"Venice, city of the doges,
city of Renaissance splendour, city of lagoons, reflections, and shadows, is the
city of imagination. It is a city of spirits beyond measurable time. It is a
city of sensations and, above all, inwardness."
- Modris Eksteins, "Rites of Spring"
Last week I was in a nightclub (don't ask) and got into a rambling conversation with a woman who said she'd just got back from Venice. "Have you ever been?" she asked. "No," I said. "But I'd like to go." I'd been listening to the new Fennesz album and I did consider answering like this:
"Have I ever been to
Venice? No, but I've just bought the new Fennesz album, Venice, and it's really
good, darker than Endless Summer - and the final track, "The stone of
impermanence", is a really great messy dirty fucked-up laptop guitar sound.
And of course, you know, Richard Wagner died in Venice [This is called setting
the cultural context!] and Sergei Diaghilev - y'know, the Ballets Russes,
Nijinsky and all that..."
"Nijinsky?" she cried. "Didn't he dance with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers?"
"Yes, he did - it was in that film adaptation of Sartre's Nausea, "A Fine Romance" - Nijinsky kind of danced like this - " [Here I knee'd several people in the face as I ascended eight feet into the air and hovered around the glitterball for ten minutes] " - Pretty good, eh? It's even got "Venise, Inspiratrice Eternelle de nos Apaisements" inscribed on Diaghilev's tombstone."
"Wow! Groovy! Have you got any speed?" she cried.
"And what about "Death
in Venice" - I don't really like Thomas Mann, but I like that novella -
Visconti's film's pretty good too, the way it evokes the atmosphere of a city in
love with death and love and decay."
"What are you talking about?" she cried.
"I'm sure you've seen Don't Look Now as well," I said, slurping back a Black Russian, a Blue Lagoon and a Dubonnet with a dash of chilli sauce - "You know, the one with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, where they go to Venice to find out what happened to their son - it's based on that Daphne du Maurier story, what was it called again? Anyway, this dwarf kind of slashes Donald Sutherland's throat, it's pretty spooky. There's this lovemaking scene which everyone raves about as being realistic, but it's not - I mean, he hasn't even got a hard-on! Sex scenes in films are shit, don't you think? Have you seen "The Go-Between"? It's not set in Venice, it's set in Norfolk, which is even weirder. Man, what a weird place Norwich is!"
"Norwich!" she cried. "I'm from Norwich!" she cried.
Fortunately, dear reader, I wasn't that drunk or that crazed on drugs to say anything so stupid. I merely replied: "No, I haven't been to Venice. But I'd like to go." As you can see, my social skills classes are going really well!
Where was I? Oh yeah, Venice.
Transit features David Sylvian coming over all Scott Walker to Fennesz's
trademark laptop scratches - and it works rather brilliantly. "The lights
are dimming/ The lounge is dark/ The best cigarette is saved for last/ We drink
alone." It's perfect for those parties where Kierkegaard is the main topic
It's difficult to articulate why Fennesz is such an affecting musician. Ever since I heard "Badminton Girl" I've been struck by the honesty and fragility of his music, and it makes a difference in a world so happily obsessed with bullshit.
"Say your goodbyes to Europe," sings David Sylvian. Venice, apparently, is falling into the sea. I hope to get there before it vanishes forever. Even so, as this album shows: Venice is a state of mind. And a good place to be when you're in the mood.
/may 15th 2004/