Thoughts on Cruelty, St. Vincent, & the Stage-Bound Female Body

“Bodies, can’t you see what everybody wants from you?”
St. Vincent, “Cruel”

This is me in line at a free St. Vincent show last July: clandestine sips from a small bottle of Jim Beam and pass it back, because the wine we brought is already gone. We’re late; we ate and drank for too long and also took too long to convince the Lyft driver that he could—and should—fit all nine of us into his car. When we finally queue for the event the line already ropes from the Prospect Park bandshell out past the Litchfield Mansion and onto Prospect Park West and we don’t know that the concert is already at capacity.

If we had known, I would’ve found a real bathroom instead of dipping into a copse for a piss.

Cruel surprises awaits when a concert volunteer informs everyone beyond a certain point—my friends and myself included—that we won’t make it into the concert…

I could discuss the music from St. Vincent’s (née Annie Clark’s) eponymous fourth album to no end(note).[1] And my profound enthusiasm for her music didn’t help the disappointment that followed not being admitted to the show. Though we lingered along the outskirts of the venue when the performance started, listening and enjoying from a distance but totally unable to see St. Vincent herself, eventually my compatriots’ patience eroded and the flow of the group took us elsewhere for more revelry, more drinks, and more friendly, conventional summer weekend ritual.

To fill the void left by not being able to see St. Vincent perform, I looked to YouTube. Since then I’ve watched and re-watched performances from her last tour, unable to break from the almost hypnotizing ways in which her stage presence accompanies the music I’d already grown to love, ways that beg a bit of discussion.

Aptly, St. Vincent has gone on record numerous times calling St. Vincent “a party record you could play at a funeral.” The album was triumphed by the Pitchfork wielding set for being unabashedly St. Vincent—the realization of something not just profoundly profound, but profoundly , something in development since her earlier releases but, until now, incomplete.

This analysis—that Annie Clark has finally come into her own as St. Vincent, not just “establishing herself” but also establishing herself towards the vanguard of compelling popular music—is fundamentally flawed, despite its more-or-less accurate observation of success and artistic evolution or maturation; it’s difficult to assert the completeness or wholeness of Clark’s construction of St. Vincent because St. Vincent is an ongoing and persisting ~thing~ that hinges on taken-for-granted incompleteness for its ~meaning.~

Like, consider Clark’s behavior in interviews and panels. Her presence in recordings and on stage as St. Vincent is nearly as enigmatic as the persona she presents to the public for questioning. She’s known to answer very little about her personal life, resisting the typical questions to which women musicians are epidemically subjected by refusing, for example, to indicate specifics about her love life or sexuality during interviews. Clark’s lack of commentary about herself could lead to the assertion of a distinct divide between Annie Clark the private person and St. Vincent the public artist. But this assertion—like the claim that St. Vincent is the proper realization of an artistic identity in the works since Clark ~adopted the moniker~—is sloppy. By trying to locate Clark as the person and St. Vincent as the artist, it becomes assumed that the artist is some other agential entity that takes control when Clark wants to make music.


This would be something like schizophrenia.

Not that St. Vincent’s music doesn’t have its schizoid tendencies[2]

It’s just, this claim seems to miss ~the point,~ namely because it diminishes the difference between St. Vincent and Annie Clark to a singular ~point~ of departure between the artist who makes art for/in the public and the private person who goes about the daily business of being-in-the-world. As Clark claims in this NME interview, she named the album eponymously because, at the time, she was reading Miles Davis’ autobiography in which he says: “Man sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” So she said, “yeah, I sound like myself on this record.…I’ll call it ‘St. Vincent’.”


It’s not that St. Vincent and Annie Clark involve different selves or that, previously, she didn’t sound like herself. Rather than claiming she has “finally come into her own” or has found her ~true self~ (decidedly not Clark’s own words there), it seems more effective instead to assert that Clark is the artist whose performance of St. Vincent ~is~ the ongoing art and, as ongoing art, St. Vincent is constantly in a process of sounding like herself. As far as interviewers, music journalists, and fans are concerned, Annie Clark exists not to comment on Annie Clark—not to help clarify public perceptions of Annie Clark’s self—but to mediate the existence of Annie Clark’s St. Vincent. The only personal information we get about Clark is information relevant to the music of St. Vincent and nothing more. As Devon Mulaney with The Village Voice explains:

Everything you ever need to know about Annie Clark, the artist reckons in an email a week later from Europe, is already being sung by St. Vincent. “There is so much autobiography contained within the songs that I don’t see the need to deflate them with the mundane,” she writes. “I’m not interested in the ‘behind-the-scenes’ sacrifices at the altar of the god of content.”

