In Imelda Marcos, widow of controversial former president of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos, the twentieth century had one of its most colorful first ladies. Or at least, to make the most obvious possible joke, it had its first lady with the most colorful collection of shoes. In fact, given her country’s history of poverty and corruption, Marcos’ reportedly vast and ostentatious wardrobe made her a controversial figure in herself. Yet she has never seemed wholly unconcerned with her legacy, and in fact remains a member of the Philippine House of Representatives today. She has wished aloud that her tombstone read, simply, “Here lies love,” and that epitaph gives a title to the disco musical that Talking Heads mastermind David Byrne and DJ/nineties electronic phenomenon Fatboy Slim have crafted to tell the story of Marcos’ life. “Probably the first thing you need to know,” writes Allan Kozinn in the New York Times, “is that although it is about Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, her famous collection of shoes is neither mentioned nor shown.” At the top of the post, you can watch a short clip of Byrne discussing the inspirations for and long gestation process of Here Lies Love, not to mention his efforts to break down the audience’s preconceptions, shoe-related and otherwise.
“Imelda, who was this flamboyant, notorious kind of person on the scene, loved going to discos,” he says. “She loved going to Studio 54. She turned the top floor of the palace in Manila into a club. She had a mirror ball installed in her New York townhouse. [ … ] Maybe there’s a connection between the euphoria you feel in a dance club and the euphoria a person in power has. ” Just above, you can listen to the musical’s title number. Despite having several times listened to and enjoyed the entire Here Lies Love album, I understand it can’t compare to the live version, because the live version makes you dance — literally. Kozinn describes Byrne’s latest venue as “transformed into an ’80s-style disco, and the audience is meant to stand, mill around or, if the spirit moves, dance through the entire 85-minute show.” Byrne has also written about the development of Here Lies Love on his diary, and promisingly. “The staging and the concept work,” he assures his fans. “It works so well that I sort of cried at every performance. [ … ] In the end, I’d say it’s the best thing I’ve done since the Stop Making Sense tour—which I guess is saying something.”
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.