Venus: Shocking Blue & Cabanel

The Shocking Blue scores Alexandre Cabanel's Birth of Venus

A goddess on a mountain top,
Was burning like a silver flame.
The summit of beauty and love,
And Venus was her name.


Looks like a sand bar to me, Venus’ bed, but Lisa Small, associate curator of the Dahesh Museum of Art in New York, lays the goddess on a wave. Small’s lecture last Sunday as part of the Blanton Museum’s summer event guide opened many a bright eye.

According to Small, “The Birth of Venus” hanging at UT's Blanton through Aug. 5 provenances as one of two authorized copies of Alexandre Cabanel’s blue ice cream Sunday, lighter than its faux twin at the Metropolitan in NYC. Maybe the Met’s is darker, as Small claims, but in that museum’s upstairs corridor, where it rains lights, “Venus” radiates only skin and sky. Small’s assertion that the copies are half the size of the original hanging in Paris brought back instant recall of just how big Cabanel's canvas really is, especially in the alternately cramped and outsized spaces of the Musée D’Orsay. Ooh la la

That first international viewing was all it took, too. The moment its ID was read, a quarter rolled down into my jukebox and I could hear the tone-arm set down on a spinning 45. Snap, crackle, pop.

She’s got it,
Yeah, baby, she’s got it.
Well, I’m your Venus,
I’m your fire at your desire.
Well, I’m your Venus,
I’m your fire at your desire.


Did I ever tell you about the girl I knew from Venus Street? Another time. “The Nude & the Lewd,” proclaimed Small’s lecture, and in Paris, 1863, Cabanel’s “blatantly erotic” repose let loose a tidal wave of invective: base, prurient, corrupt. Disingenuous! “Venus” was, but of course, a hit! Napoleon II snatched up the deity.

Her weapon were her crystal eyes,
Making ev’ry man mad.
Black as a dark night she was,
Got what no one else had.
Wow!


Wow’s right. Hearing the Shocking Blue unsheathe “Venus” in the mid-Seventies resulted in both my beat-up picture-sleeve single and the Dutch quartet’s eponymous LP from 1969. The decades haven’t been kind to either’s vinyl racetrack, jangle and clanking garage rock at the nexus of the genre’s Golden Age. Sole songwriter/guitarist Robby Van Leeuwan’s sitar laces The Shocking Blue with Indian curry, “The Butterfly and I” taking “California Here I Come” in the post-Summer of Love sweepstakes. “Bool Weevil” imbeds itself, jungle love “Mighty Joe” another animatronic beast on an album of halting hip shakes.

She’s got it,
Yeah, baby, she’s got it.
Well, I’m your Venus,
I’m your fire at your desire.
Well, I’m your Venus,
I’m your fire at your desire.


She’s got it all right, singer Mariska Veres, fourth track, side A. The Hague birthed the Shocking Blues’ nucleus, Van Leeuwen’s mountain top goddess coming alive in Veres’ haughty vocal. English as her second language catches the ear’s sense memory on some indescribably subconscious level. She and the band lurch in unforgettable unison. In the case of “Venus,” all the way to No. 1 in America. The Shocking Blue’s thumping electro-pulse closer, “Send Me a Postcard,” should’ve been the follow-up. Organ/bongo breakdowns don’t grow on trees!

She’s got it,
Yeah, baby, she’s got it.
Well, I’m your Venus,
I’m your fire at your desire.
Well, I'm your Venus,
I’m your fire at your desire.


The New York Times obit on Veres last December (cancer, 59) noted that her version of the group lasted three years and that Stars on 45 returned “Venus” to the top chart slot in 1981 before Banarama lit up MTV with it five years later. The singer put together her own version of the act in the Nineties without the retired Van Leeuwan, who’d originally recruited Veres right after discovering Jefferson Airplane and Grace Slick. That accounts for “Venus,” delivered with royal disdain - defiance. Mariska Veres, dominatrix.

European comp Singles A’s and B’s proves TSB’s overall output wholly that, Veres singing only to stave you off. When she claims “I wish I was a mole in the ground” (“Rock in the Sea”), you scoff at the very idea. “Eve and the Apple” evokes “Venus” and “Good Times” bops school gymnasium in the face of The Lost Boys soundtrack firing it up 20 years later with high Aussie octaners Jimmy Barnes and INXS. By final single “Body & Soul,” 1994, Veres loosens up finally, landing somewhere between Laura Branigan and Tina Turner.

B’s “Harley Davidson” and crawling traditional “In My Time of Dying” don’t hold a candle to “Venus” flipside “Hot Sand,” more Indian filigree with a power chord stiff as a board. When the band drops down for Veres to get, not exactly intimate, but maybe a little less snooty, she steps lightly on the “hot sand, walking in the hot sand, making love in the hot sand,” the creeping rhythm and steamed heat solo burning your toes. Mariska farewell.

Alexandre Cabanel’s “The Birth of Venus,” hear it at the Blanton.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Venus, the Shocking Blue, Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus

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