The Space Lady, J.G Ballard, and ‘outsiders’

The Space Lady in sound, on The Space Lady aka Suzy Soundz – Street-level Superstar, and The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits (2-CD), on Night School Records, is akin to one of J.G. Ballard’s kinder creations. His short story collection Vermilllion Sands shows a timeless world, lethargic but beautiful in indulgence and simplicity – of emotion, storyline – many are like fables.[1] The harpsichord synthed-out tones of The Space Lady suit to a growing, singing, statue, as Ballard’s, mysteriously unseen, Lunora Goalan, creates[2]. All curves and hums, but gleaming, in some unknown, strong and alive, metal.

or maybe the Space Lady, in ‘I had too Much To Dream Last Night’[3], is Emerelda[4], who has eyes of jeweled insects, which also surround her, and is trapped in her beauty and an inverted fairytale innocence. Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, was on the Songs In The Key of Z album, which hosted other ‘outsider’ musicians, like Captan Beefheart.

Or, most physically apt but maybe less of a personality match; Hope Cunard in “Cry Hope, Cry Fury!”:

“a tall, narrow-hipped woman with blonde hair so pale she immediately reminded me of the Ancient Mariner’s Nightmare Life-in-Death” (Vermilion Sands, 93)

The Space Lady was making video game musical styles = ‘real’ music, long before Grime. Her eeiry ambient vocals, stretched and autotuned, came along before The Dream, or new wave/no wave, or ambient house, or The Weekend, or who ever now claims to have ‘invented that’[5].

Though the reason I’m drawn to Ballard’s characters, may be what draws me to this dreamy, mainly covers, singer.

‘I think my fiction has a lot in common with case histories. Case histories… always seemed to have an enormous sense of mystery about them’ –Ballard

I have seen videos of the Space Lady on Youtube, over the past few years. She wears the same headdress/shield winged crown from the cover of her Greatest Hits. Her hair is a little whiter, her voice a little thinner, and her equipment basic as they come (a Casio keyboard, and mike). The reason I am timid to link it is several friends reactions to the videos. Rather than hearing my goddess the Space Lady, they see an old hippy busking with a high pitched voice. ‘weird’, ‘crazy’, ‘what’, were spat out each time, in a seemingly random order. So I’m worried, worried that others don’t appreciate her properly. I don’t mean every one must be a fan like me. I mean that people can be cruel to old people busking in strange hats. I’m not sure pushing her into the category of ‘outsider art’ really helps. It makes it like one of Jeremy Clarkson’s books – you’ll only buy it if you are certain you’ll like it already. If ‘outsider’ has strange connotations for someone (and it does for many), like the words ‘Jeremy Clarkson’ can have strange and detrimental connotations (like it does for many).

Also, confused, as there were others from that crowd who made jumped from ‘outsider’s to ‘genius’, ahem, Captain Beefheart, and the Space Lady was doing the same schtick. Why was she crystalised in time[6]?

Sad, too, that many watching (I won’t repeat youtube comments) didn’t know where she came from, what barriers she’d warped and wandered through. The things she’s done since, which I also didn’t know.

Now i know that The Space Lady has upcoming shows, a website , and describes herself as an ‘ethereal street musician who plays space music wearing a winged helmet’. She tells some of her story, mainly before recording The Space Lady aka Suzy Soundz – Street-level Superstar, of busking and how her music grew so simply from those roots. I recommend reading it. Then it skips ahead 30 years. The Space Lady is thankful for her career, but released nothing further. Did she prefer to be ‘underground’, as she was used to beforehand? The music industry certainly isn’t for everyone, and maybe she felt comfortable ‘outside’.

I just wonder, what’s the Space Lady’s case history? And why do I want it to be so fantastical? Maybe because of my friends reaction, I want them to be wrong in their assumtion she is not a ‘proper’ musician, due to busking and being an ‘outsider’. Though I have no album to prove them wrong, her 2, and that on which she’s featured, have a limited repertoire of songs. Probably far less than her busking one. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Popular Problems’ showed wisdom in ageing, and that a voice could really get that gravelly. The Space Lady is singing the same songs. Damon Albarn has blurred into cartoon bands, a monkey musical, The Good The Bad and The Queen, and whatever trillion projects I’ve missed out. The Space Lady is singing the same songs. Phillip Roth, Coetzee, Bukowski, Shakespeare, and T.S Eliot all wrote with honesty, sometimes with mirth, or darkness, and Edward Said’s ‘On Late Style’, discusses ‘the power of subjectivity’ gleaned with age, free from the performative self. Using a cipher to tell ‘death…as allegory’[7]. At least, to look at their ‘ego…in the absolute’[8].

Not alone in a demanding generation, I think I want to see a simple narrative and progression. Norman Mailer said ‘The first art work in an artist is the shaping of his[9] own personality’ , and maybe the Space Lady did that so quickly she need not shape further? Picasso may have spent his last years re:doing his old works, but he had a massive amount of old works to re-do. I have a feeling that The Space Lady has such a collection somewhere, and I would like very much to find it. She mentions selling her art on Haight-Ashbury in the late 60’s/early 70’s, I’d like to find more of it.

Till then, I worry about one album wonders[10], some pioneers, and imagine what they’re doing. I hope no one is calling them weird, that they’re somewhere, like The Space Lady, where they have fans who understand and love what they do. The Space Lady is fine, BBC 6 presented her, she has a cult following still, though I do wonder about the years in between.

If someone is calling you weird, they probably don’t have the creative capacity, or maybe desire[11], to understand you. I’m not sure that should make you an ‘outsider’, but maybe signals you’re an ‘insider’ to something else. Put on your winged hat, sing the songs you love, and keep people like me guessing about your mythical life and finding you in books.

Or whatever your thing is.

Thanks J.G. Ballard, The Space Lady, Captain Beefheart and all the inside-out-ers.

[1] It’s more beautifully fantastical than other Ballard books, if you have Crash, or The Atrocity Exhibition in mind.

[2] “The Singing Statues”, Vermillion Sands

[3] The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits, Track 8

[4] Prima Belladonna, ibid

[5] Looking at you Drake. You did not, sorry.

[6] Yes, I’m thinking of Ballard again, ‘The Crystal World’ this time.

[7] Adorno qtd. by Said. p9, Said, Edward. ‘Timeliness and Lateness’, On Late Style (London: Bloomsbury, 2006)

[8] p8, Said, Edward. ‘Timeliness and Lateness’, On Late Style (London: Bloomsbury, 2006)

[9] or her, Norman had not yet heard of ‘women’

[10] Yes, these are sometimes the things I worry about, do judge freely

[11] I’m not saying they’ll necessarily like you