Have You Never Been Cello?

The anti-classical classical music of Rasputina.

The static-laced programming heard on Thirties radio is also referenced on Ether. "I think it's an influence, sound-wise," Creager acknowledges. "There's something very unsettling when the scratchy sound is combined with some of the lyrics." She adds, "To make a record is a challenge just because it's sound only, and you have to be aware of that when you're making it. And that is similar to a radio show, which is pretty much a forgotten art. I don't know if other people have those feelings when they're making a record, but to me it's like an audio-only secret show."

This description helps provide a context for the wide variety of material on the new disc, including a German-language rendering of "Trust Allstars," a cover of the Prohibition-era composition "Why Don't You Do Right" and the spoken-word tale "Nozzle," which Creager reads in the voice of a malevolent, backwoods Mother Goose. ("I'm from Kansas, so I have that accent at my command," Creager says, laughing.) This last track underlines Rasputina's fondness for gothic storytelling--particularly the writings of the late Angela Carter, a favorite of Creager's and Kent's. Among Carter's most vivid works is her variation on the Lizzie Borden tale: She characterizes the infamous murderess as a meek lass who spends her days sweating out the New England summers in heavy woolen garments before shitting on her parents' beds and then axing them to death. The protagonist of Rasputina's "Shirtwaist Fire" shares much in common with Borden: Creager sings "Girls work hard for small rewards or invitations to dine/Or one kind word from one who loves them, but what I have earned is mine" about a young pyromaniac whose primary accomplishment is setting a cowering friend ablaze.

The literary tenor of Creager's songwriting comes naturally; her formative years were spent buried deep in books, daydreams and the dress-up box rather than as an inductee in the cult of the cathode ray. "A lot of people become musicians out of being a fan, and I wasn't really like that," she reveals. "But what I was interested in as a child does reflect what we're doing now. I actually was a fan of writers and would write letters to children's book authors. The one that I was obsessed with was Zilpha Snyder. It was kind of fantasy stuff--alternative realities. A boy goes through a doorway or mirror to ancient Egypt..."

Rasputina's costumes--in concert, the women don layers of strangulatory Victorian underpinnings--emphasize the musicians' fascination with other times and places even as it draws attention to the immobility their instruments demand. The cellists have claimed the outfits also serve as a protest against "decolonization," but Creager admits that this assertion is more comedy than reality. "It's kind of trying to be un-PC," she maintains. "If anyone bothers to think of what decolonization is, it's obviously a good thing. But humor is very important to us and is also something I don't know if we could get out of a classical setting."

Nor would such a format support the themes of female dementia she is wont to limn lyrically. "I read a really good book called Idols of Perversity, and it went through images of women at the turn of the century and how each image grew into another one," she says. "The image of the insane woman was very acceptable, because if a woman said whatever she wanted and was interesting and off-the-wall, she would not be threatening, because she was insane. Then there was the fairy with the broken back, which is found in many paintings. Originally, there were a lot of images of women in trees, which had to do with fairies--another way for women to have interest while being non-threatening. After that, in paintings and advertisements, they had fallen out of the trees, and the images were all of contorted women who had broken their backs. The next stage of painting was an arched-back woman, which is an orgasmic thing."

Such observations, and the aesthetic from which they spring, have more to say to Nineties listeners than seems obvious at first blush. Rasputina may not share much in common with current pop, but it cuts through the collective unconsciousness with the power of ingenuity. "When I grew up in Kansas, they didn't have MTV there, and different kinds of records and magazines just didn't get out there," Creager notes. "So if you wanted to be alternative--well, alternative didn't exist. But if you wanted to do something like that, you had to make it up from your own imagination.

"It takes courage to be different in a place like that," she says. And she has no shortage of it.

The Cranes, with Rasputina. 8 p.m. Saturday, March 29, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $10, 830-2525 or 1-800-444-

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