We know from several different interviews that “Rattlesnake” details an experience Clark had in the desert, when she encountered a rattlesnake after a friend urged her to wander alone into a Texas dune and strip off her clothes to commune with the desert. And we know that the lyrics to “Huey Newton” happened after Clark took Ambien, prescribed to help get over jet lag while on tour, and hallucinated a bonding experience with the Black Panthers’ founder. But, as she says in the same Village Voice profile:

You just have to have your own boundaries about things you’re willing to talk about and things you’re not willing to talk about.…Everybody has lives and heartbreaks and disappointments and great joys and all this stuff. But that’s what I put into the art. There’s an intimacy and a full commitment in the art that makes me feel like it could potentially do a disservice to the art. [The Beatles’ song] “Martha My Dear” is about a dog. I wish I didn’t know that.

Sometimes Clark has very little to say about songs, other times she reveals limited and unverifiable anecdotes, and other times she just discusses how the song was constructed, i.e. that she worked with so-and-so or was inspired by the sounds of so-and-so.[3]

Consider too how it’s known that Clark grew up in a Christian family. This is something we are allowed to know—so commonly stated by her in interviews that it appears on her Wikipedia page—not because she wants to give people a sense of how she was raised, but because the lyrics of St. Vincent are generously tinged with biblical references, pressuring Clark to answer to them frequently. Having worked out a way to do so while still “owning her boundaries,” Clark claims that they’re not indicative of her own prescription to Christianity as a belief system and instead she explains that the references operate just as references to mythology operate: as ubiquitous forms that are almost as richly accessible for her as they are for the music’s consumer.[4]

Her fascination with religion as a tool to (in a sense) defer meaning to religious mythology is also indexed in St. Vincent’s album cover, which features the artist seated symmetrically in a long, flowing gown, looking regally powerful in different hues of purple, facing the consumer who is left to feel a sense of belonging among her congregation of devoted followers.


We interpret the symbols, justified in the cover’s center, emblazoned atop of Clark as St. Vincent, synonymously with St. Vincent because so preaches the priestess. If St. Vincent’s music didn’t come with a narrative voice like a priestess—confident but wary, preaching some type of faith while reveling in that faith’s very incompleteness, i.e. the doubt of both self and society—it might be helpful to claim that Clark is the high priestess called to help us understand the god-like St. Vincent. Such, however, is not ~exactly~ the case.


Something more than a priestess but less than a god, Clark offers a saint.

And how better to become a saint than through the sacrificial triumphs of a martyr?

What’s a party record doing at a funeral if only to celebrate the uncertainties that come from revelrously seeking the means to your own crucifixion?

When I die, will you please scatter my ashes on the Internet?

— St. Vincent (@st_vincent) November 25, 2013

St. Vincent, the art of Annie Clark, resides over the ritual of her music consumption in a way unlike her stablemates. This notion is present in the actual sonic composition of her music, which straddles a tense space between pleasure and anxiety—prone, like a religious experience, to risky lurches between the two complicated sensations at the simple change of a verse or chorus or bridge. And it’s most present when bound by the stage, which St. Vincent uses to structure the forms of her own subversive pursuits and facilitate the abandonment of common expectations.


Consider that, when I went to Prospect Park, I expected certain things based on my previous experience with concerts. At first, none of my typical expectations were met because I didn’t end up “attending” the concert at all; instead I just haunted the venue’s perimeter like a trace. But, when I looked into what I’d missed while craning my neck over amassed bodies all facing the same direction, I realized that many of my expectations regarding her behavior on stage wouldn’t have been met regardless. Based on her ~indie~ genre (whatever that means anymore) and the other music one who enjoys St. Vincent may also listen to, you wouldn’t expect such a choreographed concert. By creating her own uniquely ritualized expectation of unexpectedness, as an analogue to her music, St. Vincent’s live show puts the performance art’s consumption within a physical context of persistent, ritualized, and cruel becoming.

