XL REPUBBLICA: After all the humiliation, now my america is nicer
My maternal Grandfather left Damascus, at the age of 15, with his possessions on the back of a donkey and ended up at Ellis Island. In the United States he built his new life and his business. My paternal Grandfather left his Atlanta Georgia roots and his Ivy League education to make his life as a US diplomat carving out groundbreaking deals in the middle east…
MIKA asking for help for his XL Repubblica column
XL Repubblica: The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nigh-time
«In a small fish restaurant in Lisbon, Asia Argento sips her glass of white wine. We have escaped the set of Fanny Ardent’s new movie in which the Italian actress is starring. She plays a cellist and I appear as her accompanist in the final scene. I refuse wine, afraid to fall asleep on set and complain about the hours of waiting. She laughs and says smiling, “Don’t you know? Actors aren’t paid to act, they’re paid to wait!”. We have only met a few hours ago and…
MIKA’s column in XL repubblica will be back in March,
MIKA for XL Repubblica : Who thinks I make children’s music, read my texts!
Mika is a mystery. He is a character in a fairy tale (before the success of the single “Grace Kelly” in 2006, he was a waiter). He is a musical in its own rightr, because with the vocal range that he has, he could sing all the parts, male and female, of any work performed on Broadway.
He could play a role in such a kind of TV series (if there was one) that combines “Glee” and “Sex & The City” with a hint of the exotic (he was born like Michael Penniman Jr. in Beirut on 1983, from lebanese mum and american dad). He has the voice of Freddy Mercury in the body of a dancer, and he is the child that the Scissor Sisters would, if only they had sex with each other. After all, what we know of him - discs, videos, live shows, his column Pop-Up on XL - it’s just a small part of a personality overflowing. Because Mika is <a mystery> also for himself, as he tells us before the concert in Vigevano, part of the “Dieci giorni suonati” by Barley Arts. In the lineup of that mid-summer show he has inserted several songs from “TheOrigin Of Love”, the album that comes out these days.
XL Repubblica: Perfume, when a memory smells better than a flower
When you close your eyes and think of your mother what do you imagine? When you close your eyes and think of your first love what do you imagine? When you close your eyes and think of fear what do you imagine? For me, almost always, I imagine the one thing that is the hardest to remember: smell. My mother always used to wear an Yves Saint Laurent perfume called Champagne and it would mix with the history of her day, from the smell of her cooking the evening meal to the slight petrol tinge of our old Toyota Previa. It was this strange combination of smells which meant that I was home. Smell is one of the most powerful things in my life. Even as a musician, smell has a far greater ability to trigger memories than music. I once fired an old assistant on a tour because she wore the same perfume as a teacher who made my life hell at the Lycée Francais when I was a boy. The fact that she found the same perfume as my evil teacher appealing meant that she couldn’t possibly be a good person. I was proven right, and as the months unfolded so did she. I should have trusted my nose to begin with.
By 2015 the perfume industry is predicted to be worth over 33 billion dollars. Although this is mostly thanks to over commercialised and celebrity endorsed rubbish, there is no denying the fact that perfume is a major part of everyone’s daily life. In New York recently, I was faced with Rihanna’s enormous perfume advert on Times Square, every day as I went to the studio. I finally got a chance to smell it and was underwhelmed at the most. It smells fake, cheap and it’s clear that what you’re really paying for is not the quality of the ingredients but the cost of the bottle, the advertising space and most of all, the cost of her endorsement. Why is it that people have such a problem realising that smell and perfume are the same thing. How you smell is as important as how you look. From a purely chemical point of view, it’s not the floral top notes that will get someone to fall in love or sleep with you, but the muskiness of your natural body smell. Obviously it’s not ideal to sleep with someone that smells only of B.O. as that would be too overwhelming. However, it’s when the mix of your body smell and that of the perfume is just right, that a branded perfume turns into your perfect scent. Personally, smelling of strong body odour would be just as bad as smelling too much of Rihanna’s perfume.
