Tuesday, September 11, 2007

England in particular

The historian in me is getting a workout these days: A new retro-minded piece is posted at eMusic. It was really fun revisiting the explosion of unabashed Englishness known as él Records—a label I followed so slavishly that I'd buy everything and anything they released. (Similar past label obsessions have included early 4AD, Disques du Crépuscule and, ahem, cassette-era K.)

Because I was trying not to go completely overboard with the references embedded in the él aesthetics, I did not mention one of my personal favorites: Stephen Tennant, a "professional beauty" who turned his life into an existential masterwork, and was so fascinating that he was the subject of a big fat biography in 1991 despite never having achieved anything resembling a traditional goal. As John Waters put it in a review of that book, "Cecil Beaton was one of the first to encourage Tennant's eccentric vocation of doing nothing in life—but doing it with great originality and flamboyance." The link with él? Eagle-eyed observers will have noticed that the cover of the 1987 compilation London Pavilion Vol. 2 was a direct tribute to Beaton's 1927 photograph of Tennant as Prince Charming.

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