Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol’s strung-out party companion who died in the 1971 at age 28, has been reincarnated through the body and mind of Justin Moyer. Donned in glitzy, not-too-effective drag, Moyer’s adoption of Sedgewick’s name is purposeful: his alter ego was designed to study — or, rather, ridicule — our all-too-vapid pop culture.
Like those on Edie Sedgwick’s 2001 debut, First Reflections (Mud Memory/Dischord), each of the fourteen songs on his second album, Her Love Is Real But She Is Not, released earlier this year on DeSoto, is named after a well-known celebrity. Among others, Christian Slater, Tim Robbins and Sigourney Weaver are the subject of Moyer’s rants.
Moyer, who’s also a member of Supersystem (formerly called El Guapo) didn’t always face this project alone: First Reflections featured Ryan Hicks (drummer for Measles Mumps Rubella). But Edie has since slimmed down. It’s easier that way, he insists. We sat down with Moyer in February to discuss the media, politics and dealing with other people.
Tell me about the beginning of the Edie Sedgwick project.
Edie began as a bass/drums duo I did with Ryan Hicks, the man behind the drums for Measles Mumps Rubella and numerous other D.C. bands. I’d been in a band with three people (El Guapo) for so long, and two people seemed easier — more room in the car and more money. I was also really into the Minutemen and bass athleticism at that time, and I thought the songs-about-celebrities shtick was an interesting terrain to explore in this minimalist format, such as short songs with haiku-esque lyrics.
Then I had my first epileptic seizure in late 2001, and this slowed me down a bit. I couldn’t drive for a while. Ryan didn’t have a license. Suddenly, a solo act seemed easier . I was sick of bass athleticism. I felt the true Edie — a transgender, kind of shitty stand-up comic — lurking inside my brain’s twisted synapses. So, after a year struggling with ProTools and dress sizes, here she is, reporting for duty.
It’s been a few years since the first Edie album. What’s changed with the project, and how things are going right now?
The creative weight of the project is now squarely on my shoulders. When a song sucks, it’s because I sucked. When a show falls flat, it’s because I wasn’t entertaining enough or I couldn’t figure out how to get to an audience. When my wig is wrong, it’s because I was too lazy to get the
right one. It’s a solo project in the true sense of the word. More often than not, I load the car by myself, I drive to the show by myself, and I perform by myself and go home by myself. I’m in charge and get all the glory (surprisingly substantial) and money (almost nonexistent). I also get all the shit (never too much to handle, knock on wood).
Most important, I have the support of the wonderful people at DeSoto. Kim, Melissa and my publicist Caroline (at Advanced Alternative Media) have been vital in making this record happen and guiding me as I try to pitch my burlesque act to the public. Knowing that someone is thinking about your record when you’re not is an incredible burden off of my shoulders. Even when I’m alone, I’m not alone.
Why are all of the songs about celebrities? Is this some kind of snide cut at our media-obsessed culture or does it play into some kind of fascination of yours?
Actually, I’m not particularly interested in celebrities. Their goings on are pretty tedious. I read Entertainment Weekly for material, and it’s pretty boring: “So-and-so just got his fourth Oscar nod; it’s about time he was crowned king,” blah blah. This has nothing to do with the serious problems of our world — i.e. 200,000 tsunami dead, the Iraq war, capitalism. But there’s a problem that comes with making art about politics, about “real issues” — it’s tedious. It’s heavy-handed. Can Hotel Rwanda really help us appreciate the Rwandan genocide? Admittedly, I haven’t seen the film, but I sort of doubt it. It seems to me to be another “issue of the week.” When someone makes a film at the Balkan war or the Liberian civil war, (then) people will be interested in that. Most Americans think about the Iraq election for a minute, then it’s like, “What’s for breakfast?”
I think there’s a way to unlock this dilemma — or at least what is a dilemma for me. How does one make important vital art that says something without being didactic or dogmatic? To write about what really gets people going, like Brad and Jennifer splitting up? So, I thought, Well, I’ll write these songs about how society turns us into cyborgs or (about) the place of feminism in media, but I’ll write about Haley Joel Osment or Lucy Liu. This makes everything kind of silly and stupid, but that’s better that getting onstage and screaming “We’re all cyborgs,” right? And I think people listen more when there’s a little humor in there. When there’s this element of, “Wait, what the fuck is this, and who’s this dude in a dress?,” instead of a “Fuck Bush” bumper sticker or something.
The music is really catchy. Is the music written before or after the lyrics are written and a celebrity is chosen?
I can go either way. The best songs are ones where the lyrics and music come together at the same time. I try to get this going by singing songs walking down the street or (driving) in my car and then throwing them on to the computer at home. Otherwise, you write these lyrics or this music and you ask yourself, “What is this? How does this go with anything else?”
Does Mud Memory still exist?
Mud Memory is still around, though it hasn’t put out a record in four years. Running a record label is much harder than being in a band. I wish most bands understood this. Then maybe they’d be more serious or tour more. That way, it would be easier to put out their records.
You’ve said the purpose behind the Edie Sedgwick’s reincarnation is that this was “the only relevant activity available to an artist seeking stability in our era’s shifting sands.” Can you explain that?
I continually ask myself, “What’s the point of all this music and art shit?” I mean, I was a social worker. I was a bad one, but that job was important. I was going to go to law school to fight injustice. I backed out at the last minute because … well, because I found fighting injustice tedious. Because I could never decide what was justice and what wasn’t. I was too “postmodern.” I had read Baudrillard and DeBord. I was stuck. I am stuck. But I know that fighting injustice is more important than music. I know someone’s got to do it. Who cares about a bunch of beats and blather?
Edie Sedgwick is my small attempt to stay relevant, to write smart songs that tread the line between political ism-mongering and vacant “shake your ass” anthems. I don’t always succeed. I might even rarely succeed. But then I come up with something like “Arnold Schwarzenegger II,” which I’m really proud of. I think it puts the whole “gubernator” issue in good perspective and in a weird, exciting way. I doubt many have heard the song, but it really clarified my opinion on the issue: “His image near the sea/ imagery just imagery.” It’s just vague enough. It’s just abstract enough. Not to toot my own horn.
Edie doesn’t make any demands. She doesn’t say, “Go out, destroy the system!” Who’s she to say this? She’s a fucking singer. Instead, she aims lower. She does say, “Isn’t it bizarre that scenes implying Sigourney Weaver was a lesbian in the Alien series were cut?” Maybe this sticks in the listener’s craw a bit longer.