In a nutshell, here is how the basic perfume making process works today. Most of the time, a big brand or celebrity will decide to sell and market a perfume. They will hire a production company who will in turn select a marketing company as well as a perfumer, or ‘nose’ to create the scent. The marketers will do countless studies and market analysis to figure out what perfume would sell best, and who the scent should be aimed at. With this very precise brief they will then commission a perfumer to take all this research and mix a scent that would please the targeted demographic the most. Often, perfume bottles and even add campaigns will be designed before the perfume even exists. The ‘nose’ will sit at a desk and make endless blends of hundreds of scents, some precious and most synthetic. Every perfume is decided into three layers; the Top Note the Middle and the Base Note. The first smell you get is the Top Note, this is mostly light and floral or citrus. This will quickly evaporate however leaving the Middle and lastly the Base note. The Base note is actually what will react or adapt most with your skin and when its smelt on its own can often smell awful. These often smell woody or musky. Yes! Similar to the body odour you’re trying to cover up in the first place!
Unfortunately, most really commercial perfumes are all about the top and middle notes. The base notes are often seen as too ugly or off-putting. Think about it, when you put a fresh cut lily to your nose and smell it, there are so many deep and musky smells, almost bad smells, that combined with the light top and middle notes smell perfect together, but more importantly smell natural.
I have collected smells for years. I have calmed down now, but I went through a phase of storing anything that I thought smelt good or interesting in small brown glass vials. From rose oils to pieces of tarmac and even the hand of a plastic doll. You can imagine how excited I was to come across the work of eccentric New York perfumer Christopher Brosius. His perfumes range from traditional scents to ones called Doll’s Head, In The Library or Burning Leaves. Self taught, Brosius did not go through the insanely rigorous and competitive training that you must now endure to graduate as a top ‘nose’. He even goes so far as calling his brand “I Hate Perfume”. He is more of a renegade who fights the normal commercial limits of making scent. If I had the chance to have a perfume custom made, it is clear that my main ambition would be to evoke a memory. If it was the memory of childhood for instance, then it would be the smell of my mother, but in my perfume memory of her, the Yves Saint Laurent would be as important as all the other “ugly” smells of a normal day. I would want the Cooking and even Toyota smell in there. My perfume would evoke a memory, and that would smell better than a million roses.
XL Repubblica: Cosmetic Surgery? I Have No Bias, But I Defend Wrinkles
When I was a kid I was fascinated by people’s wrinkles. I watched them wondering what they was caused by, I considered them a sort of compendium of person’s life. It had become a sort of obsession as much that in family I was scold: “Do not stare at people and even touching them on the face”.
I remind of the advertising campaign for a perfume I was a protagonist last year (Hugo Boss campaign).
That photo was the result of 8h shooting where an hairdresser army alternated to tame my hair to give to my head the desired shape.
Even my tie position was calculated at the millimiter by a committee of experts in marketing, After the retouching to the photos I liked that idealized version of myself: cool, cured, but very unreal.
Perfume spots often intentionally deviate from reality, but some really loses the boundaries between photography and illustration. If in the reality I had that face I’ll look like an alien!
Imperfections make me who I am, recognizable to myself and to the eyes of my friends.
If a real dog, a puppy,found himself in front of a plush dog barks furiously because he sees another animal but it does not perceive the smell.
This causes anxiety and sometimes aggressiveness.
This comparison helps to understand that strange feeling you experience in front of a woman like Jocelyn Wildenstein, who had a plastic surgery to look like a cat.
It’s an extreme case, close to the art, just like David LaChapelle’s muse a tranny transformed in an “extreme Marilyn Monroe”.
But beside this cases, why people often have no worries to submit to cosmetic surgery?
Everyone stare himself in the mirror and sometimes think we have something to fix, fill here and there, lift a sagging cheek or shrink a nose.
In the past considered an exclusive female interest, nowadays cosmetic surgery is used also by men,indeed, male sector is booming, but that doesn’t make the headlines.
Instead when a popular woman submit to cosmetic surgery, even for a lil retouch, the news goes all around the world.
I think it dipends by the fact that women are more competitive.
In the female magazines are on top the list of worst dressed, of much more restored of the worst hairstyles.
A male magazine would never publish something like that. Men do not find satisfaction in criticizing other men physic’s, but they care about appearance, neither more nor less of women.
In my opinion cosmetic surgery involves two major risks.
First of all it risks to be used as status symbol, to assert their wealth, many appreciate it, I don’t.
Second point, taking inspiration by the perfect faces of the actress in the glossy magazines, there’s a danger of chasing an ideal out of reality.
Who says that appearance doesn’t count makes a huge mistake.
