Hussar Ballad: Soviet Crossdressing Wartime Musical

Left: Durova as a noble lady. Right: Durova as a soldier in uniform.

When she was an infant, her father placed her under the care of a soldier after her abusive mother threw her out of a moving carriage. Growing up, she memorized all the standard marching commands, and her favorite toy was an unloaded gun. A noblewoman by birth, Nadezhda Durova wanted nothing more than to don a uniform and defend Russia against Napoleon. At age 24, she did just that. “With firmness so alien to my young age,” she wrote in her memoirs, “I was wrecking my brain about how to break free from the vicious circle of natural and customary duties assigned to us, women.” In 1807, disguised as a boy, she left home on the back of her favorite mount, Alchides, and enlisted in a Polish uhlan regiment. “At last I am free and independent. I had taken my freedom, this precious, heavenly gift, inherently belonging to every human being!”

Durova’s service in the military earned her distinguished honors, and throughout her career she was, by all accounts, revered by everyone in her chain of command. A few officers knew her secret, but most did not. Tsar Alexander I, aware of her true identity, awarded her a cross for saving a soldier’s life and gave her permission to join the regiment of her choice. He gave her a new male surname, Alexandrov (after his own name). Durova continued crossdressing after retirment from the military. She died at age 83 and was buried dressed as a man, with full military honors.

In 1962, the Soviet Studio MosFilm released a musical called Gusarskaya Balada (“Hussar Ballad”) based on Durova’s life. In what’s certainly a complete misrepresentation of Durova’s complicated existence, the musical paints Durova as a young patriotic woman in love with a male soldier, eager to win him over on her terms, as a fellow fighter. The film is without subtitles, but has enough colorful characters, costumes and music that I think a non-Russian-speaking audience would appreciate the clip above, which showcases Durova’s character first dressed as a woman, then dressed as a man. I love actress Larisa Golubkin’s confident, homoerotic swagger in the second half of the clip.

It’s difficult not to revel in the fabulousness of Gusarskaya Balada, but I wish that someone would make a textured, compassionate film that dug deeper into Durova’s life. There are many different ways for this play out, for many facets of Durova’s identity are still debated to this day. On the topic of her gender identity, Wikipedia states that “some readers interpret her as a cisgendered woman who adopted celibacy and male clothing to achieve professional freedom,” while others believe that Durova was transgender. Similarly, Durova’s sexual orientation remains a mystery. She eloped with a man when she was young, against her father’s wishes. However, she omitted her marriage (and any description of attraction to men or women) from her memoirs. When it comes to her relationship with women, one biography notes, “Durova felt uncomfortable around other women. On at least two occasions women recognized her true identity and addressed her as ‘Miss.’ Her fellow officers often joked that Aleksandrov was too shy and afraid of women.”

The deeper I dig, the more fascinating scenes I find. Beyond the obvious allure of wartime crossdressing, there are many odd tidbits, like Durova’s powerful connection with animals. As a child, she “frightened her family by secretly taming a stallion that they considered unbreakable.” Later in life she provided shelter to stray cats and dogs that she rescued, and she passed on her animal-taming abilities to her descendants, circus legends and founders of the Durov Animal Theatre in Russia. Then, there’s her horrible mother, who only wanted a boy, and seemed to punish Durova for being born a girl by making her spend countless hours doing monotonous “women’s work” like sewing and crocheting. That’s a whole other story itself, right there.

Hopefully, one day soon, someone will make a serious film about Durova. Until then, enjoy the song and dance.

Happy Birthday, Lene Lovich!

Promo shot for Lovich’s 1979 Flex LP.

In under the wire, we’d like to wish the incomparable Lene Lovich a very happy birthday! The New Wave/Death Disco diva was born on March 30th in 1949. At some point when we’re not all scrambling to meet deadlines, this virtuosa deserves a big, juicy feature on Coilhouse. We’ll get ‘er done, promise.

For now, here’s the “Bird Song” video, feauring Lovich in all her eye-popping, spookylicious glory:

Coilhouse Coming Up For Air

Good afternoon, Coilhaüsers! This post is to inform you of three things:

  1. We’ve finished printing the T-Shirts, and we’ll begin mailing them out tomorrow. They came out lovely; thank you again to everyone who ordered.
  2. Issue 03 is progressing, but we’re still in lockdown. We’ll probably come out of it soon, start posting again, and go into lockdown about a month from now again. Or something like that. The process for putting together 03 is slightly different from how we’ve done it in the past, so we’ll see how it goes.
  3. The beginning of this week’s been too hectic to even post the next installment in the series of Agent Double Oh No interviews that we’ve been running. To fight off the tumbleweeds that threaten to start rolling over this blog, I am posting this image. I have no idea who made it; the site that it comes from is all-Japanese. Anyone who can identify the artwork here gets a free box of thrift store douche. Found via Audrey Kawasaki’s ffffound, which you can get lost in for hours.

