It's simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides
the necessary detachment - or arouses a necessary sympathy.
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"
Oh, I'm very late to this party, I know, but it's one I'm happy to be at. Only this week have I for the first time encountered today's Great Lady, Brazil's remarkable Bibi Ferreira. Next week she'll be bringing her act to Town Hall in New York, doing something I've long thought an almost unmeetable challenge: singing songs associated with Piaf. Some things, once they're done, are hard to justify trying to do again, and it's mostly my belief that once La Môme had sung a song, it was sung. Oh, sure, Grace Jones got away with her deconstructed, supercharged "La Vie en Rose," a song also identified with Dietrich and others, and there are a few ladies who can manage a number or two (Karen Akers springs to mind), but after that it's a lot of singers scaling an alp that's frankly beyond them.
Not so La Ferreira. She sings in the style of Piaf, but never in a way the surrenders her own persona; she inhabits the songs. She's been doing variations on her Piaf show for 30 years, and by all accounts it only gets better, and truer, and more simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking.
She is 91 years old.
If she is Camp, or her work is, it is of the warmest, most genuinely appreciative kind ("Camp is a tender feeling."). The Camp comes from the milieu, the artifice, the courage and gallantry and nerve of a woman in a gown cut down to there and bravado warpaint going out to conquer an audience on the arm of an elegant gentleman (that rare phenom: the singing Safety Gay) and doing so absolutely. She is a very great artist.
Sadly, I won't be at Town Hall on November 13, but in my heart of hearts I hope that someone who can tell us all about her will be. TJB, do you have your tickets yet?