*boom* *bang* Why hello there, dearest Filthy Dreams readers! And happy 4th of July! What’s that? You weren’t sure if those were fireworks or gunshots? Me neither! Welcome to America in 2018! No matter which it was, pull up a lawn chair, grab a beer and let’s celebrate our centuries-long democratic experiment that seems to have veered way off course.
I don’t know about you, patriotic pals, but this 4th of July seems a little, well, awkward. Not that there hasn’t always been an undercurrent of power-hungry wackos seeking to maintain a system that benefits the few, but now possibly because of the daily social media shit show (sad!), it just seems a bit more overwhelming. I know I’m going to look at anyone sideways that seems to be celebrating a little too enthusiastically (do they think America Is Great Again?!).
But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to just mope around and whine about capitalism and white supremacy, quoting critical theorists to anyone who should be so unlucky to sit next to me at a barbecue. I plan on obsessing over America as idealized in Lana Del Rey’s songs music videos. Whether updating Camelot to the 21st century, acting as a Kool-aid-drinking cult member in Southern California or singing about how her pussy “tastes like Pepsi cola,” Lana, as I’ve rambled on and on about before is an American dream and like that dream, she’s also an unattainable fantasy.
And that’s just the doomed romanticism and melancholy that I need on this July 4th! Whether you’re planning to fall asleep in an American flag, wear diamonds on skid-row or just pledge allegiance to daddy, let’s take a glimpse at an imagined America that probably never was and certainly never will be:
1. National Anthem
From the first sounds of fireworks to lyrics like “red, white, blue’s in the skies, summer’s in the air and baby heaven’s in your eyes” to a depiction of a multiracial Camelot filmed in a nostalgic vintage style and just its title, this video should be an obvious inclusion for a celebration of Lana’s Americana. Here, with A$AP Rocky as her JFK, Lana is both Jackie and Marilyn–the 1960s duality of beauty, laid out in Mad Men, is embodied in this video by one performer. Ok, she’s more than a little bit Priscilla Presley too. And because it’s Lana, the video has to end with tragedy as Lana climbs over the back of that now infamous convertible in Dallas. Sure, it’s maybe not as campy as Divine’s rendition in John Waters’s 1968 Eat Your Makeup, done just years after JFK’s actual assassination, but it’s close.
What would the Garden of Eden look like if it was set in a roadside wax museum? Pretty much like the beginning of Lana’s short film “Tropico,” which opens full of impersonators of iconic figures like John Wayne, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Jesus. Beginning with Lana praying to John Wayne (because of course she does), “Tropico” is a roller coaster ride through three songs: “Body Electric” (yes, she turns Walt Whitman’s poem into a dreamy anthem), “Gods and Monsters” and “Bel Air.” From paradise to the original sin and eventual redemption, the film seems to narrate America’s false promise and descent into chaos. For example, Lana and her Adam, played by Shaun Ross, get thrown into the inescapable nihilism of contemporary Los Angeles with strippers, gangs, teardrop face tattoos, and Lana reciting Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl!” It’s not all bleakness, though, as the video ends with a heavenly and hallucinatory romp through a golden, sun-drenched field in which Lana sings “Bel Air” and beckons to viewers as if she’s personally inviting us to the great beyond.
Americans love cults. That’s just a fact. I mean look at the cult that elected our current president. Ahem… Mixing Charles Manson with a splash of Jonestown Kool-Aid, Lana really turns up the crazy by following around Father John Misty as her cult leader. They wander around Californian hills and do acid together, while Misty plays the guitar, sings, rants and raves just like an actual cult leader (remember how Charlie had that failed music career? Would they have went all creepy crawly if he had succeeded?). The video ends with about five minutes of her fellow cult followers just swimming in white bikinis and tunics because…well…why the hell not.
What’s more American than biker gangs, driving fast and being bent over a pinball machine? I can’t think of anything. Flying an American flag wearing a shirt that say “Buttweiser,” kicking around darkened parking lots looking for johns, and riding a tire swing attached to nothing, Lana really turns up the doomed American Dream with “Ride.” But what period of America is this even supposed to be? Like David Lynch’s films, it seems like she’s tapped into an imaginary that is out of time and place. Is this what would have happened to Laura Palmer had she lived? And ok, sure, Lana awkwardly sports a Native American headdress, which in retrospect, wasn’t her greatest decision. But hey, would it be a faithful embodiment of the aesthetics of the U.S. without inappropriate appropriation and cooptation?
5. West Coast
America’s dashed dreams are not only for the open road as Lana shows in “West Coast” as she switches between two lovers: another greasy young biker-looking dude and some old sugar daddy who rides around with Lana in a convertible as she vacantly smokes all detached. Somehow Lana and her gangly biker friends found an empty beach–an impossibility as anyone who is trying to go out today knows. Where did she find this mystical place?! TELL ME.
6. Summer Wine
While perhaps not as obviously about America, Lana and Scottish singer (and her ex) Barrie James O’Neill’s cover of “Summer Wine” pays homage to two other narcotically nostalgic and quintessentially American singers Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Have you ever heard their “Some Velvet Morning”? Or Lydia Lunch and Rowland S. Howard’s cover for that matter? Anyway, Lana and Barrie’s version makes me want to pour myself a glass and twirl.
While not a music video per se, how could this list not end with Lana’s song “Elvis,” which has recently been resurrected for the documentary film The King? The song originally appeared around late 2007 on Myspace (remember Myspace?) where Lana went under the mouthful of a name Sparkle Jump Rope Queen. In the song, she pleads, “Elvis, where are you when I need you most?” which is a question we here at Filthy Dreams ask ourselves a lot. In fact, I’m going to shout it when the fireworks are going off tonight. ELVIS, COME BACK!