We’ll be back soon. We miss you. Mwah!

The Intimate Horror of Michael Gira

Photo by Eric Hurtado/Etante Donnes

On Monday, we received an email titled “Is that the Batlight I see?” from Agent Double Oh No (a.k.a. Jeff Wengrofsky), our intrepid correspondent in New York. “Hi. I noticed the rainbow puke signal on Coilhouse and thought, if there ever were a signal that could shine in the sky to invoke my powers, this would be it.” While we languish away in Issue 03 purgatory (it’s not really hell… yet), Jeff has kindly offered to let us run some interviews he did circa 2002 for a now-defunct site called For those just joining us, Jeff has conducted some of the most hard-hitting interviews that Coilhouse has yet featured, including conversations with Mark Mothersbaugh, Magenta Foundation and Sonny Vincent. We’re proud to present the first interview in a series by Agent Double Oh No that will run as we finish up the writing on Issue 03: Michael Gira. Enjoy! – Nadya

At first blush, his imposing frame, strong handshake, suspenders, and cowboy hat could well cast Michael Gira as a sharecropper cut from the pages of Steinbeck. Close up, his quick, blue eyes quietly mock fools, while his broad, rotting grin strives to put his prey at ease like a real-life Hannibal Lecter. As the principal behind Young God Records, Gira’s first two personas rub uneasy elbows, as he ambitiously peddles uncompromising music that demands attention. Taken together, Michael Gira is a living work of art, an exercise in American gothic, a true musical genius, a bit scary and quite unlike any other person that I will ever meet.

Over the past twenty years, Gira’s music has changed its face twice, but has maintained a taut focus on his lyrical thematic: the base and fragile elements at the core of the human condition. His is a dramaturgy of intimate horror and wakeful terror, exposed without a trace of moralism or even humanism. In his early years with Swans, Gira and his cohorts invented a musical idiom of striking immediacy, pairing his baritone’s sharp and nasty catalogue of human depravity with the heaviest dirges conceivable. Over their fifteen- year career, Swans’ music became more melodic, mysterious, and, at times, downright gothic. With Angels of Light, the name for Gira’s main musical output since the time of Swans, he methodically directs beautiful orchestrations over simple, repetitive motifs and his magnificent voice.

As the prime mover behind Young Gods Records, Gira has also brought Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family to the indie music world. In 1994, Gira further explored his aesthetic in The Consumer, a collection of short prose on Henry Rollins’s “1961” imprint. Michael Gira’s musical and written work can be yours after a visit to his site.

I nervously sat down to chew some words with Michael as the sun set over Brooklyn and I tried to not play the fool. This is how our conversation began.

As I understand it, you are originally from Los Angeles. In 1979, punk was dead. New York was suffering from fiscal woes, and, in many ways, was a city in deep decline. Why did you come here?
Maybe it was mean streets. I despised L.A. It’s such an alienating place. L.A. seems to embody the worst aspects of American culture. Even at that time, the primary ways of experiencing realty were watching television or driving in your enclosed car, or sitting at your cubicle, which are also sort of like television. It’s completely secondhand. I was involved, somewhat tangentially, in the L.A. punk scene. Most of it, with the exception of the Screamers, was just like rock music played faster, and held no attraction for me. I liked the extreme violence in the live shows. Musically, it was boring. New York was “No New York” at the time. I had heard some singles from the Theoretical Girls, Lydia Lunch, Suicide. I was a slavish, sweating, nervous, Suicide fan. I interviewed Alan Vega for my magazine, No Magazine. It was a proper magazine, made of newsprint, with art, pornography, and punk rock. Our second issue had autopsies on the cover. We had to get it printed in San Fransisco, because it was too obscene to have printed in Los Angeles. I was a fan of what was going on in New York and an art student at Otis Art Institute. I was friends then with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, who moved here and I moved six months later. I came because I thought that it was a more interesting musical environment. When I came here, all that stuff was dead, and the advent of English disco was starting to infect everything. The time wasn’t ripe, in the end. I came here with a hundred bucks and figured how to live.

If you were really interested in “mean streets” per se, even then there were tougher neighborhoods than Alphabet City, which already had a substantial artist community. When I think “mean streets,” I think Piri Thomas and Spanish Harlem, which was really wild in 1980.

Maybe it was “Taxi Driver,” then. I remember reading an article in the L.A. Times about a trash strike in New York. There were rats everywhere. I heard about rats leaping into people’s mouths while they walked down the street! There was some wino that fell through the grates on the street and half his body was eaten by rats. I just thought that it was an interesting place to be.

Stroke Material! The Ugne Andrikonyte Edition.

Overseas readers, the video should work for you now.

