Insane Clown Posse won't be the only ones in face paint this week. In fact, the circus surrounding Emilie Autumn is even more extravagant and high-concept, featuring everything from onstage baking to fire-breathers, performers on stilts, and a saucy burlesque revue.
Surrounded by five corseted beauties known as the Bloody Crumpets, Autumn creates a theatrical show highlighted by her classically inflected violin and dark synthetic beats to match the subject's Gothic subject matter.
"All bipolar girls of the world, all people that were ever suffering or ever heartbroken to the point of murder " that's a lot of people " anybody who's ever been locked up, anybody who's ever thought about killing yourselves, anybody who's cut themselves licked the blood and liked the taste, well, guess what? I'm your girl. That my friend is as goth as it gets," Autumn said. "We have white paint and glitter on our faces because that's the joke. This is the darkest stuff you can manifest to balance that out. I need to look like a fucking cupcake."
Somewhat reminiscent of The Dresden Dolls, she fashions a multimedia experience to bring the events precipitating her institutionalization to life. Conflating Victorian asylums and her own experiences, she weaves past, present, fact and fantasy into a colorful collage as she invites you into the Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, also the name of her forthcoming memoir.
The book effort was preceded by her 2006 studio release, "Opheliac," on which the musical show is based, recounting Autumn's experiences as a pretty, independent, bipolar spirit who learned to wrestle control of her life away from a victimized past and the men surrounding her.
Trained for theater as much as classical music, the one-time violin prodigy spent her youth tagging along backstage with her seamstress mother. Even simply speaking, Autumn infuses a dramatic air to her harrowing story, which she recounts with vigor and wit. She describes her affinity for Hamlet's main squeeze, Ophelia, as setting the template for a series of suicide attempts " the last of which landed the performer in a mental hospital, crystallizing her understanding of her own situation.
"She was the original Suicide Girl, the archetype of the distraught suicidal " is she crazy, is she not " maiden that has been sexualized and glamorized for the last 500 years," Autumn said. "It's about women that allow themselves to be fucked with in her life, by the men outside. But at some point in your life, you have to start taking responsibility for it, when bad things start happening and you don't leave because you're stupid, naive or still hold out hope that it's not that bad. Or you've been told you're crazy so many times, that you think it's you."
When she finally recognized it, "like a bullet to the head," Autumn immediately set upon the studio and, for the first time, made the kind of music she wanted. Naturally, it became a big success. Her record label, however, was in Germany and much of that success has been in Europe.
Although the musicians had released several albums and EPs in the United States, including a disc of her young violin concertos, they came before she received a shot of prominence working with Billy Corgan and Courtney Love on the latter's 2004 solo effort, "America's Sweetheart." Earlier this year, Autumn split with her German label and management company to sign with The End Records, bringing her production to the states for the first time.
UNSOLICITED DARK SIDE
"Opheliac" receives perhaps its most poignant expression in the haunting cabaret tune "Thank God I'm Pretty," on which Autumn satirizes the advantage beauty brings, knowing the unsolicited dark side of the equation.
"You're cute enough even in your crazy state, with no makeup and your hair in tangles that your doctor finds you attractive. Aren't you lucky? That means he can do anything the fuck he wants, and you can't say anything because he's a doctor in a million-dollar facility and you're a crazy girl," she said. "People see 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and they think it's a movie. It's that and worse."
But all's well that end's well, and Autumn now enjoys revenge, one fomented extravagantly on her own in venues across the country where converts flock, transfixed by her salacious stage show.
"The point was to tell the truth for the first time, unvarnished. I believe that's the only reason anybody cares about me right now," she said. "Once you say something that true and intensely, it doesn't have to apply to anybody or everybody. People still know when you're telling the truth and still want something real."
Emilie Autumn performs at 8 p.m. Friday at the Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern. "Chris Parker