It did, of course, ~matter~ that I wasn’t able to attend the show. However, in some strange state of paradoxical simultaneity where the music of St. Vincent thrives, it also didn’t ~matter~. By looking to the Internet, I learned that St. Vincent choreographs her shows and, though the specifics of her solos, the order in which songs are performed, and the length of shows are all subject to vary, the majority of the content would’ve been the same. Obviously, physical co-presence abets the poignancy of her performance. But watching the videos on YouTube allowed me to pick up on choreographed motifs in her movements, movements whose mood(s) she maintains throughout certain songs and the set as a whole.[5]

All of these movements, from when she dons the guitar and springs to life at the beginning of her show, to the uncanny-valley robotism of her jerks, sways, and head-bobs seem aware that they’re composed of infinitely smaller “micro-gestures” that “arrive” at the commanded ~full~ gesture only upon completing enough a point where they can be communicated.[6]


The measured and straight angularity of her “movements” are qualities that Clark seems to find meaningful, since they’re things she says she likes about St. Vincent’s album cover. NB: I keep referring to the product of her choreography as “movements” because, though the performance is “choreographed,” the planned “movements” are not synonymous with “dancing”; her stage-bound corporeality is neither the improvised movement of most rock musicians nor the stylized dancing of pop stars.


Take one of the more viscerally affecting movements, when she repeatedly, in sync with the music, traces the start of her forearm from her wrist to where it meets her elbow.


It’s not blatantly a wrist-cutting motion, but that almost makes it more disagreeable; the suggestion of this violent act, made with a deadpan, singing face, renders a disturbance more vague and more uncomfortable than an explicit performance of the act would, in addition to the disturbance of not meeting expectations.

It’s an intentionally cruel thing to do to an audience—awesomely powerful, ritualized through routine repetition—to actively reach for motions that discomfit and, consequently, shake up what is expected of her stage-bound body.[7]


Also, the way she robotically shuffles across the stage calls our attention to the limits she herself is placing on her body vs. the limits imposed by forces not native to her joints and muscles. Though she wears high heels and short skirts, the movements of her body are more limited than the typical body that finds itself in high heels and short skirts. She places stylized limitations on her movements for effect in the same way one would choose to limit their movements by donning high heels and short skirts—for aesthetic effects that exist beyond the body, in the realm of perception. Her look is thus decidedly “feminine,” but her movements cruelly complicate this performance of femininity.


On her last album, Strange Mercy, St. Vincent represented the casual cruelties of physical and social existence through representations of the domestic grotesque, like on “Cruel,” where she sings: “Bodies, can’t you see what everybody wants from you?”


Now, in her performances after St. Vincent, she shows us how grief from a funeral of the self can be taken to a party, highlighting the rituals involved in both and laying claim to a more exhaustively gradated spectrum of experience. “I want all of your mind!” she exclaims, with a more self-conscious and ritualized cruelty for the stage. Live, she performs the sacrifice, martyrdom, and overcoming that’s involved with the persistent process of having her art become her art.

By doing so, she’s a ~foil~ to someone like, say, Lady Gaga, who matches St. Vincent’s baroqueness and even out does her sense of pageantry, but ultimately performs in ways that—though maybe still more “artsy” than her peers—nonetheless fulfill expectations regarding what is expected of female pop-musicians on a stage. Not that St. Vincent would critique Lady Gaga. In fact, she’d probably applaud the ways in which Lady Gaga owns her own art form, her fluidity and grace in spite of her complicated wardrobe.

Nevertheless, St. Vincent is more interested in all of your mind. She wants to access pleasure and discomfort by performing the ways in which consumers can be cruel (especially to women pop stars) back to the consumers, withholding the humanity you expect from public people when you buy a ticket to see them live.


Though here I am thinking a lot about the discomfort, the cruelty of St. Vincent’s stage presence is not the type of cruelty you necessarily need to think about all that much. It’s for ritual experience, not reflection (or whatever); her performance, aimed at a general, concert-going audience, is physical and not reliant on reflection for its intended outcome. The performance is comfortable with its discomfort and/or uncomfortable with its comfort, existing cruelly on stage for the congregated fans to consume.[8]


The overcoming involved in her performative becoming occurs when, in defiance of her artfully imposed immotility, St. Vincent approaches a show’s or a song’s climax and does things like scale the sides of stages, “rock out” like what you think of when you think of rock stars, and collapse in a wonderful heap at the feet of her adoring congregation.


These moments, when placed in the context of the rest of her choreography, are exhaustingly triumphant.


Through the raucous, unpredictable, and convention-defying, experience of performing her music, St. Vincent defi(n)es the terms of her own “humanity.”


She creates expectations that run contrary to what society expects of stage-bound female bodies so as to examine these cruel expectations before then breaking the expectations she herself set by engaging in Herculean feats of heroism—climbing impossibly high above festival crowds, making impossible noises with her guitar, and rising impossibly from the wreckage so wrought when she collapses with her instrument, only to get up to play again per the ritual’s request.


