Diamanda Galás: The Politics of Disquiet
EDWARD BATCHELDER: There are two questions that I’d like to follow up on that go in totally different directions. What I would like to ask you first, because you’re talking about music and because when anyone touches on the subject of music and politics, it is often understood to be the text content of the song—that a political song is a song that carries a political message in the lyrics. Yet, I think at least from the ’60s onward and even before then in debates about other art forms, there is a sense that there is a radical form, which, in and of itself, can have a political message even if the text is not specifically political. Even if you’re not going out and singing the “Internationale” or singing songs about the workers at the barricades, there can be a sort of experimental form which liberates people’s minds from a certain way of thinking and can have a political message. When you talk about the chord changes telling the story in and of itself…
DIAMANDA GALÁS: That’s right. That’s precisely the right analogy. For example, Xenakis did political music, but the sound of it was also saying what the words were and the words were very limited. There might be a word repeated over and over again, or something like this. Many people have said to me a long time ago, “If you’re so interested in the AIDS epidemic, why don’t you write very simple songs about the AIDS epidemic so people can hum the songs?” I’m not interested in being the next Maiakovsky. I’m not interested in music as propaganda. I’m not employed by anyone. I’m not a politician. I’m not running for office. I’m not interested in any of that. I’m only expressing my opinion of a situation that bothers me, and that again puts me into that pit that I go into which allows me to create something I feel that I need to create. So, I’m doing it for myself. The scream that comes out of my work, it’s not possible for me to dilute, or do it any other way. I couldn’t. Again, the words are the same as the sound.
I feel that a lot of artists …especially there was this Jesse Helms period where people were drawing these gigantic penises to shock Jesse Helms. Of course he never saw any of them, but all these college students were drawing them, and artists were drawing them and putting them in art galleries. I was like, listen baby, you know, what is that? What is that? You think that that has any effect on anything? An artist is supposed to predict the future, they’re supposed to be a visionary. You’re not supposed to respond to an article you read in the Village Voice for Christ’s sake. You’re supposed to have a little more sophistication than that. I just feel that politics is never an excuse to make a simple-minded statement. If the work, as art, is not good enough, then I really don’t care what a person has to say to me because I’m not going to listen to it. You can put a message on anything. A person can make a painting that is completely yellow and say this is about hepatitis. And you can say, I can’t argue that. I can’t argue with the artist that it’s about hepatitis. But essentially it’s just a fucking yellow, boring-ass painting, you know. And there it is, so what? That’s no better than going to a mental hospital and seeing someone slam his head against the wall and say the same word 25 times—except they make a lot more money doing it.
EDWARD BATCHELDER: You’ve spoken some about your sense of form and you’ve spoken about some of your reasons for performing works which—at least in terms of subject matter—are political, but it’s clear that your motivations for performing it are not political in a conventional sense. Yet there’s a sense that part of your intention in performing this work is to draw people’s attention to some political injustice and to motivate them to rise up against it. You said to me once that you didn’t think that your work had anything to do with politics, and that you thought of political action as something totally separate. What conception could you imagine, or what definition could you give to politics, that would enable your work to be seen as political?
DIAMANDA GALÁS: I think, for example, if I wanted to have the most direct effect on the AIDS crisis, then I would be working with my friends that have been working in underground AIDS treatment organizations or raising money for AIDS research. I think I would be doing very direct work like that. No matter how good the art is and no matter how direct the art is in response to an epidemic per se, it certainly isn’t the most political thing you could do. It’s quite removed, as a matter of fact, from the most political thing you could do. I mean, I’m not a doctor who is spending time working with people with AIDS. That’s what I’m saying. That would be the most political work I could be doing. Doing this research that so many organizations have done. That’s why I always say, don’t call me too much of an activist. I might be an activist for an artist. I might be an activist because of the subject material, or by default. But I would never define myself as an activist in the sense that they are. I couldn’t, that would be erroneous. That would be completely erroneous.