I am something of a voluptuary. Or at the very least an indulgent, sensualist aesthete, pretentious as that must sound. A Dionysus with a healthy helping of Apollo, I like to swim in my senses until I reach the other side.
Sometimes there is a schism, though, a disturbance………the sheer difference between my ‘different worlds’ quite uncanny.
Take Saturday. I had just finished the final pre-examination classes, an entire day of teaching, and was exhausted, run down, drab in my salaryman Japanese black suit and coat, I just wanted to eat, grab a taxi, and go back home to bed. Sunday, I hoped to just slob in the house and do nothing, hoping there was nothing that had been artfully arranged by Duncan on the social calendar.
There was. Carnival Aquaria, an event that he had been asked to help out at by the mysterious Mistress Maya, somewhere miles away in the north of Tokyo, which would involve trains, a hotel, a costume….
A dilemma, then. What to do? Stay at home passively, tired, absorbing Netflix and calories, or thrust myself, against my ‘instincts’, into an unfamiliar zone, with new people, even when totally not feeling up to it? Spend the day alone wondering what would be going on there while I was not ( but snug, and warm in my comforts), or be active and sociable, and just let myself get taken up by the unknown, the flux and the flow?
Somewhat unwillingly – initially – and perhaps unsurprisingly, for you reading this I imagine, I opted for the latter.
The event, a medley of different performances and a dance night, was held at an art space in Kiba, an area of Tokyo I had never been to before (this is a city that has so many train stops you have always never been to, such a labyrinth: it just takes years and years to get to know properly) and, to my surprise, we ended up spending twelve hours there, in a black box of odd people, injudiciously put on champagne duty (it was only later that I realized that these bottles were being sold at 18,000 yen a pop, almost 200 dollars, and we had been necking it back ourselves and doling out extra second and third classes to the invitees when they were only supposed to be getting a ‘welcome drink’; the owners of the event space were quite horrified I think as they watched their profits going down the (gullets and) the drain, the freaks behind the bottles clad in outlandishly bizarre outfits that had an eye-widening effect on the typically black-wearing art types who entered self-containedly, and reservedly, to watch a ballet trapeze artist, a shakuhachi flute player, bondage rope tying, some cabaret, a Persian santurist, and various other ephemera (see the top two pictures for an idea of what it was like).
It’s very strange how these things work, however. Such a PARADOX.
I am a person who is resolutely not interested in clothes. I get criticised by friends and family alike for my boringly conventional tastes. I never buy them, just when I absolutely need to, and even then I find it an ordeal. I wear the clothes my mother sends me in the post for my birthday and Christmas. I have two pairs of shoes to my name. I just don’t choose to express myself in that way (I do that through music, perfume and words). I like what I wear – just plain black, blue, sweaters and jeans and straight coats with the odd colourful scarf maybe, and I certainly wouldn’t just wear anything, no no no and I do have some curious, snazzy ties that I like to wear to work to confuse people, but ultimately, as far as I am concerned, life is just too short to be spent continually thinking about I am presenting myself to the world, to constantly think about clothes. I know they are important and that that is what the world sees of us, but I just can’t be arsed. I find them shallow and think that far too much importance is placed by humanity on thinking about what it is wearing. Arrogantly, perhaps, I think I hopefully have enough aura in an of myself not to need to rely on the codified, predetermined (fashion is actually really boring in many ways) outer strata.
And yet totally contradicting this is how I feel wearing one of Duncan’s creations. Again, I am dressed by other people, as I would never make the effort to go out and look for rags to stitch together for this purpose, but when D, who is a dab hand at picking up things from recycle bins and second hand thrift shops puts something together and I get in the mood, I can find it quite transformative and liberating; Burning Bush, this wild alter ego of mine, a kind of creature that elicits very strong reactions from people who come into contact with it (I feel this is a genderless being, more anima, or spirit animal, which is how people usually take it – I don’t entirely understand it myself, to be honest, I just know there is something magical about it) – almost a form of performative alchemy and disappearing inside something that I find extremely, extremely, cathartic.