Just as she does through the sounds of her music and through her public persona, Clark as St. Vincent is able to balance the compellingly pleasurable and the fascinatingly cruel and anxious so as to construct a performance that is her own, viscerally forcing her fans to question and abandon gender-based or what-have-you-based expectations again and again to embrace, not exceptions to rules, but new rules entirely as music journalist Jessica Hopper notes in the Voice piece. St. Vincent crafts new mythologies that challenge old ones—“I prefer your love to Jesus”—she sings: “Oh what an ordinary day / take out the garbage, masturbate,”[9] refusing to shy away from her own mundane daily rituals of garbage and, in direct juxtaposition, the type of female pleasure that is, according to patriarchal society, uncouth. Her art is intimate in a way that, when shared, doesn’t lose its intimacy but multiplies it, renders it in consumable, musical, and performative units that people queue to commune with, her funeral now open for the revelry of everyone’s party.

This is the saint-like, even Christ-like, martyrdom that goes along with pouring oneself into a widely consumed and publicly ritualized art form.

Though Clark claims that St. Vincent is much more extroverted than its predecessor, Strange Mercy,[10] the album is highly conscious—often critical but sometimes wanting—of what it means to be an extrovert (and to be at all) during our ~digital information age~. She mourns how the processes of contemporary validation have us “Entombed in a shrine of zeros and ones” to call attention to how “No eyes are on the sparrow” even though “He is singing anyway.”[11] But she also yearningly warns, “honey don’t mistake my affection / for another spit-and-penny style redemption / cause we’re all sons of someone’s, / we’re all sons of someone’s. / I wanna mean more than I mean to you, / I wanna mean more than I meant to him. / So I pray to all to make me a real girl.”

St. Vincent is art that spurns commodification per societal values and expectations to establish new mythos right in the faces of the mythos to which the art form is cruelly and continuously subjected. Chief among the reasons for this reasoned unwillingness to participate in the “behind-the-scenes” content recklessly demanded by the music industry’s tiresome churn is the notion that St. Vincent is already involved with the business of making sacrifices as a consequence of her medium, sacrifices that don’t exist behind-the-scenes because they can’t.

Hopper notes: “As St. Vincent, Annie has very much done this seemingly impossible thing of getting over the women-in-rock hump by being bulletproof; it’s allowed a post-gender freedom.…And I think, in some regards, that was her mission: not to be the exception but to be the new rule.” Hopper appropriately calls our attention to gender, but I think that “post-gender” might not be enough of a carefully calculated label for St. Vincent because of the label-defying nature of her performance, because St. Vincent means something to us in ways that may define even this label.

She says in the NME interview, in which the interviewer (despite her suspicions at the onset)[12] doesn’t seem conscious that she’s part of what Clark is commenting on here:

Clark can’t stand all the extra components that the internet has added to promoting a record these days—“not just doing some press and shooting a video, all this fucking making a big fuckin’ deal about shit.” She knows it’s all going straight into a void where everything lives forever and everything is the same age. “And there’s no way to really delineate value from meaninglessness unless you’re using your own filters, but your own filters are so fucking exhausted from being inundated all the time that you lose it.”

The use of St. Vincent as a moniker or stage name is part of this act of “filtering,”[13] guiding listeners to focus on the art rather than the person ~behind~ the art. That which we know as “St. Vincent” is what Clark has sacrificed for our tiresome consumption habits and her tendency to rely on the same explanations—to only offer the same information over and over again—is indicative of why she feels her filters become inundated. Though she owns her boundaries, those boundaries aren’t the “norm” and are thus constantly tested, interview after appearance after interview after appearance &c.

Her stage presence is very tied to this notion of constantly working within her own boundaries to produce a particular effect in how the art is perceived, teetering between a calculatingly limited, shaky robotism and the feats of a venerated rock legend. And she does it without falling into dualities, into a “this is St.Vincent and this is Clark” binary or “this is St. Vincent acting like a programmed robot and this is St. Vincent acting like a rockstar” binary.

Though it’s cruel to have been queued outside of a venue on a hot and drunk July evening only to be refused entry, the ritual pleasure and anxiety so discovered—as you might “expect” from a party record that you could play at a funeral—when I couldn’t get into the concert was the perfect way to dive head-first into an analytical St. Vincent fandom, the type of simultaneously thoughtful and visceral fandom for which her performance art begs.

