Antony & the Johnsons
The crossover artist: Antony Hegarty's artistic journey culminates in a massive performance tonight at Radio City
In 1987, as a teenaged Hegarty walked along the streets of Angers in northwest France, he said, he was captivated by a poster with an unusual portrait of a middle-aged Japanese man. The man, heavily made up and wearing an elegant woman's outfit with long lace gloves and a wide-brimmed hat, lifted and curled his hands toward his face as if he were gently lifting a veil. Not knowing anything more about the image or what the poster was designed to advertise, Hegarty asked the man putting it up, in his best French, if he could have one.
He took it home and taped it over his bed. A few years later Hegarty, then 21, saw a film by Peter Sempel called Just Visiting this Planet. It showed a man in white-face in a long white dress doing a kind of delicate pantomime interjected with violent bursts of movement around another man standing very still. His movement was inflected with feminine nurturing, but heavy with a tragic sense of suffering, endurance, and affection. Hegarty cried when he saw it.
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The world’s caught up to Antony Hegarty, we might say, or he’s become obsolete, or both. Five years ago, when men were men and women were breathy, desperate coquettes—2005’s second-bestselling LP was 50 Cents’ Massacre; its bestselling was Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi—the remarkable second album from Hegarty’s band Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now, was something like the most subversive thing to be found on a second-generation iPod Mini (pink). Featuring original Superstar Candy Darling on its cover, posed in full kabuki pallor and laid up dying of cancer, Bird imbued drag signification with the liberating majesty and ennobling tragedy that had rarely, if ever, filtered through so unalloyed to a mainstream audience.