SSION’s Cody Critcheloe transforming into a blue fingernail-sporting, drag version of Liza Minnelli. performing Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” was a vision I didn’t know I needed. But I did. Desperately. Ever since the release of SSION’s new music video “At Least The Sky Is Blue,” which Critcheloe also directed, Marion and I have been obsessively–and I mean, obsessively–rewatching, fawning and theorizing. It’s pretty much all I’ve been able to think about for days.
And why? Well, because “At Least The Sky Is Blue,” which also features experimental pop musician Ariel Pink feels like an almost six minute music video adaptation of the Filthy Dreams trash manifesto. It’s got everything! Nihilism, decadence, hackneyed drag performances, ghostly visions of Ariel Pink as Elizabeth Taylor….the list goes on. Granted, SSION has been a Filthy Dream favorite for some time and consistently has spot-on videos from the technicolor “Street Jizz” to the dizzying “Credit In The Straight World.”
Now, I should preface that our reading of the video may not exactly be Critcheloe’s intended point. In a statement connected to the video’s release, Critcheloe explained, ““I wanted to make a narrative music video that felt akin to the cult gay movies I grew up worshipping but with a modern twist and modern accessories…. Something romantic and tragic but still winking and smirking along the way. Set against a psychedelic and exhausted L.A. backdrop, I find myself deep inside a cliche: a crush on someone unattainable. Crushes can leave a bigger stain than a relationship because you fall in love with the potential of something rather than the reality. When it never fully manifests you always play back the fantasy in your head and it becomes more romantic, tragic, psychedelic… massive.”
Sure, there is that Castro clone-like hunk who eventually makes a grand show of toxic masculinity at the end, but to Marion and me, the video depicts so much more. Opening with a blue screen and featuring long shots of the sunny California skies and artificially blue swimming pools in Los Angeles, the video contains echoes of André Gide’s novel The Immoralist. At the end of The Immoralist, the protagonist Michel inevitably surrenders to the nihilistic void as symbolized by a clear blue sky. As Gide writes, as Michel, “When you first knew me, I had a great steadfastness of mind, and I know what’s what makes real men–I have it no longer. But this climate, I believe, is what’s responsible for this change. Nothing discourages thought so much as this perpetual blue sky. Here any exertion is impossible, so closely does pleasure follow desire” (169-70).
Rather than the clear blue skies of North Africa under which Michel is doomed, SSION’s video portrays the vacuity of Los Angeles. Sure, Los Angeles is great in the imagination–in David Hockney’s erotic swimming pool paintings, in Lana Del Rey’s sleepy “Bel Air,” and of course, in David Lynch’s films. But, in reality, it’s horrifying! In “At Least The Sky Is Blue,” Critcheloe maneuvers through the abyss of pumped-up bodies at the gym, sun-soaked lunches on restaurant patios and hellish circuit parties. Get out of there, Cody!
All throughout the video, Cody seems to be searching for something. What? Who knows! Even in the lyrics there is a sense of unease and angst, mirroring Michel’s observation in The Immoralist, “I myself no longer know where to look. I may have liberated myself, but what does it matter?” (169). Or as “At Least The Sky Is Blue” opens, “Riding in your car/On the run straight through to nowhere/The radio is on/It’s all bad but we don’t care.”
Eventually, though, like Michel, Cody gives himself over to those clear blue skies or really, the glittering blue curtain that acts as Liza’s backdrop. Life is a cabaret, you know, so might as well surrender to hackneyed, almost anachronistic drag acts. Who cares if Liza impressions aren’t radically queer enough in 2018?! Embrace it!
And since I’ve been manically viewing the video for days on end now, I figured it was time to do another shot-by-shot interpretation. Of course, this interpretation is a little different from mocking Justin Timberlake or Kendall Jenner’s “wokeness.” This time, I’m in open-mouthed awe of the video, whether squealing like an Elvis fanatic when Cody’s Liza appears on screen or tearing at my hair like a Beatles groupie at Daniel DiCriscio’s platinum hair flip. But we’ll get to that. For now, take some Diet Coke and ketamine because, well, at least the sky is blue:
The video opens with this blue screen. Is it just VHS nostalgia or something more nefarious, referencing the blue screen of death, which artist Sondra Perry has previously mined?
