Singer/songwriter Dudley Saunders possesses an expressive, mellifluous voice. He uses it to great effect on these tender lyrics from “Love Song for Jeffrey Dahmer”:
into your throat
and your face is bloated
your neck is bruised
three days beard
the sweet sweet smell
of burning you
This is one of the songs that Saunders will be singing Saturday, January 28, at 8 p.m. at the , in his segment of “Murder Music: An Evening of Songs About Killing.”
He will be joined by singer/songwriters David Serby, David Poe, Brian Wright, Phil Krohnengold, Carla Werner, Amy Raasch, Vivek Maddala, Edward Tree and Sara Lov, who will each be performing two songs in front of projections of classic Los Angeles crime scenes—visual homage to the evening’s macabre theme.
“You can see why I would be hosting an evening of murder music,” Saunders says, laughing, to Patch. But he underscores a more compelling thematic subtext: “Murder ballads are the way we have of experiencing the most extreme emotions possible without killing somebody.”
It’s a fair point—and it begs elaboration, starting with this provocative statement by Saunders: “If you have never wanted to kill someone, you’ve never been in love.”
He adds—conjuring a convincing case: “Even kids have to know that they can feel murderous rage against their parents without their parents actually dying.”
Saunders’ dénouement: “Within that safety is the freedom to explore who we are and what we do feel—a chance to explore the extremity of what we can do, and to do it in a modern way.”
Noting the qualities so famous in Los Angeles period films of the 1940s and ’50s, Saunders observes: “People have historically come here to find their dreams. It’s what happens—that whole film noir aspect of Southern California of people on the way to celebrity or on the fringe of it, facing the dark side of the dream.”
The archival photos for the evening’s performance, with their white magic marker-crime scene notations, will have the names of the performers added to them. “Which is great—it’s like the ghost of the murder victims singing to you,” says Saunders.
The night’s sole instrumental piece, by Vivek Maddala, is seven minutes of music from a 1927 Lon Chaney film, Ace of Hearts.
Saunders, who has been recording since 1996, is no stranger to provocative showmanship. A noted performance artist whose endeavors in New York included such titles as Birdbones, The Long Swallowed Hair (or Faggot Skin), and The Second Sleep, he has received writing fellowships and prestigious grants. He has contributed to lofty literary journals, in addition to writing and producing films, penning a novel, and contributing to magazines from Rolling Stone to LA Weekly. He was also an early member of ACT UP, and served on the AIDS activist organization’s Treatment & Data Committee.
Saunders applauds Center for the Arts Executive Director Julia Salazar for her iconoclastic support of alternative arts, describing her as “one of the most creative presenters out there—someone so open to ideas, who just goes with them.” Instead of being apprehensive about a board of directors or locking creativity behind a mission statement, the Center is not afraid to take chances, says Saunders, adding: “Julia is not part of the art mafia, which is great.”
“Murder Music” will be presented Saturday, January 28 at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, 2225 Colorado Blvd., at 8 p.m. The show is for an audience18 years and more, and admission is $10 at the door. Also visit www.dudleysaunders.com.