I think we have made it clear here at “The Remains” in previous articles how we love outcasts, the aesthetic of failure, subcultures, etc., and part of it can be summarized in a sentence by Malcolm McLaren that we used on a previous article and from which I try to constantly draw inspiration:
“Authenticity believes in the messy process of creativity. It’s unpopular and out of fashion. It worships failure, regarding it as a romantic and noble pursuit — better to be a flamboyant failure than any kind of benign success.”
Florence Foster Jenkins talent or lack of it, exemplifies many of these ideals. Every day I strive to be like her. Well perhaps strive is much of a strong word if failure is the aim, but you get the point.
Decades before American Idol, a revolutionary artist proved that terrible singing can be passed off as great entertainment. She had enthusiasm, and she had enough money to finance her operatic career. What she didn’t have was talent.
For 30 years, Manhattan’s upper crust paid good money to hear this hefty woman murder the melodies. Her name was Florence Foster Jenkins: the dire diva of din, the caterwauling countess of cacophony. At private recitals, she usually donned her Angel of Inspiration costume, a tulle gown and a tinsel tiara buttressed with a pair of feathered wings that made her resemble an overgrown turkey. To the accompaniment of a beleaguered pianist who rejoiced in the name Cosme McMoon, she would launch into her opening number, usually the Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” The audience got caught full-blast with a sound like alley cats pitching whoopee.
Believe it or not, Florence managed, despite being famously awful, to sell out an entire concert at Carnegie Hall. She had many admirers (among them Enrico Caruso). This has to be heard to be believed. As a particular point of interest, after she recorded this song, she told the sound engineer that no second try was needed as it was perfect.
Florence Foster Jenkins “A World of Her Own” is a documentary, written, produced and narrated by Donald Collup, telling the complete and uncensored story of this cult figure who entertained Manhattan audiences for over three decades.
Until now, very little was known about her life, her wealth, her loves and her tragic end.
There is also a play about her life, named “Glorious!” Florence Foster Jenkins was born in Pennsylvania in 1868 and left home because her father refused to allow her to fulfil her ambition to sing in public. Now, many might say that Pop Jenkins had it completely right and the daughter had it wrong, but those who we think are losers are often winners and vice-versa.