David Johansen, frontman of the legendary proto-punk band New York Dolls, released a music video on Thursday with some very pointed words for viewers. “Captain this ship is sinking,” he sings, “Shall we abandon ship? Or shall we sit on it, and perish slow?” The video is a cover of Winston Edward Peters’s 1968 song “Sinking Ship,” though Johansen reworked the lyrics into a protest song (the ship in question is the United States) that decries white supremacy, immigration policy, and President Trump, who’s described in the opening line as “unhinged.”
About 10 stormy seascape paintings by J. M. W. Turner appear in the video, which was directed by Johansen’s daughter, Leah Hennessey, who paired the calypso rhythm with a collage of classic cinema and nautical imagery (clips from the classic vampire flic Nosferatu and from Popeye cartoons make appearances). All of the Turners were drawn from the Turner Bequest, the largest donation in the history of London’s National Gallery. The bequest, mostly housed in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain, comprises around 300 oil paintings and 30,000 sketches and watercolors by the famed British landscape painter. The intended effect is dissonance: in the video, calypso plays over The Shipwreck, an iconic Turner depicting sailors thrashing about in a tempest.
“I chose images that were more allegorical or symbolic,” Hennessey told ARTnews. “I didn’t want to be too on the nose for this. For example, when he mentions Trump a clip of Nosferatu flashes on the screen.”
Turner’s Fisherman at Sea and A Ship against the Mewstone, at the Entrance to Plymouth Sound make an appearance, in addition to Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, which is housed at the Louvre in Paris. One of the masterpieces associated with Romanticism, Géricault’s painting painstakingly re-created the aftermath of the wreck of a French Royal Navy frigate off the coast of Senegal in 1816. Around 150 soldiers were set adrift for 13 days, and the cannibalism that followed made the disaster an international scandal.
Hennessey described the video it as a by-product of another project she was recruited to do by director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese, who was interested in making a documentary on her father, asked Hennessey to shoot some interview footage for his film.
“I wanted the video to feel like these times: chaotic, confusing, anxious,” Hennessey said. “And the song is six minutes, really fucking long, which fit.”