BY TRISTA EDWARDS
First off, I have to gush. I stumbled on your book, Redhead and the Slaughter King, at the Write Bloody table at AWP this past winter and I was captivated with your poems. I believe it was Cristen O’Keefe Aptowicz at the table there that told me that you had a Lana Del Rey chapbook set to release. I knew right then you were a poet for me.
That being said, it seems that the poets are particularly drawn towards Lana as a source of inspiration. Poetry collections are popping up here and there, #lanadelreypoems trends on Hello Poetry, and now James Franco has found his way to LDR by co-writing a book about her, Flip-Side: Real and Imagined Conversations with Lana Del Rey, with David Shields. What do you think it is about Lana that inspires poetry? How does she specifically inspire you? What runs deeper than infatuation?
First of all--thank you! Poe said, “the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” I think the combination of Lana’s obsession with the “live fast, die young” mortality lends itself to inspiring poets who agree with Poe’s sentiment. Death is a pretty boy at the bar who she’s batting her eyes at--hoping he’ll buy her a drink.
I can’t speak for James Franco, but for me, Lana’s voice sounds like a relic from the past that time-travelled into a hip-hop/electronic generation and is trying to navigate the discrepancy of the two. Her general aesthetic in videos, album artwork, even lyrics, feels similar: some historical token showing up in our coat pocket in the future. It’s like the way Coney Island can feel nostalgic to someone who has never been there before--Lana offers a similar feel. And that’s what writers often try to do, right? Provide a yearning for a reader for a thing that reader hasn’t experienced themselves. Maybe writers’ obsession with her stems from recognizing her craft on a subliminal level. Plot twist.
In "Lana Del Rey Meets Me In My Bathroom Mirror," LDR spreads concealer on the speaker’s face to cover up the dark spots. She tells the speaker, "You should do that on your face, but not your art. Art is the dark spots." What makes LDR dark to you? Do you have any "dark spots" that you struggle to write about or have yet to write about?
Almost everything about Lana resonates as dark to me. There’s very little joy in her music. I mean, her albums are called "Born to Die" and "Ultraviolence." There is a profound loneliness in her work, which is characterized, primarily I think, with a destructive love. In the recent documentary Amy, there’s this scene where the late Amy Winehouse discusses taking whatever drugs her boyfriend was taking, in the exact same quantity, not because she wanted to be high, but because she never wanted to be on a different level than him. I remember hearing her say that and being simultaneously drawn to and murdered by the idea. I think Lana is dark like that. And I like it. So of course I have dark spots.
I am really intrigued by "After The Interview, I Confront Lana Del Rey" for a couple of reasons. One, this is one of the few pieces in the chapbook in which the LDR of the poems has a more passive role. In other poems she is always taking, selling, traveling, explaining, intervening, etc., but here in this poem she takes the backseat while the speaker is the one to confront. Secondly, this poem touches on the unnerving note of suicide and the "live fast, die young" attitude that radiates a strange and seductive appeal to many. The speaker notes that when LDR tells a reporter she wishes she were dead without the synthesized pop melodies behind the statement that it is really very frightening to hear. What is your take on the relationship between tragedy, art, and legend?
Sure, I roll down the windows during Dark Paradise and sing along to "I wish I was dead." And yes, somehow it is less disturbing in a song than it is in the plain text of an interview. I don’t think that there is going to be much of a shift in that popular conceit in art until there is a shift of that in our world. I think there needs to be a cultural change around romanticizing young suicides and overdoses for artists. Instead, I want to romanticize the idea of staying alive. With all these questions I keep feeling drawn to talk about Amy Winehouse. I know Lana Del Rey is sober now, but the persona of her music is not, and it reminds me a lot of Winehouse. Tony Bennett said, when asked if he could have given her advice, "slow down, you’re too important. Life teaches you how to live it if you live it long enough." I evolve every day. In the past couple of months I’ve become virtually a different person entirely. Life is teaching me how to live it. The art I make will be a litmus test of that. For my favorite artists, I want to see the evidence of change, growth, life. I hate that there won’t ever be another Amy Winehouse song for me to hear. That’s not romantic. That is a fucking tragedy for every wanting radio, for every hearing ear. To survive this world--that is legendary to me.
There’s a line that I am drawn to in "Lana Del Rey Takes Me To The Cemetery"--“when you practice your melancholy like a violin." Perhaps this alludes to my former question about tragedy and art but I am really drawn to the concept of practiced sadness, that sadness can be made into a craft much like learning an instrument. How does this sentiment play into your poems? Is there some kind of sadness in the speaker that she seeks out the sadness in Lana that is perhaps universal to us all?
One of my earliest poetic influences is Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, who I developed an infatuation with at fifteen. In the song Poison Oak he has a line--“now I’m drunk as hell on a piano bench and when I press the keys it all gets reversed, the sound of loneliness makes me happier.” That has always resonated with me. I love listening to sad music, to pain, to someone wailing away on their instrument, to bloodletting. I had a dance instructor who advised us on the first day of class to only listen to happy music and I thought it was such bullshit. Pharrell’s song "Happy" makes me want to bang my head against a wall and run for my life. It taunts me. I think there is so much more to life than being happy. Happiness as a goal is so limiting. Give me wholeness, completion, the spectrum of all I can feel in this life as a human. Let me craft every bit of this experience. I want that to permeate my art. I want to practice feeling all of it.
Lastly, it is hard to think of Lana Del Rey and not think of persona. The chapbook’s penultimate poem addressed LDR’s former self (if we can call it that), Elizabeth Grant. Can you talk a little about why this poem makes this kind of move. As a poet you have the power to name. What happens when the name takes over the thing or person or poem it represents?
That poem, "Elizabeth Grant Takes Me to an Alcoholic’s Anonymous Meeting" was important for me to write on a deeply personal level. Perhaps the poem is one of the most selfish ones in the collection. I come from a family of addicts. Nearly everyone in my family is an addict of some kind. It is thick in my blood. There is a humility that needs to happen in recovery, and a way that our addictions can be a great equalizer. I needed to use her real name for that, and it is a commentary on how we have to show up to our own life exactly as we are to heal it.
I’ve never been much for a stage name myself because my goal as an artist (at least now) is to move in the direction of uncovering all the layers until I arrive at myself. I think Lana Del Rey is probably hiding Elizabeth Grant from the world, whatever her reasons may be. I love Lana Del Rey as an artist, but we don’t have the same artistic goals. I want to drag myself out into the light, want to say, This is what I’ve done, want to say, Love me anyway, want to constantly shed the ever-accumulating bullshit.
Megan Falley is the author of two full-length collections of poetry on Write Bloody Publishing, After the Witch Hunt (2012) and Redhead and the Slaughter King (2014). Her chapbook, Bad Girls, Honey [Poems About Lana Del Rey] is the winner of Tired Hearts Press Contest. Falley is also the creator of an online poetry course, Poems That Don’t Suck. Falley is currently on tour with poet Olivia Gatwood as part of their feminist spoken word show, Speak Like A Girl.