I went to Diamanda Galas’s hotel room with photographer Peter MacDiarmid to whom she took an instant fancy. I felt like a journalist gooseberry while she checked him out New York style with fast-pitched banter.
She grabbed his camera and started taking pictures of him, laughing with this really disconcerting high pitched banshee shriek.
What made her laugh the most was when she started talking about OJ Simpson and I asked (not having heard the name correctly) if this was her boyfriend!
Diamanda had a little bag on a string around her neck. I asked her what was in it. She fixed me with her glittering eye and said, ‘My tooth, honey.’
Killing men softly with her song: New York revenge rocker Diamanda Galas is adamant: male rap stars should be killed for sport. Susan de Muth finds out why
By SUSAN DE MUTH
Her records have been taken to priests for exorcism, the Catholic Church has described her as ‘a curse’, and her latest offering, The Sporting Life, is an album of ‘homicidal love songs’. Diamanda Galas is not destined for the hit parade.
Trained as a bel canto opera singer, Galas has a three-and- a-half octave range and a voice that critics have described as ‘one of the finest of her generation’. What keeps Galas firmly underground is not her voice, however, but what she does with it.
She is lounging on a white sofa as we enter her hotel room in London, her black stilettos piercing the cushions. Galas appraises us laconically through half-closed eyes: ‘I generally can’t stand straight men,’ she says, sizing up Peter, the photographer, none the less, ‘but I do make a few exceptions. I think God is a callous bitch not making me a lesbian. I’m deeply disappointed by my sexual interest in men.’
The Sporting Life is largely a sadistic fantasy of what Galas would like to do with men. Effortlessly rising above collaborator John Paul Jones’s Led Zeppelin bass guitar, Galas sings of castration, male rape, torture and murder. It’s high- energy psychosis with lashings of her own trademark bloodcurdling screams. Why?
A fearsome tirade against male rap stars, especially ‘that asshole Snoop Doggy Dog’, follows. ‘Women are sick of these no-dick motherfuckers prancing around singing about their ‘bitches’ and the bad things they do to them. I’m just giving it back.’
In one song, Snoop turns up as the victim of a gang of women who go ‘wilding’: ‘I don’t like him, let’s cut him, then fuck him, then kill him.’
Revenge rock? ‘Yes,’ cackles Galas, her black eyes glittering. ‘It fills my heart with freedom and joy.’
Her attitude to men stems partly from a period spent as a prostitute in Seventies California. ‘I had a serious drug habit, plus I needed money to get my music career off the ground,’ she explains. ‘I had to look at men in a strange, cold way doing that job.’ It was an unusual occupation for a graduate from a well-to-do Greek immigrant family. ‘But I liked it,’ she grins. ‘Not turning tricks – that was boring – but the whole thing of owning the street. I had these transvestite hooker friends, and if anyone messed with me, those ‘broads’ got out their knives and suddenly turned out to be built like football players – it was beautiful.’
Disgusted by weak men – ‘they should be taken out and killed for sport by me and my girlfriends’ – Galas looks for a certain resilience in her lovers. ‘I tend to go for the military, or the prison population. I guess I just like rough trade. I couldn’t be around anything too bland.’
Galas’s best friend is the man she calls her ‘gay husband’, Carl Valentino.
‘He can turn words into sulphuric acid,’ she says joyfully. ‘He walks into a party and says, ‘I’m a hateful homosexual and I have Aids and you can kiss my fucking ass.’ ‘ What endears him to Galas is that he provides the ‘spiritual closeness’ she lost when her brother, Philip, died of Aids in 1989. As she talks of empathy and loss, her face and voice soften and her gesticulations slow down. It is then that I notice her knuckles are tattooed with ‘We Are All HIV+’.
An abiding concern, Aids is the issue that brought her into conflict with the church. Her opera Plague Mass points the finger at a hypocritical clergy who interpret ‘the epidemic’ as divine retribution. First performed in a New York cathedral by Galas, naked to the waist and covered in blood, the work was condemned by the Catholic Church as ‘blasphemy’. The ‘cursed Galas’ is unrepentant: ‘My only religion is loyalty.’
Nor does she accept ‘token gestures from the politically correct’. She plays piano in Aids hospices and at an increasing number of friends’ funerals. ‘I really see what’s going on,’ she frowns, ‘and it could easily have been me.
I’ve been an intravenous drug-user, but I’m still here. I’m asking what’s it like to be told there’s a death sentence over you, to ask a friend to help you die when the time comes. What does wearing a red ribbon have to do with those kind of questions? It just makes them feel good. People who wear red ribbons should be forcibly injected with HIV-positive blood.’
With her last composition, Vena Cava, Galas succeeded in conveying the horror of Aids- associated dementia so convincingly that some members of her audiences experienced panic attacks and ran for the exit. The unpalatable mixture of electronic noise, psycho- babble and disjointed schizophrenic voices comes, she says, straight from her own experience. ‘I’ve been through extremes of severe depression. I haven’t slept without medication since 1980 . . . I don’t write science fiction.’
When she’s not trawling the ‘darker recesses of the mind’ Galas’s idea of entertainment is working with friends on the establishment of a rape revenge squad called the Black Leather Beavers: ‘We’d go in there, castrate the guy and torch his house.’ But she has less and less time for such fun: ‘As I get older (she’s 42), I’m increasingly aware of my own mortality, and the need to write music becomes more urgent – it’s my only legacy.’
She cites an eclectic handful of singers whom she admires, including the Egyptian Oum Kalsoum, the opera singer Maria Callas and Spanish flamenco singer Camaron. ‘I aim for an audience who really understand this energy.
Not Kylie Minogue fans.’
Nor does she hear the faintest ticking of her biological clock. ‘I could never breed. It’s such a subservient thing to do – especially in the Nineties. But I don’t mean to insult anyone who has had that misfortune.’
She has always preferred to live alone.
She has no fear of a lonely old age, although she says: ‘I do picture it sometimes. Worst case is I could be an old woman in a flowery gown, standing on the 28th floor of the YMCA staring down at the population with my instant coffee, saying, ‘Oh well, it’s just another day’. I couldn’t handle that . .
. I’d rather be starring in my own opera . . . Medea or Caligula would be nice.’