FLORENCE, STEVE EARLE AND MORE GUEST ON A DAVID BYRNE/FATBOY SLIM DISCO-OPERA
Imelda Marcos, wife of late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is mainly remembered for the 3,000-odd pairs of expensive shoes the angry mob found in her palace after she fled the country in 1986. But inHere Lies Love, a musical dramatisation of her life that David Byrne and Norman 'Fatboy Slim' Cook have been working on since 2004, the footwear isn't mentioned. "The story I was interested in," states Byrne, "was more universal, revealing and profound than that of the shoes."
Instead, the song cycle, which features the voices of Tori Amos, Cyndi Lauper, Natalie Merchant, Roisin Murphy, Sharon Jones, Steve Earle and more, entwines Marcos's story from impoverished girlhood to being the nation's most powerful woman with that of her surrogate mother/friend Estrella Cumpas. Sonically, it takes in Latin-flavoured dance sounds and balladry with the odd diversion into big Fatboy beats, with songs using her real quotes (the title is what she wants on her gravestone). The dance theme is central; Marcos famously had a disco installed in her New York townhouse and was a regular at Studio 54 in the '70s. Byrne says the incongruity of combining club frippery and serious intentions was appealing. "Could one," he posits, "as if by osmosis, absorb an emotional story, a narrative even, in the course of a night out dancing?"
Though earlier incarnations were staged in New York and Australia with different vocalists, for the recorded version, guest singers were individually selected to capture the characters' emotional states as the story unfolds. Eight of the 22 tracks were produced by Cook's Brighton pal Cagedbaby.
A warped rags to riches tale of considerable moral ambivalence, Here Lies Love does not address the Swiss bank accounts, political oppression and other dark sides of the Marcos regime, but Byrne considers that these are a matter of record, and that his job was to fathom what drove her to seek power, and to meditate on how the rich justify their behaviour to themselves. "Like most politicians she was driven by psychological angels and demons," Byrne says. "Sometimes one side would win, and sometimes the other."
Arguably an Evita for the new decade, further live performances may follow the double-CD release ofHere Lies Love, which is released on Nonesuch on February 23 with a 100-page book and DVD.