Yet, what would Clark say about my ability to write an essay on her through things that I learned on the Internet? Isn’t it also cruel that I get to write an essay about the performance art of St. Vincent without having ever seen it “in person”?

Yes! ~Exactly~!

This is her martyrdom, her charity, her sacrifice as an artist-cum-saint. She structures her St. Vincent performance through curative acts of precision, collecting only certain information to share for community she’s created. In the process, some can argue, like Pitchfork’s Lindsay Zoladz:

The Bowie-esque metamorphosis suggested by the cover image doesn’t mean she’s reinvented her sound. Of course it’s not the worst problem for an artist to have, but Clark’s become so good at being St. Vincent that, on future releases, she risks boxing herself in. You hope the next album finds her coloring outside the lines she’s so meticulously drawn for herself.

This is an astute insight. And the notion of boundary drawing, which is echoed in Clark’s own words, as well as the idea that “Clark’s become so good at being St. Vincent [emphasis author’s]” are conceptualizations I share with Zoladz. But the risk of “boxing herself in” doesn’t seem as realistic to me. If St. Vincent’s art has to do with this performance of tense becoming, who’s to say that St. Vincent is both the subject and object of this boxing in? Art that recognizes and resists boundaries and expectations only seems like the thing that binds because then consumers box it in with language, with web pages like this, with YouTube windows, in GIFs programmed to carry out the same routinized function ad infinitum, through tiresome TL;DR think pieces that are currently droning on way too long…

Kind of like the word “queer,” St. Vincent structures new expectations defined by their own tenacious unexpectedness to espouse the overcoming involved in becoming, in lieu of the idle passivity of having already become, welcoming interpretation at every turn as a crucial and more-or-less cruel part of the interactive process of perception. It’s us (me here, hi) who box her in without having even physically seen her and it’s St. Vincent that pursues all of our minds for the purposes of celebrating the paradoxes therein, of celebrating the containment of multitudes[14] in pursuit of cruel revelry—this is the type of everyday martyrdom for uniqueness’ sake, the sacrifices me make for sanctimony, made so as to mean something, i.e. to share oneself, to take part in some collectivity that gives you holy holy definition.

Not one to let herself be “boxed in,” St. Vincent is poised to continue the cruelly performative miracle of continuously becoming oneself.


will newman is a writer & editor & likes words but deeply mistrusts them, especially on twitter (he's (t)here: @wmnewmanjr)


[1] St. Vincent (the album) is consistent all the way through, packed with tension and release—with catchy, obvious leads and rhythms that you couldn’t get out of your head if you tried, juxtaposed side-by-side with mind-bending instrumentation that you’d never want to even try getting out of your head. And, in addition to her prowess as a song crafter, she’s an insane guitarist with a unique way of playing to set her apart from many of her contemporaries. The ways in which she treats the guitar to create her distinctive brand of baroque are dissimilar to the ways in which many musicians today treat their instrument(s). She manipulates the six-strings with a marked malleability and rarely makes the thing sound the same in one track compared to another. She’ll sometimes “shred” when the time is right (NB: when she solos on “Rattlesnake”) and is wont to “hammer away” as well, NB also: the practiced precision that occupies the perfectly affected sound space between overdriven euphony and punchy cacophony in “Birth in Reverse,” “Every Tear Disappears” and “Regret.” Sometimes too, she lets the guitar take a backseat, lending her focus to cumulus synth arrangements that carry her celestial voice into an unexplored ether of pop-like perfection (NB: “I Prefer Your Love” and “Severed Crossed Fingers”).

[2] Aside from the way the music switches its sonic mood so quickly, check out the lyrics to “Psychopath” or “Regret,” where she sings “We both have our feral hearts / rabid from the very start.”

[3] The only comment she offers on “Bring Me Your Loves” is: “That song is bananas. It’s totally bananas. I do not know what to say about that song,” which, in this this video, preempts her commentary on “Psychopath” where she talks about producer Emile Haynie and Madonna.

[4] From “Bad Believer”: “From the nave and down unto the altar / I left my momma sitting in the pew / Knelt before the trembling pastor / Fainted as he touched my trembling hand / What do you know? / I’m just a bad believer.”

[5] She choreographed the show in collaboration with Anne-B Parson, who Clark met when she worked with David Byrne on the album Love This Giant, a great and very dynamic album that resulted in a supporting and comparably choreographed tour. Byrne, a new wave art-rock pioneer by many standards, is known for his highly performative performances (NB: the Talking Heads concert movie, Stop Making Sense). He also authored the McSweeney published tome How Music Works and loves to talk and think about the relationship bodies have with music.

