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Alex Cameron Plays Himself

Alex Cameron's an open book.
Alex Cameron's an open book. Chris Rhodes
In any type of arts journalism, there are general rules when interviewing an artist. Respect those boundaries, be reasonable and receptive to how much the artist seems willing to discuss delicate subjects, and maybe don’t make the interview about their famous girlfriend or their recent public breakup with the actor from that one movie. Dinner-party rules need not apply — sex, religion and politics are all acceptable topics — but breach delicate subjects respectfully. Tread lightly with the childhood-trauma queries. Let public people have private lives.

Such guidelines make Alex Cameron’s recent press cycle for third record Miami Memory so, well, memorable. From the start, Cameron has been transparent: This is a more sincere record of love songs intended as a gift for his partner, Jemima Kirke, the artist and actress best known for her work on HBO’s Girls. Such transparency naturally invites relevant questions about the relationship, but it’s Cameron’s responses (and willingness to answer) that are striking: He told The FADER that he and Kirke “have had our biggest fights, our best sex and our highest highs in Miami.” The two were interviewed together by the Guardian days before the album’s September release, Cameron nibbling Kirke's ear in one of the photographs accompanying the feature.

And that’s just the press, mind you. The latest entry in Cameron’s catalog of self-aware yet smarmy synth-rock is hardly opaque. Miami Memory ends with a monologue in which Cameron addresses Kirke, praising her and dreading a life without her, Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering ooh-ing amid straining violins directly underneath. The album’s most singular image arrives on the titular track and involves eating ass like a certain shellfish (and aphrodisiac), thus causing the recipient to come “like a tsunami.” (In her Instagram post celebrating the song’s release, Kirke even clarified, “I didn’t come from the ass eating that was an artistic embellishment!”)

Cameron, as it were, is unfazed by his own explicitness. “I still feel like I have a lot of privacy even though I’m choosing to reveal certain aspects of my life in songs or interviews. It’s just the nature of the game,” he says. “I still feel like I have a lot that’s private.”

And Kirke is no antiquated silent muse. She photographed Cameron for the album cover and directed three of his videos. The song “Far From Born Again,” which extols the virtues of women in the sex industry and in control of their own destinies, was partially inspired by her series of portraits of sex workers. “She’s directly impacting the work,” he notes. “I haven’t ever had a [relationship] before where I really feel creatively connected to someone. So I just feel extremely grateful and ready to do more.”

The phrase “Miami memory” occurred to Cameron first, well prior to writing the song or spending significant time in the city with Kirke. The two started going there together, and eventually filmed the “Miami Memory” video on location; it was glamorous enough that Vanity Fair sent a reporter to tag along.

“I’m still getting a grip on what Miami is,” Cameron says. “I really feel like I could go down there and make a record or write a book or something. I could live down there for months and actually create.”

Granted, he didn’t do that. He wrote the record in an apartment in Queens, often with Kirke in the next room. He recorded it with Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado in Los Angeles. “It’s called Miami Memory. It’s not called Made in Miami or I Am in Miami,” he quips.

Miami Memory is a record about love, but it’s still an Alex Cameron record, fixated on the sex and shame and sleaze that define his characters’ lives. Which is to say the pathetic, self-aggrandizing dirtbags who inhabited 2015's Jumping the Shark and 2017's Forced Witness haven’t completely given way to Cameron as himself. On “Bad for the Boys,” he steps back from his usual role of impersonator, instead watching washed-up deadbeats rail against “the PC brigade,” get red-pilled, hit their girlfriends, blame women for any number of personal problems, and long for the good ol’ days from afar. He intended it as the dark, desperate, twenty-years-on sequel to Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town.”

But Cameron is more adept at embodying than observing, and the record’s best moments come when he mixes sincerity with characterization. Album opener “Stepdad” was inspired by his own relationship with Kirke’s children, but he plays the character as a man getting kicked out of the house following the end of the relationship. On the jaunty “Divorce,” he investigates his own irrationality in the heat of the moment by framing it within the context of a disgruntled husband in an imagined marriage: “I’ve got friends in Kansas City with a motherfucking futon couch/If that’s how you want to play it.”

As it stands, Cameron is playing it somewhere between himself and the characters that let him further investigate masculinity, sex and power. "I have an interest in how people expect me to behave," he says. And as he meshes the intricacies of his own life with that of his invented characters across Miami Memory, that has never been more apparent.

Alex Cameron, 8 p.m. Monday, December 9, Bluebird Theater, $18.75-$20,

Hear Alex Cameron and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.
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Elle Carroll is a writer and photographer based in Denver. She has written for Westword since 2016.
Contact: Elle Carroll