” by pitching in. I don’t know who the hell Camille is but she gives this track its sticky sweetness.
Sharon Jones in “Dancing Together” – Jones as Imelda blows the doors off of Studio 54. The woman can belt out a song. Smoking hot.
Kate Pierson in “The Whole Man” – B-52 grrl riffs as Imelda at the United Nations, delivering her weird speech on the unifying theory of beauty, love, and Pac-Man. IT’S A TRUE STORY. Fatboy Slim carpet bombs the joint with funk. It’s a delight for the hips and for the brain.
The double-elpee set concludes with “Why Don’t You Love Me?” where Ferdinand and Imelda’s kleptocratic ways come to a sudden stop. Sung with intensity by Tori Amos and Cyndi Lauper, Byrne imagines Imelda’s desperation and stunned disbelief. She doesn’t understand how, after all she’s done for the people, they could turn on her and her husband and run them out of the country. “Why don’t you love me?” she pleads. For her part, Estrella still wonders aloud if Imelda ever saw her as more than a servant. It’s a shattering moment, as the world both women knew is falling down around them. The track is a mashup of funk and soap-opera drama, and Amos and Lauper (as Imelda and Estrella) tear the thing apart with desperate intensity. It’s a fitting ending, and it’s where any urges to accuse Byrne of celebrating the dirtbag life of dictator’s wife end. When yer running from a palace with all the minks and jewels and shoes (yes, Imelda was best known for her shoe fetish) you can carry because the peasantry WHO HAVE NO SHOES are on yer spiked heels with torches and pitchforks, and you feel a sense of betrayal rather than remorse, well… that’s Imelda. She’s pathetic. You know it, I know it, Byrne knows it… everyone knows it but her.
Don’t be surprised if this ends up on Broadway.