Kid Powers

Charlie Belle kicks up some Magnetic Fields buzz

Local kid wonders Jendayi and Gyasi Bonds of the band Charlie Belle got a shout-out in USA Today Tuesday for their cover of The Magnetic Fields' "Strange Powers."

Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields doc co-director Kerthy Fix and DP Paul Kloss (both former Austinites and UT grads) shot Austin performers covering the band's songs for a series of promotional videos called Everyone Sings Stephin Merritt. At the time the Bonds kids turned out their fetching performance, they were a duo called Rank + File.

We think the kids' surely impending international fame, along with the fact that Strange Powers is now streaming on Netflix, is a fine reason to revisit Andy Campbell's phone interview with Merritt, conducted shortly before the film opened here in November of last year.

This time, we transcribed the interview, but you can hear the audio and read Campbell's full post here. (Oh, and Charlie Belle plays tonight at 8pm at Kenny Dorham's Backyard, for Diverse Arts' Fourth Friday event.)

Without further ado, then:

On Being Filmed Over a 10-Year Period

Stephin Merritt: Um, it was not unusual for me, because I've been interviewed and filmed for a lot of different – different outlets. And I didn't experience it as being occasionally on film for 10 years; I experienced it as, "The camera people look awfully familiar – oh, yes, it's Gail and Kerthy."

On Being a Film Fan in L.A.

Austin Chronicle: Were you able to find a place to view films in L.A.?

SM: Oh, yes.

AC: Yeah, yeah. It's a good town for that, I would think.

SM: Uh, yes, there's nothing wrong with the film scene in L.A. … Except that, maybe, it's so widespread that you have to have a car to get to it. That's taken for granted in L.A. Yeah, I love to go to silent movie theaters. When you called, I was just consulting Film Radar, a website that tells you where everything is playing, and I was looking to see what's playing at LACMA – L.A. County Museum of Art – today at one o'clock.

AC: What is playing?

SM: I don't know, because I didn't end up reading it.

On Finding a Good Gay Bar to Write Songs In

SM: It's harder to find the exact perfect bar in which to write songs.

AC: Have you, at this point, found that place? Or have you gotten close to it?

SM: I've found some reasonable facsimiles.

AC: Good. But not like, a good go-to place?

SM: Yeah, really, the perfect bar would be within walking distance of my house so I don't have to drive home. But that's not realistic in L.A., unless you move to a few blocks away from your favorite bar. I haven't done that.

On How to Get Off the Interwebz

AC (laughing): Right, I tried to, too, but it doesn't seem to work out most of the time.

SM: Well, my technique is, I wake up in the morning and I go online.

AC: Uh-huh.

SM: And, eventually, I get hungry.

On the State of Music Criticism (And Anyone Who's Reviewed Justin Bieber's Albums)

SM: It's shocking how seriously the teenage music stars are taken, who are actually intended for the Disney Radio channel. But because they're popular, they're taken as something adults will want to listen to. Whereas, say, in the early 60s, Annette Funicello was very popular, but she wasn't reviewed as though she were Mozart. It's like there's two cultures.

AC: Yeah. Sure.

SM: Except the two cultures are not high and low, they're mass and other. Without any sense of a counterculture.

On Merchant-Ivory and Curating a Program of Manor/Country House Films

AC: Was one of them Savages? Did you choose the Merchant Ivory –

SM: No. Actually, I've always despised and detested Merchant-Ivory movies as much as one can, because I just don't believe in costume dramas, and they seem to have zero irony in their costume dramas. What I chose was And Then There Were None, followed by Chinese Roulette, Smiles of the Summer Night followed by The Draughtsman's Contract, and Rules of the Game followed by Mister Lonely, each one of which is, more or less, a comedy followed by, more or less, a tragedy.

AC: You worked with the 92nd Street Y and curated these films to show there. How did that come about?

SM: They asked me if I wanted to curate a film series to, basically, have me just before the premiere of the film at Film Forum. I thought it would be good promotion. As it turns out, the 92nd Street Y TriBeCa is not well-known and hardly anybody came. But that was okay, because I got to sit in the cushy screening room and watch movies with basically people I knew, and a few others. I've been interested in a genre of this type for several years, since I noticed that many of the plays that I liked, and a lot of the movies, were gatherings at country houses. I've had long lists of these, some of them purer than others. And I wanted to see if I could actually make an argument toward them as a genre, as a continuous festival.

AC: Do you think it worked, in that way?

SM: Yes, I do. In fact, I think maybe it's a much a cliché as a genre. Like Westerns – watching six Westerns in a row could be difficult for people who don't like Westerns. I think this would be difficult for people who don't like those gatherings-at-country-houses movies.

AC: So what is it, then, about the genre of "gathering at country houses" that appeals to you? You said that you like plays that are structured in that way, too. Do you think there's something that can be expressed through that can kind generic convention? That's not able to be expressed through other genres, like, say, the Western, or sci-fi?

SM: I think it's – there's something – the country house, or the castle, is often more or less a stand-in for the unconscious. It's where dreams happen. Conversely, it's generally understood that what you are looking at is a microcosm of the world. There's often a contrast between the servant class and the guests, who are generally of mixed class, rather than all upper class. And in the case of, say, Smiles of the Summer Night, there's explicit sterotyping of everybody, and they're getting into groups and saying who belongs with whom. They can be moralistic and prescriptive, but they can also be pretty anarchic.

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Strange Powers, Stephin Merritt, The Magnetic Fields, Charlie Belle, Rank + File, Andy Campbell

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