With World Aids Day around the corner, Little Annie aptly releases a video for one of the most powerful, sentimental and alluring album tracks on Genderful, Billy Martin Requiem. December 1 marks the 22nd annual World AIDS Day, and while there is still no “cure” for or viable vaccine against HIV, the positive strides made battling the virus over the last few years are undeniable. New drugs are making what was a death sentence now a manageable - if serious and chronic - condition. Generic versions of these medications, along with ambitious public health policies are helping make real inroads against the disease in the developing world. There is space for much optimism this year. But what’s lost sometimes with the good news is a space to contemplate what has been lost to us - irrevocably. The talent unrealized, the creativity and vitality extinguished, the knowledge and experience that won’t be passed on to new generations - this was and continues to be the fall out from the AIDS epidemic.
Which brings us to Little Annie and her song/video “Billy Martin Requiem”. This astonishing track - from Genderful, her collaboration with Paul Wallfisch (Southern Records) - is perhaps the most New York centered selection on this most NYCentric collection. It is a song that Annie says she has been trying to write for years. For how does one address the catastrophe of AIDS without falling prey to either to platitudes and cheap sentiment or to the black void of grief? If you’re Annie you do so with humor, compassion and most knowing sadness. She did, after all, see it all back in the day. She cut her teeth on the downtown music/art scene - back in the bad, old days of the late 1970’s when the Big Apple was a bankrupt, crime-ridden, graffiti-tagged Hell. (Unless of course you were an artist, a free spirit, a thinker and/or a gay man - in which case that Hell was Heaven.) And she was in the trenches of what she calls “the war”, and watched as - to paraphrase Allen Ginsberg - the best minds of a generation disappeared.
Over a sexy, loping groove Annie sets herself adrift on her own stream of consciousness - her mind flowing back to the day. Back to her youth in Yonkers - just north of The Bronx, back to Yankee Stadium - which her train would pass as she headed south and then back to Billy Martin, the Yankees’ ill-starred manager who would die in a drunk driving accident. “No they don’t make ‘em like Billy anymore”, sings Annie. From there she neatly segues to the male disco diva Sylvester, whose “high pitched call to glamour” was the soundtrack to her youth, to the gay men God lead her to and so many of whom would be lost to AIDS. “And though it hurts like hell to say it, he was only one of millions. They don’t make them like Sylvester anymore” says Annie before launching in a role call of great artists lost to HIV. The song is elegant and simple and gently devastating
Danny McKernan’s video for “Billy Martin Requiem” is likewise elegant, simple and powerful - hearkening back to the days when promo clips where about the happy collision of a great song, a charismatic performer and film maker with a vision, as opposed to the bloated/vacant visual intravaganzas our eyes/ears are more often than not subjected to these days.
Both the song and the video gently ask the audience to never forget what is missing from this world due to HIV, and to remember the brilliance that has passed from our midst.