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Tonight’s Edie Sedgwick set list readsas do all Edie Sedgwick set listslike a table of contents from People magazine: “(1) Parker Posey, (2) Robert De Niro, (3) Tim Robbins, (4) Jeremy Irons, (5) Molly Ringwald.” On the frigid first Saturday night of the new year, the drummer/bassist duo is banging out its Hollywood meditations in the living room of Kansas House, a two-story Arlington home that hosts a punk show every month or two. Three dozen 20-somethings sporting ’70s-era vinyl jackets stare silently at bassist/vocalist Justin Moyer (who is also a contributor to the Washington City Paper), straining to pick out his vocals amid the convulsive drumming and gurgling electric-bass runs.
“Why must I be like that?/Why must I swing the bat?/It’s my reflex,” Moyer, 23, sings on “Robert De Niro.” “The fingers are like dogs…/They go where they have been.”
Set up on a hardwood floor in front of a white-brick fireplace, Edie Sedgwick laces its particular brand of punk with free-jazz improvisationbut without resorting to either punk’s traditional polemics or the long musical explorations that mark free jazz. Moyer, who writes the songs, barks out haikulike lyrics that invariably ponder modern-day movie stars. After Moyer spends each song’s limited lyrical currency, his hands crawl up the neck of his bass. His eyes then fix on drummer Ryan Hicks, and the two forsake the song’s original time signature for a stretch of improv that quickly boils over into an abrupt resolution.
“I feel like we have a connection with actors and actresses by virtue of the films they make; my music is not supposed to be ironic,” Moyer says, sipping a mug of hot tea in the Kansas House driveway after Edie Sedgwick’s set. “I call it post-Warholian. I think there are things that are moving in the mass media. I’m not trying to be funny or say things with a wink and a smile.”
Like many of Warhol’s works, Moyer’s songs are snapshots of contemporary icons, portraits through which the artist comments on his subjects. The band’s namesake was a dead-before-her-time Warhol superstar, a spoiled Cambridge-student-turned-model who talked incessantly but said nothing worth listening to. In a one-page fold-over pamphlet that Moyer penned before the band’s first show to explain his musical ideology, he describes Sedgwick as “Warhol’s ‘beautiful blank’the saucer-eyed savant who became, in numerous films, whatever he wanted her to be. By evoking her image, we seek to assume it.”
“With my postmodern mind, I look at songs about love and people’s girlfriends and I’m like, I don’t really care about your feelingsthis isn’t 1960; your feelings aren’t really relevant,” Moyer says. “And I think Warhol really spoke it up, too, that all these ideas of the artist as the speaker and the narrator are all bullshit. But to be permanently ironic about it and say that I don’t feelthat’s self-defeating. So my compromise is that I do feel, and I’m going to write about my feelings. But my feelings are going to be about Jane Fonda or Faye Dunaway or Sean Connery.”
Which makes Moyer less a Pop artist than an impressionist. Rather than acting as an empty receptacle for pop culture, Moyer digests media personalities and spits them back out in song. And whereas Warhol’s art often ironically resembles marketable pieces of pop culture, Moyer’s avoids commenting on American consumerism and seeks instead to discover the essences of Gwyneth Paltrow, Macaulay Culkin, and Meryl Streep.
“People think of Meryl Streep as this schmaltzy actress that just makes crap, but I don’t see her that way,” Moyer explains. “At some point in her career, people thought of her as the pinnacle of acting. She is a symbol of meaningand she wanted to invest meaning into her roles. She learned Polish for Sophie’s Choice. I think that’s an interesting phenomenon, so I wrote a song about Meryl Streep and the fact that she’s a virtuoso: ‘virtuosity and professionalism, virtuosity and professionalism.’”
Drummer Ryan Hicks, Edie Sedgwick’s laid-back other half, complements Moyer’s tendentiousness. “I just love it for the music,” Hicks says, palming his own mug of Wellness tea. “The ideology comes from Justin pretty much 100 percent. I don’t agree with it or I don’t disagree with itit’s just there. I try to be real Zen with the music.”
Hicks, 24, has gotten used to adapting to different musical ideologies. In Bloomington, Ind., where he attended Indiana University for a year after growing up in rural Greenfield, Hicks played with six different bands. One group played ska; another, Scurvy, played hardcore and sang exclusively about piracy: Band members wore eye patches and played songs with titles such as “Seven Seas” and “Bluebeard.” After leaving school”I didn’t like the people who go to school there or the professors who teach there”Hicks worked Bloomington’s pizza-joint circuit and toured every few months with various bands. While on tour in 1998 with an art-rock group called Panoply Academy Glee Club, Hicks met Moyer in Middletown, Conn., at a Wesleyan University show held in a dormitory basement. Moyer, who played the show with a punk band called El Guapo, was preparing to graduate with a degree in social science and music.
After graduation, Moyer relocated to D.C., planning to work for a year before entering law school and play in a pared-down version of El Guapo. The year passed, but Moyer still felt too young to pursue a law degree. In October 1999, Hicks left Bloomington for Washington, where the largest smattering of his musician friends lived. Not long after arriving in the District, Hicks called Moyer to jam. Two months later, Edie Sedgwick played its first show at the Black Cat, where Justin distributed the pamphlets he’d created outlining the band’s raison d’être. A passage inside the flap summarizes the duo’s mission: “We seek to uncover the deeper significances of the motion picture starlet.”
This month, Edie Sedgwick will release First Impressions, its 13-track long-playing debut, as well as embark on a tour of the Southern states. Both players hold day jobsMoyer as a case manager for an HIV-outreach organization and Hicks as a clerk in a used-book storeand the tour will help step up their light performance schedule. Right now, Edie Sedgwick rehearses twice a week and performs bimonthly. “Maybe we can go on tour and get more people interested in the record,” says Hicks. “I’ve been practicing a lot recently, but I rarely crash around on my drum set. I’d rather read a book.” Dan Gilgoff