“Stand fast all
And trust in your sight
An Angel with palms
From darkness comes light”
Lucy and the Icari - Eyes Alone
This project started when I first met Lucy. She was crouched over a dead bird in Hell’s Kitchen, squatting center-sidewalk and taking pictures of the lifeless starling, it’s beautiful broken body an iridescent brown-black speckled with white. Lucy was laser-focused, shooting from above and at every conceivable angle. Then, seeming satisfied with her work, she slipped her phone into a coat pocket and looked up at me. The certainty in her eyes was disconcerting. “Wanna see?” She stood up and moved towards me in a single, fluid motion. Her eyebrows were severe; her face sparkled with glitter. She showed me several shots of the bird, it’s beauty enhanced by the photographic detail, but what really caught my eye was the up-close look at the sidewalk-as-background. Each bit of grit, each piece of urban flotsam filled the frame with information. The result was striking. I introduced myself and asked if she was a photographer.
“No”, she said, “Usually, I don’t even show them to anyone. I just sort of collect these exquisite, fallen creatures and use them as inspiration for my music. There’s something sublime about this moment, the bird dead but it’s natural beauty still intact. I’m always looking for the Swan Song, like autumn foliage or the falling flash of a meteorite. It brings a little light to the darkness”. I told her that I knew what she meant and asked about her music. A singer, she fronted a band called Lucy and the Icari. (Icari, she elaborated, was plural for Icarus.) “You should come see us. We’re playing Spectrum in Brooklyn this weekend.”
That Saturday night Lucy and the Icari were already on stage tuning and talking when I walked into Spectrum. The place was packed with youthful androgyny, haircuts I could never pull off, and glittery skin. Three minutes, two drumbeats, and a single guitar strum later the lights went dark. Drinks clinked quietly, the jawing of inebriated mouths faded, and a spotlight hit the dark stage. In the stark white light I could see her fully, dressed all in blue with hair a sweep from deep indigo to aqua, her face and hands sparkling. She stretched the moment, staring silently into us. Then a recognizably lighthearted melody broke the tension. The Rolling Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow” faded in, first the keyboard, then Lucy’s tambourine, then everything. I’m listening and thinking stuff like, “Glad they went with the metaphor over the simile in the song title” when Lucy started singing. Sometimes only cliché does a description justice; she sounded like an angel. Her hands floated above her head and fluttered to her waist, twinkling in the stage lights.
The whole set was like this, each song a different mood. There was a melancholy cover of The Smiths’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes, a deep dark version of Leonard Cohen’s Traveling Light, then an upbeat and airy rendition of Roxy Music’s Angel Eyes. I was surprised to hear Jim Carroll’s City Drops Into The Night, a lengthy, energetic ode to twilight in the city, and energized by an exceptionally on point cover of Jay-Z’s Caught Their Eyes.
The original songs they played were a pop synthesis of choir-like singing, primal drums, and baroque instrumentation, sounding both ephemeral and rhythmic, like a secret incantation or heretical hymn. I especially liked the one titled Eyes Alone. As they played I sensed a motif and, seeing Lucy’s bird pictures in my mind, was struck with an idea. After the show I found her just outside the door, breathing clouds into the Brooklyn air. I said hi and reminded her where we’d met.
“That’s right”, she remembered, “Thanks for coming”.
I offered congratulations on her performance and mentioned my surprise at City Drops. She replied with equal surprise that I recognized it. We talked about Jim (apparently he was a family friend) and New York. I told her that I’d been thinking of her fallen birds, her Icari, and asked if she’d ever consider an artistic collaboration. When she didn’t flinch I explained what I had in mind. Souvenir-style single-slide viewers, a line from Paradise Lost emblazoned on the side, each holding one of her bird images; an associated Instagram account would show the full run of pics. She was open to it, gave me the Lucy and The Icari email address, and told me to send her the details. I sent them out to her that night and by the following weekend we were full-on partners.
I put together the “What in Me is Dark Illumine” text with the open eye and suggested the pupillary Hebrew for a bit of esoteric mystery. It’s the only occurrence of the name Lucifer in the bible and literally translates to “Star of the Morning”. Lucy appreciated the play on her name and subtle mischievousness of the inclusion. She started humming Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning. “I’m old enough to face the dawn”, she sang out, “I won’t be blinded by the light”.
I’d like to thank Lucy for her sharp perception, bright light, and insatiable personality (and of course for her photographs). She opened my eyes and I will never sleep again.
“When the city drops into the night
Before the darkness there’s one moment of light
That’s when everything seems clear
The other side, it seems so near”
Jim Carroll Band - City Drops Into The Night