And, relevantly, Byrne is quoted in the Village Voice piece, saying over email:

“Despite having toured with her for almost a year I don’t think I know her much better, at least not on a personal level,” he writes. “We’re more relaxed and comfortable around each other, for sure. You could call it privacy, or mystery or whatever—I know a few isolated things about her upbringing, school, and her musical likes and dislikes—but it’s nice that there are always surprises, too. Mystery is not a bad thing for a beautiful, talented young woman (or man) to embrace. And she does it without seeming to be standoffish or distant.”

[6] Clark explains, for example:

“Every Tear Disappears” [“Oh, a smile is more than showing teeth / Oh, it’s not the potion, it’s the magic that I seek”] is I guess a rumination on what seems to be and then what actually is, like when children are learning how to smile but it’s just about aping someone, it’s not yet connected to ‘Oh, I’m happy therefore I’m going to express this emotion.” Like if you describe to someone, “Oh how do you smile?”…Well you kind of open your mouth and you show your teeth. Well that has…[laughing]…there’s actually infinitely more micro-gestures that actually mean…that actually communicate happiness.”

[7] In this sense, her stage presence shares qualities with modernist theatre; it’s pretty close to fulfilling, as Bremmel outlines, the three redeeming facets of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty put into practice:

First, it does not involve physical or spiritual maltreatment; rather, it artistically expresses what he calls in different places the rigor or necessity or implacability of life. Second, this theatre draws on the individual dreams and the collective dreams, or the myths of all men. It will furnish each spectator with ‘the truthful precipitates of dreams, in which his taste for crime, his erotic obsessions, his savagery, his chimeras, his Utopian sense of life and matter, even his cannibalism, pour out on a level not counterfeit and illusory, but interior.’ Third, because it works on the nerves and senses, rather than on the intellect, and because it impinges on anxieties common to all men, the Theatre of Cruelty is aimed at a general public, not the usual run of theatergoers only (Bremmel, Kindle loc. 277/1875).

[8] In fact, St. Vincent has stated in interviews that, among the artistic benefits of choreographing her shows, there is the added benefit that, when the concert is already planned out, she doesn’t need to worry about what to do with her body while she plays.

[9] This line is from “Birth in Reverse” which takes its title line from Lorrie Moore’s collection Birds of America as does “Severed Crossed Fingers.”

[10] From The Village Voice piece:

“It’s more confident,” she says of the record. “I’m extending a hand; I want to connect with people. Strange Mercy, which is a record I’m proud of, [was] definitely a very accurate record of my life at a certain time, but it was more about self-laceration, all the sort of internal struggle. [St. Vincent] is very extroverted.”

[11] These lines are taken from “Huey Newton” and “Sparrow,” respectively.

[12]The feature starts with:

Something about the first few minutes of this interview with Annie Clark feels like taking part in a performance art piece. Dressed in a black trench coat and high-necked black dress with white lace panels – think cloister couture – she’s spacey, switching between gazing up at the window and offering blank stares from the comfort of a checked red armchair. Fiddling with her rings and pulling Kirby grips from her lilac-white cloud of hair, either the wildly ambitious guitarist is stand-offish or maybe I’m off-puttingly awkward; some combination of the two. Either way, it feels as much like a considered performance as her ballistic live shows as St. Vincent. Between us is a side table holding Clark’s white wine and pumpkin soup, which she sups intermittently from a comically large and formal silver ladle.

[13] Her use of the word filter and its association with value and meaning(lessness) makes me think that she’s thinking about David Foster Wallace, especially since her song “Huey Newton,” a song that’s critical of the digital information age, references Wallace’s notes for The Pale King in its use of the phrase “Cowboys of information.” From this NPR interview:

I have to give a shout out to David Foster Wallace because the ‘Cowboys of Information’ is a line that he wrote on his, I think it was his college accounting class notes, or something about the IRS. It was like “The IRS is the Cowboys of Information!” and I just thought ‘OK, that kind of sums up what I’m trying to say here.’

Wallace’s narrator writes in the unfinished novel’s second chapter, describing a character’s experience studying for the CPA exam: “The entire ball game, in terms of both the exam and life, was what you gave attention to vs. what you willed yourself to not…The whole ball game was perspective, filtering, the choice of perception’s objects.”


A photo posted by St. Vincent (@st_vincent) on



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