I also see a Frozen version of Elizabeth Taylor every time I look at the sky. Do you think she’s going to sing “Let It Go” or just recite the White Diamonds commercial?
Not so fast, Tom Ryan!
A shot of Cody’s blue skies. I bet Michel would have surrendered to these skies too. How alluring!
Of course, in LA, we’ve got to have lots of car scenes. Think about how many times Lana Del Rey tells you in her songs she likes to drive fast. It’s a must.
One of many scenes letting you know that this clone is emotionally unavailable
But, you know who isn’t? Ghost Liz Taylor! Just don’t ask her if she got married again.
Did I just see that?
The next scene features Cody wandering around one of those charmless LA homes that are all style and no substance. Where’s the weird knick-knacks and Christmas tree that has been up all year?!
Wait, when did SSION win a Grammy? Did I blackout and miss that?
Something must have happened because these dudes are now there. Also can we take a moment and appreciate that…art…piece next to the crusty punk Grindr dude? What is it? And where can I get one?
It’s Daniel DiCriscio or, as Marion and I have been calling him for days, gay Merlin. Take us away! We’ll drink whatever Ninja juice you’re slinging! Also note the cardboard cutout in the background. I want that too.
Wake up Cody! You’re in the presence of greatness because this happens next:
Let’s see that again
I just can’t get enough of it! This moment feels transcendent somehow and certainly mesmerizing. I don’t know about you, dearest Filthy Dreams readers, but I’m transported. Apparently, Cody is too because as he witnesses this, light shines on his face.
Touched by an angel
Ok, I think we need to take a moment to appreciate Daniel DiCriscio–role model. Known as “The Messiah of Makeover,” Daniel has worked with such stars as Paula Jones, Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith. He also appeared on Cristina’s Court against Bobby Trendy (remember him?) and yes, it’s on YouTube. He also has a music career. One video features some of the Real Housewives of Orange County awkwardly shimmying in the background and yes, that is also on YouTube.
The most LA screenshot ever
I want to drink green smoothies and smoke by the pool with Cody and Daniel too!
Blue chlorine-filled pools = blue skies
David Hockney, eat your heart out.
Does anyone smell White Diamonds? Oh shit she’s back!
And here we are at the hypermasculine gym where everyone has a perfect muscle-bound torso. Man, this entire scene is hellish to me–hence the red lighting. I’ll stick with Daniel drinking smoothies by the pool thanks.
Look at Cody with these clones
Gratuitous torso shots
This dude is the worst
Thankfully Emotionally Unavailable James Dean comes to the rescue
Huh???!!!! How much does weed cost in LA?!
Another quintessential empty LA moment
Ariel Pink’s Liz says stop eating like that. Gross.
And now we enter this club scene, which, even more than the gym, feels like a descent into hell with jagged camera movements and dizzying glimpses of random scenes
Then, Cody finds a glory hole. And what is on the other side?
Drag Liz Taylor! She appears to be in a snow flurry-filled abyss of some kind. Is this heaven? Or just the void? Whatever it is–I’m in.
Look at that face…and those DIAMONDS!
And then, suddenly, the scene shifts and Cody is Liza. I scream every time it happens.
Even her nail polish is blue
For all my theorizing, the fact remains that Cody makes a magnificent Liza drag queen so if the music thing stops working out, I know an easy alternate career for him. Do “Losing My Mind”!
Toxic Masculinity Man is not happy with this descent into drag
And then Ariel and Cody duet at Liz and Liza. It’s a match made in those blue skies
Two divas having a ball
Where am I?
Of course, Toxic Masculinity man can’t stand this femme fun and has to ruin everything with a grand show of patriarchal force. Live a little, dude! Get over it.
And then we’re back to the blue screen of death–perhaps the final surrender to the blue. I don’t know about you, Filthy Dreams readers, but I’m in the mood for a green juice and a drag show.