I remember buying Don’t Try This at Home by Billy Bragg in 1991 around the time of my birthday and shortly after its September release. The Internationale, which did very little for me at the time, had been released the year before and so I was eagerly waiting for something new.
I felt that track 8, Cindy of a Thousand Lives was once of the weaker on the album and I can only assume that is why I never thought to examine the lyrics, or even ask who ‘Cindy’ might be. Now, immersed in my college photography course, it transpires that she is none other than Cindy Sherman. See, told you Billy was always driving me in the right direction!
When you read through the lyrics, it’s actually quite obvious, if you are familiar with Sherman’s images (which I wasn’t back in 1991 to be fair).
“Blue velvet America
Half glimpsed in the headlights between the trees
Who punctured the beauty
And invited monsters such as these
The pig faced boy, the corrupted clown
The grotesque figure who never comes into town
Something broken, something stained
Something waiting for the worms to claim
And you can never go there again
Except in nightmares
The voyeur who dares not come near
Knows excitement is merely the beginning of fear
My shadow came this morning
And left some candy in my shoe
They’re always watching me
Watching the things I do
Cindy of a thousand lives
Cindy of the Stepford Wives
I’ve looked at all the photographs
But Cindy, which one of them was you?”
The last two lines really struck a chord a couple of weeks ago when in class, we discussed the notion of self-portraiture. Sherman took a series of portraits of herself in character in the late 1970s but none of them are self-portraits according to Sherman. Others suggest that facets of her character are represented in her Untitled Film Stills series.
Sherman produced these images between 1977 and 1980 which each character seemingly playing classic movie roles. She was inspired by seeing images of semi-naked images of women for a sleazy magazine company whereby, if you were to look at just one of them, you could invent a narrative,
Sherman played the part of one actress at different stages of her career and deliberately developed the film in warm chemicals because she wanted it to look grainy and somewhat substandard. Bored with her apartment interior shots, she made lists of outdoor scenes to locate with her boyfriend often behind the camera, once she had set up a shot.
Cindy of a Thousand Lives will probably get a lot of playing now in the future since it all makes sense now! Like I said, not one of Bragg’s finer moments but personally, I like the ‘full-circle’ that it represents to me.
Here’s a video from Youtube to accompany the track, with images from Sherman’s Untitled FIlm Stills.