The video above is what the Coilhouse “Stroke Material” tag was made for. No other tag needed. It’s a music video directed by Arno Bani, featuring a very androgynous-looking model with the incredible name Ugne Andrikonyte. Say it with me: UGNE ANDRIKONYTE! The music, however, is not recommended. So turn down the the YouTube clip, put on some Massive Attack or something, make sure no one walks in on you, and enjoy. As a bonus, here’s a photo from Bani’s site, done in a similar style as the video above. [Thanks, Finn]

Apocalypse Meow a.k.a. Cat Shit One

Apocalypse Meow is the Americanized title of Cat Shit One, a dark and befuddling manga series by Motofumi Kobayashi. Published in the late 90s, the book features a team of fuzzy wuzzy widdle bunny wabbits in an American special ops team battling the forces of cutesy wootsy wily Viet Cong kitty cats on a wide variety of historically accurate, often graphically violent recon missions. Characters are depicted as different species according to nationality; Yankees as rabbits, the Vietnamese as cats, Frenchmen as pigs, Koreans as dogs, Australians as koala bears, etc.

Yyyyeah. Cute Overload it ain’t. Or Watership Down, for that matter. And now, it would seem that Anima Studio has produced an equally gory animated trailer/short based off the manga. Only this time, special ops team Cat Shit One is in the Middle East, fighting… Taliban camels? Taliban camels wearing… turbans?

Oh god. Oh my god. Ohmygodwhatthefuckbarbeque, even.

Replete with M4A1 annihilation and bargain basement Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan-soundalike ululations. Keepin’ it classy.

Clip via Sean Dicken. Thanks for the nightmares, Sean.

“A happy place for sad rainbows.”

Once again, we’re in editorial lockdown for the print magazine. Can you tell? I was going to upload a clever animated gif of a tumbleweed to momentarily distract all of us, then recalled something far more entertaining, courtesy of RAINBOWPUKE.COM:


Their mission statement:

RainbowPuke exists so that fans of puking rainbows have a place to make their collective voices heard. In this celebration of the greatest dichotomy, you don’t have to be an artist to join in the wave of multi-colored vomit that’s sweeping the world. Simply email us your best attempt at a drawing of a rainbow puking up a rainbow of colors and we’ll post it here on for the everybody to see.

Also see:

(Thanks, Ariana.)

Coilhouse T-Shirts: One Day Left!

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, to everybody who ordered a Coilhouse shirt so far. So many familiar names appeared when these orders came through, and it means a lot to us that readers, commenters and friends have supported us by getting one of these stylish tees. Some of you even ordered two shirts –  a double thank you!

For those who have been planning to get a shirt but haven’t yet done so, this is a courtesy notice to let you know that these are only on sale for 1 more day. Sometime on Friday night (late at night), we will remove them from our shop and begin making everyone’s shirt so that they can be sent out ASAP.

If you’d like to order a shirt, please go to our shop now. Again, thank you guys for all your support. It means the world to us.

Renee French and Her Furry Friends

Note: I don’t know why our last post had commenting turned off. Whoops! Must’ve clicked something by accident. Fixed it, so that comments are possible.

Comics illustrator Renee French has a blog where she posts doodles on a daily basis. Some are as detailed as the image above, others are simple line drawings. The subjects of her drawings can be completely unexpected, but the themes that come up consistently include creatures, houses, animal traps and kids dressed in very warm winter clothing. The more pages you go through on her blog, the more you feel like you’re being sucked into the universe of these pictures, questioning what you see less and less.

Renee’s blog is updated every day, but she also has an old website where you can see the books and comics that she’s published, including Grit Bath on Fantagraphics and a book called The Soap Lady. My favorite comic on this site. My favorites short comic stories on the site are Duck and ZZZ.

Animal Rescue Biker Gang: Don’t Sign That Paper!

Portrait by Ann-Eve. More from this set on Flickr.

Rescue Ink is awesome for two reasons. One, they rescue puppies and kittens. As their mission statement says:

“We’re not a gang, vigilantes or a social organization, but we do have that certain “in your face” style when it comes to animal abusers. You may find us hanging out together at a hot rod show, tattoo parlors, or even hitting up the blacktop together on our bikes for a little road trip, but the main thing that brings us together is our love of animals. We met because we were all doing the same thing on our spare time: rescuing and finding homes for abandoned and abused animals.”

Some entrepreneurial reality-TV scouts probably have this Long Island-based, multi-ethnic band of do-gooders in the crosshairs, ready to pounce on them with a condescending TV contract (“stipulation: you must team up with hot biker chicks, who will actually be actresses that we provide”). But in and of itself, the endeavor feels charmingly genuine. The other reason why the existence of Rescue Ink warms my heart is that one of the group’s most active members, Batso, is 74 years old. 74! That’s the kind of life I wanna be living when I’m his age. Riding around on motorcycles (or in Mer’s optimistic vision of the future, “prune fart-powered jet packs”), looking bad-ass, making the world a better place for fluffsters of all stripes.

Left: photographer unknown. Right: Barry Bland