Friday, 22 May 2015

Rise Like a Phoenix – Conchita Wurst: The Best Bond Theme That Never Was

Dignified and defiant
Song composers: Charley Mason, Joey Patulka, Ali Zuckowski, Julian Maas, Robin Grubert
Singer: Conchita Wurst
[Conchita Wurst is the female alter ego of Tom Neuwirth.]

[Quick Kinks connection. Another contender would be Ray Davies’s ‘Oh, What a Day It’s Going to Be’, performed here by Mo and Steve (whoever they might be). I think this is the closest Ray ever got to the Bond oeuvre, for overblown passion, bordering on the histrionic.]

Conchita: 'I'm just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard.'

Conchita: 'It's just art.''

I didn’t encounter the phenomenon that is Conchita until this year, not being a huge Eurovision fan, when I caught the Eurovision’s Greatest Hits programme. In 2014, Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria, with ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’, her victory a testament to tolerance and a tribute to her inordinately disarming personality and incredible charisma as much as her voice and the song (and to persistence as it looks like this was her second attempt at Eurovision; in 2012, she narrowly missed out on representing Austria with 'That's What I Am' and specialises in delivering inspirational, life-affirming songs, such as 'Unbreakable' and 'You Are Unstoppable', with total conviction, although ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ is the only one that sounds like it should be played over Bond credits).

I think there’s a real case for ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ to be the theme for the next film in the Bond franchise. I’m by no means the first person to think so – just search on YouTube for ‘Rise Like a Phoenix 007’ and you’ll see what I mean. You could even call the movie Phoenix, in the tradition of the one-word title. Ok, there’s no tradition yet but who says there can't be? We had Skyfall and now Spectre. It even sounds like a Bond title, making reference to a fantastic, mythical creature (much like Conchita herself) rising from the flame (you only live twice and all that). Oh, I'm so annoyed. Someone's just released a film called Phoenix.

Golden Lady I
This song seems to have been written with Bond in mind, with all the requisite elements – the lush soundscape and accomplished arrangement of an archetypal Bond theme.  Reminiscent of those glorious John Barry anthems, immortalised by Dame Shirley Bassey, ‘Goldfinger’ (lyrics: Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley; coincidentally this and another Bassey classic, 'This Is My Life' (Bruno Canfora/Antonio Amurri/Norman Newell) were sung by Tom Neuwirth on a talent show – there's evidently an affinity over and above their fashion sense; Shirley's version rocks) and ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (lyrics: Don Black; here's The X Factor's Aiden Grimshaw’s more electronic take), with all the heightened melodrama and emotion of the thwarted diva destined to rise resplendent. I gather that Barry used to ‘Bondify’ (my term) the other artists' songs so that they fitted his aural vision for the Bond canon. All the themes have a particular feel, an elusive essence that is as hard to define as it is easy to recognise. It’s as if ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ has already undergone this process; it's already perfect.

[John Barry composed many unforgettable movie themes – the incredibly touching ‘Born Free’ which I never hear without shedding a tear, the gorgeously romantic and evocative ‘Out of Africa’.]

Golden Lady II
With the subjects of metamorphosis, transformation, self-realisation and adversity overcome as well as the promise of retribution, it could fit any movie script but is perhaps particularly apposite to a Bond narrative. Like other Bond numbers, it can be appreciated and understood on a personal and a universal level as a hymn to resilience, resurgence and self-empowerment. Bold, fearless and unrepentant. Hearing and looking at Conchita, you can't help but be reminded of Gloria Gaynor’s paean to individuality ‘I Am What I Am’ a little, in particular, the line ‘I am my own special creation’.

The lavish orchestration and Conchita’s perfect vocal delivery emulate and almost exceed those Shirley Bassey numbers but the lyrics and Conchita’s unique image (although there are some parallels with Dame Shirley here too, as can be seen in the pictures) – magnificent, figure-hugging floor-length gowns, the old-school glamour of the night-club siren, combined with full make-up (her make-up video on YouTube has had three million views; Shirley didn’t shirk on make-up either) and beard – help to reinvent and revitalise this tried and tested template for a new era. A daring blend of the familiar and the innovative that challenges the norms, just as any movie franchise should after fifty-odd years.

Make-up tutorial
'Waking in the rubble/Walking over glass/Neighbours say we're trouble/Well that time has passed/Peering from the mirror/No, that isn't me/Stranger getting nearer/Who can this person be?/You wouldn't know me at all today/From the fading light I fly'
A sweeping string intro before a muted piano accompaniment to Conchita’s at first deliberately portentous and subdued vocal, building excitement and the sense that something is about to happen. Cue the chorus.

Not one to shirk the make-up
'Rise like a phoenix/Out of the ashes/Seeking rather than vengeance/Retribution/You were warned/Once I'm transformed/Once I'm reborn/You know I will rise like a phoenix/But you're my flame'
Conchita exudes mystery and sex appeal as well as an engaging blend of strength and vulnerability. Her utterly commanding interpretation makes the most of the majestic chord change for the obligatory soaring and triumphant crescendo of the chorus: proud, fierce, conveyed with defiant dignity. Or even dignified defiance.

‘Go about your business/Act as if you're free/No one could have witnessed/What you did to me’
The suspenseful strings here could easily be lifted and used as build-up to a thrilling Bond set piece.

The next Bond villain?
'I rise up to the sky/You threw me down but/I'm gonna fly'
The finale is suitably grandiose and simply glorious. Conchita's control is absolute.

When asked if she would like to play a Bond girl, Conchita  replied:
'No, that would mean nothing to me. But I would love to play a Bond villain, who fights to the very end.'
To be continued I hope.

A Radio Times poll has Conchita as an overwhelming favourite to sing the next Bond number. She scores nearly 82 percent, with her nearest rival on about 2 percent. That’s a pretty convincing win.

Tom Neuwirth
Here's a poem that captures the Conchita effect.

[I’m a bit confused about my reaction to Conchita. I’m a straight woman (though sometimes wish I wasn't) but I find the Conchita persona completely captivating even though she’s a man (yes pronouns don’t really work with Conchita), dressed and made up like a woman (hyper feminine and always elegant) with a beard. Of course, Conchita is really a gay man in drag (Tom Neuwirth) but still I wonder, is it just me? Or do some people’s charms simply override usual gender preferences? I sort of fancy Conchita but I don’t fancy Tom.] 
Never less than ravishing