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Antony And The Johnsons: Nature Songs

Antony and the Johnsons' latest CD is titled <em>The Crying Light</em>.
David Hogan/ Getty Images
Antony and the Johnsons' latest CD is titled The Crying Light.

Much of Antony and the Johnsons' music has revolved around singer Antony Hegarty's efforts to come to terms with and explore his sexual identity. But his latest album, The Crying Light, shifts away from issues of gender and instead examines Hegarty's relationship to nature — growing things, flowers, mountains, streams — which isn't what you'd expect from an artist with such strong ties to downtown New York's world of drag queens and cabaret.

"I'm a human being," Hegarty says. "I was born out of the earth, made of the same stuff as the rest of the earth, as those things you mentioned, like water and sunlight and elements and dust, mountains. ... Obviously, it's a poetic flight of fancy in a way, but at the same time, it's very much grounded in reality."

Hegarty may not be spending a lot of time camping, but he says, "Those are all archetypes in me, you know, and they're in my blood and in my body. ... I'm a part of this earth as a person here."

In an age of global warming and pollution, humanity's relationship with nature isn't quite as simple and pure as it was in the day of Whitman or Thoreau. Hegarty grapples with this as an artist.

"Our job as artists, you know, we're like fishers," Hegarty says. "We're fishing on the frontier of the collective consciousness. We're trying to figure out. ... There's a couple of thousand of us that are pulling up the next thought that we're all about to have collectively. And, you know, a big question on my plate today ... [is] how am I going to evolve through this?"

At Peace With The World

Hegarty says he's trying to find a way to better align himself with the world around him.

"I think that's what everyone's grappling with," he says. "Every taxi driver I talk to, I ask them all the time what's going on where you come from with the environment, and they all say it's gone to hell. It's all different. Half of them think apocalypse is about to come."

In spite of his attraction to camp and gay nightclubs, as well as other androgynous artists such as Boy George and Marc Almond, Hegarty plays music that's extremely serious, even somber. His voice has a trapped, yearning sadness that pervades everything he sings.

"Well, generally, I think it is who I am," he says. "I am pretty humorless.

"When I make work, I think it's fun to take a risk, to think the biggest thought my heart can think," Hegarty says. "I know it makes me vulnerable. I know it makes half the people turn away in revulsion and say, 'Oh, how pretentious,' but I think it's worth taking a risk."

The Crying Light is a very solitary record. The musical accompaniment sometimes fades to nothing more than a sort of vague breathing, leaving Hegarty's peculiar and captivating voice alone to seize listeners' attention. But he also exhibits a greater maturity, musically and spiritually, than he has before. He says that he's growing and that the last song on the album ("Everglade") may be his favorite, because it most represents his evolution.

"It's kind of like looking out of my eyes," Hegarty says. "I look at the trees and the leaves on the trees, and they're looking back at me, and they seem more alive than they ever have to me. If there's sort of a little stream that goes through my heart, or maybe I'm sitting by a stream and it's whispering and singing in this beautiful way, and the world is such a magical world ... and yet I still have this little piece of brokenness inside me. ... It's something I'm learning to live with, even if I don't understand it."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christian Bordal
Christian Bordal is a Norwegian-American (via Australia) musician, radio producer, and freelance music journalist who contributes regularly to Day to Day. He's very good at making faces and making a fool of himself, and he once impressed his NPR editors with a drunken recitation of the gibberish poem "Jabberwocky." He briefly considered launching a career performing at children's parties, but he finds his own children to be trouble enough. In addition to this list of remarkable professional accomplishments, he is a producer at member station KCRW in Los Angeles.