October 2, 2022

Antony & the Johnsons – I Am a Bird Now Secretly Canadian / Rough Trade, 2005

Here are a few situations in which Antony & the Johnsons’ latest, I Am a Bird Now, could prove very useful: the death of a desperately-loved one, a night alone in a big empty house, the “nobody could ever possibly love me” days, a gut-wrenching breakup, or any moment of crippling self pity or physical illness. It works, and the soothing balm is the strange and beautiful concoction of Antony’s voice, his sweet and simple piano playing and the universality of his message. That is, everybody hurts, sometimes.

There is something distinctly glam about this album, despite its conspicuous lack of jumpiness or showmanship. The Brian Ferry vibrato helps, of course, but perhaps it is the overpowering androgyny that reminds me so much of Ziggy Stardust and the Velvet Underground. Antony himself could be man or woman, judging by his voice, and his songs corroborate. ‘One day I’ll grow up/I’ll be a beautiful woman/One day I’ll grow up/I’ll be a beautiful girl/But for today I am a child/For today I am a boy, he sings plaintively on For Today I Am a Boy. He is a girl and he is a boy and mostly it just doesn’t matter. Like Jack Fairy smearing on red lipstick for the first time or Hedwig donning his flipped blonde ‘do, Antony errs on the softer side of glam rock to sing to us our genderless sorrows. Loneliness is ubiquitous, you see.

To round off its already impressive range, I Am a Bird Now sports a sizeable list of vocal cameos. Devendra Banhart, Boy George and Rufus Wainwright all contribute their unique stylings, and Lou Reed himself opens Fistful of Love, my personal favorite. Aside from the startling “Wait, isn’t that…?” shock of What Can I Do, sung entirely by Rufus Wainwright, these intermittent additions blend in perfectly, enough to raise an eyebrow without disturbing the music’s continuity.

Though the record is powerfully sad, it radiates such hope that wallowing just isn’t an option. I am a bird girl now, Antony croons on the very last track, ‘I’ve been searching/For my wings…/I’m gonna be born into soon the sky.’ All of the melancholy that collects during the course of the album is released into the air to fly away.

So tear the ungrateful clod out of your photographs, put on a little Antony and cry into your pillow. Then wrestle your blankets away, get out of bed, brush your teeth and move on with your life.