The fourth in my series of interviews from the 2009 Canadian conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music…
Name: Michael Audette-Longo
School: University of Ottawa
Program: Currently an MA in Communications, but starting a PhD in Cultural Mediations in the fall at Carleton
Title: “Kevin Barnes-as-Georgie Fruit: The Limitations of Resistance and Co-Optation for Indie Rock Identities and the Identities of Indie Rock”
The short form: Starting with the Of Montreal record Hissing Fauna Are You The Destroyer? and continuing with the band’s last release Skeletal Lamping, frontman Kevin Barnes has toyed with performing as a character named Georgie Fruit: in Barnes’ own words, a man “in his late forties, a black man who has been through multiple sex changes. He’s been a man and a woman, and then back to a man.” Audette-Longo’s paper explores the character (in whose voice Barnes has also conducted interviews) both in terms of its complicated – and sometimes troubling – racial dynamics and also its place within dialogues of indie music.
McNutt: What was it that led you to tackle Of Montreal, and Kevin Barnes in particular, for your paper?
Audette-Longo: In my research that I’m doing for my thesis I’m actually looking at representations of affect in the cinema of David Cronenberg, and I’ve sort of been working with Gilles Deleuze – a lot of his ideas of becoming, and the multiplicities of identity. So when I first heard about what Kevin Barnes was doing, I was intrigued to potentially try and engage with this performance as a way to map out the multiplicities of indie rock. I thought it was really interesting identity play that was happening. I was almost thinking of it in this Deleuzian sort of way…but then as I actually started to engage with what he was saying in the press and unpacking the lyrics on his album, I started to realize that there were some pretty interesting race politics that were happening. There was a lot of stereotypical representations of blacks, misogyny and an odd sort of sex play that was happening, and I started to try and get into the specificity of it.
McNutt: What are some of the things that you argue are difficult, or confrontational, and in some cases borderline offensive about Georgie Fruit?
Audette-Longo: I think it’s the way that there’s this disparity, this gap, between how Barnes sings and talks as himself and when he’s portraying Georgie Fruit. There seems to be a bit more empathy, a bit more warmth, more dimensions to Barnes. He’s interesting and reflective and his this knowledge about what he’s doing. But once you get into the Georgie Fruit persona, it’s almost like he becomes this object, this caricature of masculinity and some troublesome racial stereotypes that can be traced through the history of white representations of blackness. I can’t think of anything too specific off the top of my head, but it was just that general vibe.
McNutt: One of the interesting ideas you were exploring in your presentation is the breaking of the idea of “indie” as alternative to the centre. On the one hand, the indie cultural spectrum is able to accommodate both presentations of Barnes. What do you think that acceptance of that duality says about indie and alternative as a culture?
Audette-Longo: Well, in one way, there seems to be this trajectory happening in indie rock that I’ve casually noticed, where there’s a lot more experimentation that seems to be happening. There seems to be a lot of different musical sounds being incorporated. I guess he signifies that the margin doesn’t suffice anymore. There’s a lot of flawed and intriguing concepts of race and gender that are being played out.