Attention, all lyrical misanthropes: Your tortured prayers have been blessedly answered. The Smiths karaoke experience at the DMA is achingly touching, hilarious and sounds gorgeous
If you worship Morrissey, you’ll love “Phil Collins: the world won’t listen,” the new video installation at the Dallas Museum of Art. And if The Smiths were never your cup of tea, you’ll like it as much as watching “American Idol” auditions.
The sound of voices and jangly guitars lures museum-goers to the rear of the contemporary galleries. Instead of perusing the walls, just follow the music: Enter one of the caves that are decorated from floor-to-ceiling with colorful posters: These are notices the artist created to lure karaoke singers in Bogota, Istanbul and Jakarta. The posters give way to complete darkness.
Around a corner are three spacious chambers with enormous video screens. Allow yourself to take in the experience. Each chamber has a long bench, but don’t get glued to one seat. This rocking exhibit will soon have you racing between each screen.
In 2004, British artist Phil Collins (not the Genesis drummer) embarked to Columbia for the first chapter of the video installation. He filmed fans of The Smiths singing songs from the band’s 1987 album “The World Won’t Listen.” Then visiting Turkey and Indonesia, Collins would spend four months in each location, researching the project, building the sets, interviewing participants and inviting “the shy, dissatisfied, the shower superstar, and anyone who has wanted to be someone else for a night” to belt out the songs for Collins’ video camera.
What’s really so strange is that a majority of the colorful participants are under 30 years old. And all of them sing the lyrics in English not their native tongues. The sets are especially cool: Cheesy nature-wall murals of red-rock Arizona deserts, dolomite mountains and road-less-traveled forests the kind you’d see in a dentist’s office, circa 1977.
The performances are mixed: leather-gloved mods, beauty queens with perfect hair, acne-ridden loners, super-cool geeks, unabashed andro-goths Some pour out every ounce of angst “Rubber Ring”; some float along with the grace of Morrissey’s florid lyrics “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out”; and some kill you softly “Sing Me to Sleep.” The instrumental, “Oscillate Wildly,” encourages free-form dance.
Tracks are played simultaneously in each chamber. So it’s fun to dash between chambers to sample all the performances. The walls are plush, cushiony and soundproofed. Feel free to lean on the pillowy partitions and catch two performances at once.
The exhibit quickly becomes interactive. And the music is loud enough that museum-goers can sing along. Feel free to laugh, too.
On a recent visit, two young brothers probably 9 and 14 years old knew every lyric and six-string riff. They excitedly danced around, lip-synched and played air guitar. It’s as if Collins designed the exhibit for attendees to spend at least an hour.
Aside from a concert T-shirt and some Smiths memorabilia, the exhibit contains no images of Morrissey or Smiths band members. Outside of the video chambers is a silkscreen exhibit: reproduced letters that a young Stephen Morrissey wrote to the British rock papers, critiquing the New York Dolls, Jobriath and ripping apart Aerosmith’s talents.
Morrissey’s global influence is as fascinating as his carefully crafted persona. Although he was once defined as gay, he now sticks to a celibate identity. And on some solo tours, he has skipped Texas cities like Austin, Dallas and Houston and instead booked shows in El Paso. That’s because he’s an enormous superstar with Mexican youth.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram recently asked Collins why Dallas became the first city to see the complete trilogy version of “world won’t listen.”
“I think it’s the perfect location,” Collins said. “From the Morrissey “Live in Dallas DVD in ’91” through to the Hispanic community and the music scene, in many ways [Dallas] is the perfect place for it.”
MORRISSEY WORSHIPPERS, UNITE AND TAKE OVER THE DMA
“Phil Collins: the world won’t listen,” at the Dallas Museum of Art in the Contemporary Art Galleries.
1717 N. Harwood St. Through March 23, 2008. Admission $10. 214-922-1200. DallasMuseumofArt.org
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 23, 2007