I was got up in a big powder blue babygro with fox fur trimmings, a knitted balaclava, sea green wig, and a faux-fur eskimo-like hood (someone referred to me later in the evening as a ‘seximo‘ or a Doraemon fever dream was another one, things that had been thrown haphazardly into our bags in the morning , and which had not been fully decided on until they were put on, including the makeup, which was applied in my usual cack-handed way by just dipping my fingers into the oil pots and slapping it on in the dressing room upstairs using a tiny mirror and laughing to myself as I was doing so. As it turned out, the creature that emerged – coming down the stairs to the art space, figures parting for me to make my entrance – was something like a cuddly, and fluffy, Vishnu/Russian iconographic monster with no obvious reference points really but that somehow, I felt, stood proudly on its own. It was just born. It suddenly existed, in and of itself. A new persona. No longer me, and yet even more me (feel free to analyze and comment on this).
Perfume. To maximize the fluffiness, in scent terms before leaving the house that morning, the house a bomb site of huge proportions, scouring my perfume cabinets in my bedroom prior to leaving I had settled on Heliotrope by Perfumer H, a meringue like confection of almonds and vanilla that smelled excellent and peevishly innocent sprayed lavishly on all the soft and feathery textures I was dressed up in, plus, for an extra ironic camp factor as I served (and quaffed) the champagne, on the wrists, and the neck, some Elizabeth Taylor Diamonds and Rubies parfum, a big, orchid cherry mother that I have reviewed before and actually think is strangely gorgeous. Although I couldn’t properly smell all these through the strangely waxen perfume of all the stage white smothering my face, I did feel the effect was rather good, augmenting and embellishing the individual I was inhabiting. Projecting me further into the audience. To further the warm effect of his own prawn headdress and burnished bodystocking, the D plumped, fetchingly, for the vintage Shiseido Feminite Du Bois extrait.
Later, eventually fired from champagne duty, we were free to just mingle and dance, and I, though the biggest ‘samugari’ (person who feels the cold) in the world, did actually come very close to overheating after a while in my symphony of furs (Duncan was practically naked), to cool down, intermittently I would go outside on the streets, lurking on bridges and terrifying passers by (although this is Japan, and people keep their reactions generally hidden. They just keep their heads down. I went to the convenience store to get some water, and the clerk did her best to act normally).
I found myself in the Kiba park, in the freezing cold, and felt like something unearthly and fantastic, night time joggers wondering what the hell they were witnessing as I chuckled to myself like an arctic, mythical babooshka, coated in cherries and vanilla, and the clouds above me shone spectrally, full of magnificence.
The next day, hungover in downtown Tokyo, skin like a dried persimmon, eyebags unconcealable in the bright light of morning, drinking oversweeted cafe au laits in old fashioned coffee shops, and after a row in the early morning, things seemed less bonny and phantasmagorical – but still, madcap though these antics may have been, I feel that they definitely, in some way, really punctured through something and I briefly entered immortality; we had danced maniacally with our friends on the dance floor joyously to Divine’s Native Love (there is a video, but I don’t think I should put it up) – – – yes you read that right, I had danced – – – although the legs still aren’t a full capacity this was most definitely possible – – – and somehow, for me, such experiences, while not happening with great regularity, beautifully stop, for a moment, this conveyor belt we call life with its inexorable conclusions and let you enter pure spirit, not that you need a bizarre costume to have such clarity and mindfulness, but for a person whose life is so not dominated by the clothes that he wears, being changed unrecognisably by the outer appearance and having the reactions that this characters almost always engenders ( I have had the coolest imaginable lesbians coming on to me in Tokyo clubs, been chatted up by all kinds of people that wouldn’t even look at me in my usual incarnation) is very……. interesting, and though this is not something that I want all the time – Burning Bush makes around five appearances a year – I think of this spirit animal, this other being, as a breather; a temporary escape, even a form of savage – and quite primal – performance art.
