‘Fragments’ of Inspiration

New York-based singer-songwriter St Vincent (aka Annie Clark) talked to Drowned in Sound about how Marilyn’s writing – collected in Fragments – inspired the song, ‘Surgeon’, on her new album, Strange Mercy:

‘Clark mentioned that she “was reading Marilyn Monroe’s diary, and Marilyn wrote about working with Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio. She wrote ‘best find a surgeon; Lee Strasberg, please cut me open.’ That’s such a sentiment that resonates with me, and Marilyn was such a bright and intuitive person – she gets penned as this ditzy blonde or something, but she’s quite the opposite.”‘

St Vincent: Marilyn’s Words Into Music

New York-based singer-songwriter St. Vincent has spoken to The Guardian about Marilyn, whose writing inspired ‘Surgeon’, a track on the new album, Strange Mercy:

‘Strange Mercy, she says, is very much about anaesthetising pain, and searching for ways to transform, “to be a whole person”, a sentiment expressed in a line Clark lifted from Monroe’s diaries for the song Surgeon: “Best finest surgeon, come cut me open.” “Marilyn was this relic of the 60s, and not particularly compelling when I was younger, but when I started reading about her, I really sympathised,” she says. “For all the Hollywood glitz, it was a pretty dark life. That line was just the strangest, most poignant line. I wonder how she’d feel about it being put into a pop song.”

The Monroe story, of course, ended badly: she was found dead in her bedroom by her psychoanalyst, her blood filled with nembutal and chloral hydrate. It was ruled to be suicide, though conspiracy theories abound. For Clark, though, there is something somehow redeeming in having been able to look back at Monroe’s troubles and find a spark that could give life to new art. “Creating something out of something unfortunate feels productive,” she says. She gives a small, satisfied nod.’

St Vincent on Marilyn and Music

On the American Songwriter website today, New York-based musician St Vincent explains how Marilyn’s writing inspired ‘Surgeon’, a track from her upcoming album, Strange Mercy:

‘Inspiration can come from unlikely places. Annie Clark, the Dallas-raised, Brooklyn-based musician who records as St. Vincent, was reading Marilyn Monroe’s recently published diaries when she came across a sentence that stood out to her: “Best finest surgeon,” the actress writes, “Strasberg waits to cut me open.”

“I thought that was an incredibly poetic line and a strange sentiment – wanting someone to come in and make that adjustment that will heal you,” says Clark, who adds that the troubled actress “was a highly intelligent woman and doesn’t get enough credit for being very powerful.” Clark pondered the line as she finished Monroe’s Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, and eventually she used it as the chorus for “Surgeon,” a stand-out on Strange Mercy, her third album as St. Vincent. It begins at a dreamily unrushed pace, with Clark’s florid vocals filling the frame and her spidery guitarwork adding detail to the background. The tempo gradually tightens until the song mutates into a breakneck jam between Clark and gospel organist Bobby Sparks. When it sounds like the song might simply snap in half, “Surgeon” fades out abruptly. Roll credits.

It’s a more vigorous and abrasive sound than expected from St. Vincent, and the lyrics prove equally strained and edgy. Rather than cinematic and critical, that voice sounds like that of someone desperate to be cut open. “I took elements of what I knew about Marilyn Monroe and superimposed them with something that I knew personally,” Clark explains. “I think it’s all fair game – whatever makes the best and most compelling story with a sturdy emotional truth to it.” ‘

St Vincent Inspired by Marilyn’s Writing

 

St Vincent – aka musician Annie Erin Clark – performed ‘Surgeon’, a song inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s writings, now available as a free download from her forthcoming album, Strange Mercy, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday, reports the Times:

‘St. Vincent ended her concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday night with an emotionally complicated plea. “Best, finest surgeon,” she sang coolly, fingers skittering along the neck of her guitar. “Come cut me open.”

The song was “Surgeon,” with lyrics inspired by an entry in Marilyn Monroe’s diary, and St. Vincent made its queasy hunger feel palpable, even, somehow, during the mounting vulgarity of the synth-guitar solo that she used as a coda.

Surgery isn’t a bad metaphor for the process by which St. Vincent, a k a Annie Clark, creates her music. But she’s rarely if ever the one being operated on. What she does is traumatic but controlled, unsentimental but not uncaring. She can seem clinical, but she knows what she’s doing in there.’

The song is based on a piece published in Fragments, the 2010 collection of Marilyn’s writing. It was written on Waldorf-Astoria stationary (MM lived at the hotel in 1955.)

This may be an account of a dream. It is filled with characters from Marilyn’s life at the time – Lee Strasberg, Arthur Miller, Milton Greene, Dr Hohenberg, the Rostens – and suggests Marilyn’s intense fear of not living up to their expectations.

Like many of Marilyn’s undefined pieces, it has the quality of a prose poem. The bolded parts denote spelling anomalies, while the crossings-out are her own.

Best finest surgeon – Strasberg

waits to cut me open which I don’t mind since Dr H

has prepared me – given me anesthetic

and has also diagnosed the case and

agrees with what has to be done –

an operation – to bring myself back to

life and to cure me of this terrible dis-ease

whatever the hell it is –

Arthur is the only one waiting in the outer

room – worrying and hoping operation successful

for many reasons – for myself – for his play and

for himself indirectly

Hedda – concerned – keeps calling on phone during

operation – Norman – keeps stopping by hospital to

see if I’m okay but mostly to comfort Art

who is so worried –

Milton calls from office with lots of room

and everything in good taste – and is conducting

business in a new way with style – and music

is playing and he is relaxed and enjoying himself even if he

is very worried at the same time – there’s a camera

on his desk but he doesn’t take pictures anymore except

of great paintings.

Strasberg cuts me open after Dr. H gives me

anesthesia and tries in a medical way to comfort

me – everything in the room is white in fact but I

can’t even see anyone just white objects –

they cut me open – Strasberg with Hohenberg’s ass.

and there is absolutely nothing there – Strasberg is

deeply disappointed but more even – academically amazed

that he had made such a mistake. He thought there was going

to be so much – more than he had dreamed possible in

almost anyone but

instead there was absolutely nothing – devoid of

every human living feeling thing – the only thing

that came out was so finely cut sawdust – like

out of a raggedy ann doll – and the sawdust spills

all over the floor & table and Dr. H is puzzled

because suddenly she realizes that this is a

new type case of puple. The patient (pupil – or student – I started to write) existing of complete emptiness

Strasberg’s hopes & dreams for theater are fallen.

Dr H’s dreams and hopes for a permanent psychiatric cure

is given up – Arthur is disappointed – let down +