Previously on ‘My Imaginary Dinner Party’…
There’s a table, a selection of wines, a crispy-on-top pasta bake, Leonard Cohen, and me. Leonard is relaying a long-winded but droll story about that time he made love to a beautiful archaeologist in Tel Aviv who inspired his unpublished poem Beauty in a Burka. I’ve got a weird red wine mouth and my eyes keep straying to the pasta bake cooling in the middle of the table. When will we eat, I can’t help but wonder. I should have arranged some pre-dinner nibbles. Some Pringles, a bowl of pistachios at least.
Then the doorbell rings, signalling the arrival of guest number 2.
Lana Del Rey
I’m going to say something controversial. In this era of #metoo, I’m fucking glad Lana Del Rey exists. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes a woman sexy, but it’s something instinctive and elusive and profound, and Lana Del Rey has it in multitudes. What I love most about her is that she’s entirely self-cultivated. This woman (real name Elizabeth Grant) has made a science of sexiness. She’s made it her life’s work, her art. I reckon she’s spent hours studying every movement, every expression and hip-wiggle of classic silver-screen sirens like Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren.
I saw her on stage at Latitude festival this year and was blown away by her presence. Understated, girlish, almost awkward, but absolutely compelling. She wasn’t even upstaged by her two glamorous backing singers who wore tight red dresses and danced like strippers (but the expensive ones you’re not allowed to touch). I could not take my eyes off her.
The thing that first attracted me to Lana was her lyrics. Her songs are about devotion, the ache of longing, of bad men and young girls, drinking, sex, violence and materialism. She sings about Lolita, one of my favourite novels, even using one of the most famous lines in the book:
Light of my life, fire of my loins
Be a good baby, do what I wantLana Del Rey, Off to the Races
She’s unapologetic and in that lack of apology there’s a clever irony. This is a caricature after all: it isn’t reality. This is a sepia Polaroid of a summer spent by the pool, with Cola ice pops and bikinis and boys peeking over the fence. In her songs I recognise an exaggerated version of my own adolescence. The drinking, the weird approach of our womaness, the laughing at boys, the fun of it all. It was a game. I think that’s what we’ve forgotten. We’re so afraid of being girls and what that means, that we’ve forgotten about the fun of it – and I don’t just mean innocent, childish fun, because that’s an adult construct. That’s a rose-tinted memory. I mean the things we really thought were fun. The fun of rebelling, of pushing boundaries, of exercising new powers, of being afraid but feeling alive because of it. I never felt like a victim. I never felt powerless, or predated upon, but looking back with my 2019 goggles on, there were some situations I experienced as a teenager that would definitely look like something different now.
I feel like Lana Del Rey portrays girlhood with courage and honesty at a time when we’re all pretty confused about it.
Sweet sixteen, and we had arrived
Baby’s table dancing at the local dive
Cheering our names in the pink spotlight
Drinking cherry schnapps in the velvet night
Yo, we used to go break into the hotel
Glimmering, we’d swim
Running from the cops in our black bikini tops
Screaming, “Get us while we’re hot, get us while we’re hot”
(C’mon, take a shot)
The prettiest in-crowd that you had ever seenLana Del Rey, This is What Makes us Girls
Ribbons in our hair, and our eyes gleamed mean
A freshmen generation of degenerate beauty queens
And you know something?
They were the only friends I ever had
We got into trouble, and when stuff got bad
I got sent away, I was waving on the train platform
Crying ’cause I know I’m never coming back.
For her artistic interests, her curiosity, her keen observations, her beauty, her sexiness, her voice, her presence, her honesty, Lana Del Rey gets a place at my table.
Of course I won’t put her right next to Leonard Cohen. I think they might get distracted…