On the subject of art, and of artists, more and more of whom I seem to be meeting and possibly collaborating with these days, it isn’t often that a visual artist – people who are often so fully immersed in their field that they forget that they even have other senses – indulges in niche perfumery and comes up with their own scent collection, created entirely by themselves. It is easy to become quite skeptical about this (especially when there are so many Firmenich ghost perfumers), as it can seem to me sometimes that niche perfumery has become increasingly about having the means – ie. the money, to have a ‘start up’ and ‘venture’ and put out a ‘collection’ created by other people with all the usual blather about ‘precious essences’ and the like, when in fact a whole lot of it is derivative nonsense without a great deal of substance or depth or even olfactory interest. I have received whole boxes of releases from various niche companies that I haven’t even reviewed on The Black Narcissus simply because I couldn’t come up with any words, really, to fill a paragraph. They just smelled thin and boring or were dressed up with words and images that far superseded, in interest terms, whatever the liquid inside the tube was meant to convey. Last week, after meeting my friend Yoko and doing piano duet practice at a rented Yamaha hall for our one-day-we-will-actually-do-it concert (which we are planning to have a whole film made for by the end of the year by my extremely talented filmmaker friend Michael Judd, starring Burning Bush and Yoko – we will perform in black beneath it, like the great days of Silent Cinema) I actually gave her a whole bag of cast offs that I didn’t want any more and which I might do some cursory reviews of here in order, if nothing more, to try and remain relevant and contemporary), things like Feather Supreme, by Jusbox, and the Dear Rose collection, by a fashion doyenne and her rock star daughter (or was it the other way round?), and some quite nice Roja Doves, and some sweet oudhy thing by Ex Nihilo, those kind of scents, and she was extremely pleased with them but wondered if I had anything green, as the spring is on its way – I have just heard the uguisu, the Japanese nightingale, outside on this cold sunny day, or at least I thought it was that bird, a beautiful harbinger at any rate, and I was thinking of giving to her the II by Cire Trudon that I reviewed the other day, a delightful sharp green perfume that I am sure that she would like, and then also, now, having given them a second chance last night, I might give to her the Paul Schutzes as well as I have realised that there is something quite interesting about them (god that was rather a long paragraph, sorry).
Not that I wouldn’t quite like to keep this set of quiet, diffident, very urban and urbane perfumes in my permanent collection for a sense of variety from my usual, more luscious, affairs, because I kind of would, but because I do actually like the idea of someone else wearing them far more effectively than I ever could. Plus, I love girls, and women, in unconventional sharp, woody – masculine if you like- perfumes : I love the internal play, and the effect that they have on me, the revelatory layers that can be conjured up with just a spritz of an unanticipated scent on a female acquaintance (or for that matter, a stranger): when quiet depths are suggested; sylvan pools, when my monster skin just eats it all up and amplifies and crushes all subtlety (which is why my signature, Chanel No 19 vintage parfum, is so brilliant on me, an entirely different perfume – a sexual, vetiver leather iris but still with that elegance and greenness, a place I can hide………)
Paul Schutze, an Australian multi media artist who works with installations, photography, and ambient composition, is a name I was already familiar with as one of his pieces, Rivers Of Mercury, is on a quite brilliant compilation I once bought many years ago called Oceans of Sound, compiled and curated by musicographer David Toop, a melange of all kinds of ephemera you would never think of usually putting together, like Debussy and The Velvet Underground, Miles Davis and Erik Satie, but which all works quite brilliantly in a dreamy combobulation of exotic atmospherica, including the sound of water in a Kyoto temple, Suikinbutsu – so I was quite curious when his latest venture – perfume – arrived in a box with his name on it sent in the post.
