Six degrees of David Sylvian

Put the blame on the Internet, cheap airfares, or the sexual revolution, but the end result is the same: Earth is now the size of the head of a pin. Which is why you'd have to be pretty provincial to find amusement playing "six degrees of Kevin Bacon," wherein drunks who've spent too much time at Blockbuster attempt to link the horse-faced (but well-hung) actor to any celebrity named via a path of five colleagues or less.

Wake up, people! Anybody with even a handful of acquaintances knows somebody who was workout buddies with a guy who carpools with Kathy Lee Gifford's college sweetheart. Remember that old shampoo commercial, where a model passed along her praise to a couple confidants, "and they told two friends . . . and so on, and so on . . ." and her flaxen image kept duplicating until it filled the TV screen? Every time you have sex with someone new, that's how many other, prior partners you're swapping bodily fluids with. There's a tiny bit of Kathy Lee (probably the part that's panicked about getting "character lines" around the eyes prematurely) coursing through your bloodstream even as you read.

This is why I had to stop doing cocaine. Every time I scooped a bump of Bolivian marching powder up my nose, I spouted outrageous lies about my industry connections. My cursory relationship with the assistant to a publicist who briefly dated a VP at Maverick Records suddenly became "I know Madonna" as soon as the blow hit my brain. It was only a matter of time before some rabid Ray of Light fan thrust their mobile phone into my paw and said, "Prove it."

But since allowing my drug-addled synapses to rejuvenate, I've realized that celebrity connect-the-dots can also be used for good, as an easy way to create a familiar context when discussing underrated artists. Case in point: David Sylvian. The other day I mentioned to one of the many male friends in their early '20s from whom I siphon off life-giving energy that I was interviewing Sylvian about his new ambient disc, Approaching Silence (on Shakti/ Virgin). My youthful companion looked puzzled. "You know, the ex-lead singer of Japan," I said, thinking this would help. Then it dawned on me that my pal was three years old when Tin Drum, the UK quartet's swan song, came out in 1981.

Remembering that my buddy is a rabid Sonic Youth fan, I sprang into action. Thurston Moore, I reminded him, plays guitar on "Causes Causes Causes" from the new Russell Mills/Undark CD Pearl + Umbra (Bella Union/Instinct). When he's not roping in famous friends to contribute to his all-star studio projects, Mills designs album covers, including David Sylvian's 1987 double-LP Gone to Earth. I told my pal to dig out his copy of Pearl + Umbra and listen to the vocals on Track 3, "Rooms of the Sixteen Shimmers"—"that's David Sylvian."

Sylvian releases albums infrequently, but when he does they typically feature enough guests for a small parade. Even if you bypass some of his best-connected collaborators—like guitarist Robert Fripp or Academy Award-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto—it's not hard to draw a line between almost any living creature and the innovative musician the UK press used to tease for being "The Most Beautiful Man in the World." Don't believe me? Here goes . . .

Tommy Tune: A no-brainer. The beloved Broadway hoofer appears in the 1971 film adaptation of the musical The Boyfriend. This disorienting mess was directed by Ken Russell, who oversaw the movie Tommy, based on the rock opera by the Who's Pete Townshend. Pete's sister-in-law is chamber musician Virginia Astley (she plays on All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes), whose 1986 LP Hope in a Darkened Heart featured "Some Small Hope," a duet with David Sylvian. Speaking of choreographers . . .

Debbie Allen: Allen was one of the only stars from the motion picture Fame to continue on to the television series, which also featured actor/cellist Lori Singer. In the Robert Altman flick Short Cuts, Singer's mother is portrayed by jazz legend Annie Ross, who performs the ditty "Imitation of a Kiss" on the soundtrack. That tune was co-written by New York guitarist Marc Ribot, who plays on the 1999 David Sylvian release Dead Bees on a Cake.

Kevin Bacon: The so-called "center of the universe" co-starred in She's Having a Baby with Alec Baldwin, husband of Oscar recipient Kim Basinger. Before Ms. Big Lips tied the knot with Mr. Hairy Forearms, she was romantically linked with Prince, whose Paisley Park imprint released the sole album to date by poet/songwriter Ingrid Chavez, who eventually became . . . Mrs. David Sylvian.

Even if you're not familiar with his catalog, you really should go out and buy Sylvian's Approaching Silence. Because not only will its contemplative tracks soothe your troubled soul, you kind of owe it to David anyway. After all, you're practically sleeping together.

 
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