It’s the face that we judge in a person and make us choose how to relate with her. And it’s instinctive, crossing a person in the street with whom we will never have anything to do, analyze the appearance based on a complex set of parameters.
Wrinkles on the face, the appearance of a person reveals his character, his lifestyle, the world which he/she belongs to.
If cancelled it could give rise to strange reactions in the observer, even revulsion.
Dogs need to sniff to identify, we look in the face.
Translated By Francesca
XL Repubblica: I discovered the kid that I was, thus I became an adult
Its 8am and I’m sitting in front of my computer. I have just received a message that unless my article is delivered within an hour, I will miss the issue. My head hurts a little for I drank two glasses of a cheap Australian wine with too high a sugar content last night and my brain hurts because I’m now on my fourth subject matter for this column. I thought to write about Bullying but it got too dark, I thought to write about marijuana as I’ve been practically living in the studio with a group of the funniest stoners you could come across. I even started writing about tomato sauce, don’t ask why. But now I realise, that as I come to the end of recording my album, an album which has taken so much to make, I will write entirely about me.
Its fair to say that as I am finishing this third album, I am in a very different place to when I was finishing the second. After the success and change that came with my first album I found myself in a very strange place. On the one hand I had made it. Not just because of the records doing well but because I had come through undamaged, or so I thought.
From the age of 13, I went to the prestigious Westminster school in London. This ancient school was built around a beautiful courtyard at the footsteps of Westminster Abbey. My main concern however was often trying to figure out how to get around school without being noticed. My main obstacle was the courtyard, as to get from my locker to the music centre where my piano was, I actually had to cross it. Once there however, I would write. My aim was crystal clear; I wanted to figure out how to write melody. Melodies that stuck like glue, for I knew that these were power. No matter who you are, we are all prone to falling for a melody. The music centre was a small building with a narrow corridor, with many doors that opened on to small cubicles where all you would find was a piano and a chair. Others would be practicing difficult classical pieces, but I pretended I was in the Brill building in 1960s New York, where the likes of Bacharach and Carol King would be competing in similar rooms, trying to write the perfect pop song.
As people started to find out what I was up to, a very strange thing happened. Friends and teachers started grouping around trying to help in whatever way they could. My friends would help perform my pieces, listen and criticise. The school librarian would lie, saying that I was working for him two afternoons a week, just so I could have more time to write my songs. My scandalous French teacher, a former Mr Gay UK contestant who would share his experiences in drug dabbling, would listen to my music, tell me his stories, give me guidance and cover for me when I was late. My English teacher, now a famous theatre director, would give me roles to play in her shows and even started a magazine with me. I was a loner with a secret army behind me and I couldn’t have done it without them. Years later, at the Royal College of music the same thing happened all over again.
After the first album I felt disjointed and alone. I booked myself a room at the legendary Olympic Studios and stayed there for 6 months, writing at the piano and recording endless demos. At 2pm every day I would walk over to the fancy Italian restaurant across the street and eat, often alone. I missed my cubicle and upright piano but most of all I missed my gang. I missed tea with the librarian who had now moved away, the inappropriate banter with my French teacher who had died, and the arguments with my English teacher who was now famous. I missed my friend Alex playing my top lines on his dodgy oboe and singing duets in classical falsetto, like we did in Over My Shoulder. My songs were for and about them. I would write about myself to make them laugh. I would write about Billy Brown to make my French teacher embarrassed. What was I supposed to do without them?
I got through it and made a beautiful album, full of textures and melodies, but somewhere in all the music my friends were missing. After two years of touring and a horrific accident in my family, I swore that I would fix my problem and find my gang. I broke hearts and fell in love again, and travelled around fighting for sessions and looking for freaks. I found them, lots of them. I didn’t want to make the album in isolation, and if the Brill building no longer existed then I would make my own version using the internet and a lot of air miles. I found unknown people online to work with as well as famous ones, and in the end made this album with all twelve of them. Funny thing is, it has never sounded more like me. I wrote about them, stole their stories and wrote about myself for them to laugh or even to make them sad.
Fear leaves you isolated, isolation in turn creates more fear and fear leaves you closed. A little part of you dies, and not until you take the risk and open up to others can you find a way out of it. This album is called The Origin Of Love and is about a man who only grows up once he rediscovers the boy he used to be.
he’s such a great columnist I want to cry