Dismissing the trio of scents initially as being what Duncan calls – of that ilk – your typical sharp incense niche contemporary style – in fact to me these smelled even more rasping and aqueous than usual (if they were the artists’ materials themselves; dark room chemicals, solvents for paint brushes, they would have made more sense to me), but still there was something that emphatically quiet and strangely thoughtful, and in keeping with the artist’s longstanding resume in the art world, those scents that you think you ought to come back to at a later date because they definitely contain something ) – last night, the frivolities and almost sensorially overwhelming visuals and smells of Sunday night’s extravaganza still vivid but fading in my mind as I made pasta and we had a very early night, just before hitting the sack I decided to try them out one more time.
My nose was in a different frame of mind, on this occasion, to the last time I smelled these, and they definitely opened up for me more. Behind The Rain, a damp, and very green, vetiver laced with lentisque, mastic, fir and fennel, and a frankincense heart, is a introverted but moody and brooding scent that I can actually almost imagine wearing myself if I found myself in the right clarity-seeking frame of mind, with hints of an old limited box collection I had by L’Artisan Parfumeur called Sautes D’Humeur, or Mood Swings, containing two very original and before their time perfumes, D’Humeur Jalousie – probably the greenest perfume I have ever smelled, and D’Humeur A Rien, an annihilatingly depressing church-like/ terpsichor – the smell of the asphalt after the rain – that put a smudge of grey death on even the most cheerful of days, and was thus locked away, for a long time, only brought out for amusement purposes, for entertainment, upstairs, at dinner parties.
Behind The Rain, my favourite of the three that I received, is more nuanced than either of these old Artisans, more contained (you feel a definite ego at work in these perfumes, the mantra of the self, the will of the artist imposing his vision, something very tasteful and almost pure – which is in keeping with Paul Schutze’s ambient music, so far away from my own, deliberately bad tasted wild abandonment). The difference in temperament exhibited here quite fascinates me; the interiority of it, and whether I should keep this one, therefore, myself, or give it to Yoko, is something I haven’t yet quite decided on yet.
I think that she can have Cirebon though, and Tears Of Eros, much as am attracted to that name. As with Behind The Rain, both of these other Paul Schutze perfumes are quite subtle creations that smell contemporary and cool ( you can imagine the punters at the Carnival Aquaria, serious in their art spectacles and Yohji Yamamoto-draped blackness wearing this type of fragrance – they would be perfect for the interlaced canals and vast spaces that are characteristic of that area). Cirebon is a sharp green orange cedar, with bergamot, bigarade, petitgrain and orange flower tempered by a cedar and ‘cyclamen/magnolia’ (both imaginary flowers in perfumery as no essence exists) but which to me smells overwhelmingly of clary sage – an essential oil I have used in the past but which doesn’t suit me temperamentally (if you use it while you are drinking, even just in the room in an oil burner, it can have quite deleterious effects and you might fall asleep in the bath; it can also make you aggressive); a weird smell, actually, almost turpentine-like, and not an ingredient that is mentioned here, but which in my mind the perfume is dominated by, at least on initial inspection.
On the skin, it is more subdued, with a citrus/wood amalgamation that puts me in mind, almost, of the original Tommy, a perfume I detested back in the day, almost to the point of phobia – it was also very prevalent which made it even worse – but which I still emphatically perfectly understood the entire attraction of; very sexy, that bitter counterpoint the whole point, a constant suggestion. This one is similar but more subdued, more……..clever, more orangey, and I like the idea of Yoko – who hasn’t worked in seventeen years but is going back, finally, at the end of this month, in order to get financial independence for her and her kids and maybe get that divorce after all – wearing some of Cirebon on her wrists underneath her newly purchased black suits. Such touches can be the markings of success.
Tears Of Eros, is by far the weirdest of the three perfumes I am writing about here today. The most artificial, and metallic, with a silvery hyacinth and ambergris heart and guaiacwood/’green incense’ accord that I can’t entirely make head or tails of. Incomprehensible, it is just strange, with an eventual, quite stirring, dirty, labdanum underlick lurking at the heart of its centre, that, after an hour or two, finally emerges. Penetrating, but with an air of mystery. Unknowable.