The broken-hearted people living in the world agree: Antony
And The Johnsons have become a profound voice of hope and sorrow.
A story of divine tragedy, avant-garde androgyny and plenty of soul.
and I can't even think of anything to do.
After a quiet brunch, we shake off some of the lethargy and finally decide on a real plan of action: We're going shopping for socks.
Or maybe we'll go to the pet store and stare at the caged puppies.
needs black crew socks for an upcoming tour, so we begin trudging toward the fluorescent lights of Old Navy
when we happen upon an outdoor flea market.
thinks this would make a nice gift for his
friend, neo-folk guru Devendra Banhart.
Across the Atlantic, some would rather have seen Antony
wrapped in the Union Jack.
In September, Antony
won the Mercury Music Prize, an annual award given to a British or Irish artist whose album is deemed the best of the year.
This caused a minor shitstorm for several reasons, foremost among them that 34-year-old Antony Hegarty, though born in Chichester, Sussex, hasn't actually lived in England since he was 10.
has dual citizenship in Britain and the United States, but his
undisputed home and creative base is New York City.
The issue of Antony's nationality was compounded by his
You have to understand that the Mercury is the sort of thing that British pop fans lay wagers on, and the field of nominees for the £20,000 (roughly $35,000) prize included more popular-and more acclaimed-acts such as Coldplay
, the Kaiser Chiefs
and Bloc Party
London newspaper The Guardian can almost be forgiven, then, for running the salacious headline, "Former choirboy turned cross-dresser scoops Mercury prize from favourites."
At a press conference after the awards show, Antony
expressed appropriate feelings of surprise and bewilderment with, it should be noted, a very English wit: "It's kind of like a crazy contest between an orange and a spaceship and a potted plant and a spoon-which one do you like better?"
When reminded of his
says, "It's the truth about that award.
The award itself is an afterthought, really.
Except that it's a lucrative afterthought.
But the British press couldn't pass up the opportunity to incite the natives, quoting Kaiser Chiefs drummer Nick Hodgson as saying, "He's an American, really.
It's a good album, but it's daft he
got in on a technicality."
insists that he
was the victim of a slow news day, an unwitting accomplice in the case of an American stealing the crown jewels.
"It was mostly fabricated by the media," he
"As far as the other artists-all the bullshit about M.I.A.
, the Kaiser Chiefs-that was fake.
They all sent me e-mails: 'Just for the record, Antony
... ' The Kaiser Chiefs
came up to me and were like, 'Can we be the spaceship?' Those boys are so nice.
There's some notoriety involved with the statuette, which Antony
describes as "a fossilized foot of a pterodactyl sticking out of a pile of lava, clutching a crystal ball.
After the ceremony, he
pondered whether he
should toss the vaunted prize into the River Thames and make a wish.
Currently, 2005's Mercury resides under a pile of laundry in Antony's Chelsea-that's Chelsea in downtown Manhattan, not Chelsea in southwest London-apartment.
Earlier this year, BBC's Radio One alerted Antony
to a song request the station had received via e-mail from the South Pole.
A researcher in an isolated arctic laboratory had heard "Hope There's Someone," the opening track from Antony
And The Johnsons' second album, I Am A Bird Now, and was so touched by the song he
felt the need to write.
A few months later, Antony
discovered that Johnsons bassist Jeff Langston has a sister who's been using "Hope There's Someone" as part of a workshop she
conducts for soul-seeking Christian women.
"We're talking about a group of 2,000 Christian-fundamentalist women," says Antony
"Who would have ever fathomed that song could have an application like that?"
It isn't such a stretch; the song opens with a lyric that cuts to the heart of everybody's deepest, most human, most lying-awake-at-night-trembling fear.
And not a single word is wasted: "Hope there's someone who'll take care of me when I die," sings Antony
soulful vibrato almost sounds motherly.
sounds like a woman: a full-grown woman, not necessarily like anyone you might hear on the radio today.
Lou Reed has said that hearing Antony
had the same effect on him as hearing Elvis Presley for the first time.
Devendra Banhart tells MAGNET that Antony
"is the greatest living voice of this era.
(Banhart, not the sort of person who's content paying an unoriginal compliment, goes on to declare Antony
"was immaculately conceived, he's
the Virgin Mary, he
is made of the ocean and is friends with velvet dolphins.")
Though some of Antony's famous admirers-Reed, Banhart, Boy George
and Rufus Wainwright-appear as guest vocalists on I Am A Bird Now, the album is the sole domain of its author.
The persona behind songs such as "For Today I Am A Bouy" and "Bird Gerhl" is, appropriately or not, an issue: Antony
is a man who sings like a woman about wanting to be a girl.
Or that's the simplified version; and even then, it's kind of confusing.
prefers to be called transgender, which roughly means he
identifies as a woman.
doesn't necessarily present himself as a female in daily life or alter his
body through surgery or hormone treatments.
"I prefer [the transgender] label to 'gay,'" says Antony
"I wrote that song about my (biological) sister," says Antony
"Bringing George in, it became layered with all this other meaning related more to my community experience.
But then it's just sort of opened and opened and opened."
But what does it mean when so many people-gay and straight, good Christian women, Mercury Prize judges, South Pole scientists-connect with an album that plumbs the depths of a transnational, transgendered soul?
"I can't really take that on," says Antony
"My goal in writing songs is to try to create things that are open enough that people can find a relationship to them.
That's been the exciting part: realizing that people from all these different countries and walks of life can find some part of my creative experience to relate to.
Even now, when things seem so dire, it's our nature to go toward something that's hopeful."
talks about his
childhood in the '70s and '80s, his
English accent wakes up.
pronounces the decades daintily, with an extra-hard T: "seven-ties," "aay-ties.
Accustomed to singing in school and Catholic church, Antony
American classmates oddly timid and unenthusiastic.
"In England, the value placed on pop music was such that every kid wanted to be a pop singer, boy or girl," he
"All the boys were starting bands in school.
When we got to America, all the kids were ashamed of the idea of singing.
All the girls sang in these pathetic, breathy little voices in church and the boys didn't sing at all."
The Hegartys disapproved of American television and did not own a set; Antony kept abreast of pop idols such as Boy George and Soft Cell's Marc Almond by subscribing to English teen magazines Smash Hits and Number One.
Though the decade isn't known for its frank, open dialogues on sexuality, the femininity and gender ambiguity of many of these '80s musicians were apparent to young Antony
When the topic turns to his
own sexual awakening, Antony
is rather terse: "My childhood was ... a colorful period.
Yeah, I would say difficult.
But difficult is a bit boring.
I would say vibrant.
It was hardcore."
offers that "junior high is the most terrifying place in the world," but then again, most of America probably shares that opinion.
Attending a high school for the performing arts in San Jose, Antony
was surrounded by friends who he
says were stranger and more adventurous than the people he'd later meet in the avant-garde nightclubs, galleries and bars in New York City.
does speak of certain difficulties and growing pains, it's usually expressed as concern for others.
"When parents have a daughter who is masculine or a son who is feminine, they should look at that as a gift," he
"It's something that should be cherished.
Why is it that, in society, these people-who are often times the most sensitive-are cast away?"
As a student at UC Santa Cruz, Antony began writing, directing, producing and starring in musical plays.
One of his
first efforts was a John Waters-influenced melodrama called Sylvie And Meg.
A more original production, staged a few years later in New York City, was titled Cripple And The Starfish.
It's set on a styrofoam island at the end of the world, after the land has been washed away by the greenhouse floods.
At this point in the far future, humans have evolved into robotic beings, and the plot concerns the only two people left alive