Anomie Fatale: “If They Feel It, and They’re Connected to The Song, That Song is Now Theirs.”
Anomie Fatale knows that in Blondie’s “Sound Asleep,” when Debbie Harry sings “heart beat too fast for sleep,” she’s not singing about tachycardia — the condition of having a faster than normal heart rate at rest. She also knows that “Fade Away and Radiate,” with its lyrics “vibrate soft in brainwave time,” isn’t about dealing with brain surgery issues.
But like what many do with music, she ascribed her own interpretation and meaning to her favorite Blondie songs as they relate to her life – in Fatale’s case, a life of becoming disabled in her early 20s due to complications of brain herniation that was a symptom of her Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
“Music for me, I guess throughout most of my life, was just a fun, freeing escape from all the non-fun, non-free stuff,” she says. “Now, it’s not only become an escape but also an expression of the things that were going on which were things you can’t really talk about to most people.”
Originally from New Hope, Pennsylvania, Fatale now resides in a comfortable, first-floor apartment off Shunk Street in South Philly. The walls are painted a happy pumpkin orange and her cat happily slinks around the apartment, jumping up on the sunny sill of the living room’s main window.
What allows Fatale to have a cat and her own clean apartment are attendant care services — the people she relies on to help her complete tasks like cleaning and shopping. Fatale has come a long way since her first independent housing in North Philadelphia – a sixth floor apartment that was regularly on fire, where she would have to rely on the help of her neighbors to get out of the smoky building because the elevators would turn off.
It’s experiences like these that were the inspiration for I AM Great Neck, Fatale’s first solo album, released earlier this year. From “Angels in the Ghetto,” about those neighbors who would never hesitate to carry her down six flights of stairs to safety, to “Prison of Care,” about her trials and tribulations gaining attendant care and the institutional hardships many with disabilities face, Fatale uses music to both express herself individually, but also to bring awareness to these issues as a whole.
“If I had to put everything [about my life] to music, that would be a really annoying thing to listen to,” she says with a laugh. “But I think that by having a song, it being catchy and getting into someone’s head, they want to know what that’s about and it makes them ask questions. If you can plant that kind of seed, then that is doing advocacy because it’s like, ‘OK, you can come to me and then I’ll talk to you about it.’ So then they actually know what it’s about and feel even more connected to the song itself.”
Born Kelianne Murray, Fatale relates her medical history to Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” As a college student studying for a biochemistry degree and with a very active lifestyle, her first warning that something was wrong with her health was headaches and visual disturbances. She had not yet been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos – a genetic connective tissue disorder that usually exhibits itself later in life.
“For me, growing up, I dislocated my arms a lot. I had [other] problems and we just thought, ‘Oh, I’m just fragile,’” Fatale says as she pushes her thumb down to meet her wrist and twists her arm one and a half times around, showcasing the signs of the syndrome.
Ehlers-Danlos caused her brain to herniate, and Fatale still remembers that day quite clearly. She was in a Walmart in South Jersey when, all of a sudden, her vision went dark and she felt like her heart was about to leap out of her throat. After this, she was bedridden with tachycardia and other problems until doctors finally found that pressure on her brain stem was what was making her heart rhythm go out of whack. They planned to stabilize her spine by fusing it, explaining that she would only lose slight side-to-side head motion.
When she woke up, she couldn’t move her head at all. It was also fixed downward with her mouth shut — a nightmarish scenario for anyone but especially for Fatale who had been a musician and singer since high school.
She then went around the country to try to get doctors to fix the fusion. After finally finding someone to do the procedure, the complications from that surgery are what made her a quadriplegic due to a wire that came out of place and lodged into her brain stem. Fatale also has a slipped vertebrae which leads to varying degrees of arm weakness and nerve pain. To fix that, doctors would have to fuse her more, and would have to go in through the front with the vocal chords.
“That’s just where I’m at right now,” Fatale says. “It’s like a statement to me to be like, ‘This is how stupid fusion is.’ I’d rather be completely paralyzed then let them fuse me more because I hate it. There’s not a single day that I don’t feel weird. I feel like a mannequin. You’re not comfortable in your own body and skin because you can feel all that metal. You’re not free to move and express yourself.”
Despite her disability, Fatale does a lot of moving around and expressing herself. She brings her music and her message to people by playing various shows and open mic nights around the city, her favorite being Connie’s Ric Rac because it’s easily accessible through the front. Scooting her power chair just in front of the stage and strumming her acoustic guitar as the house DJ plays the backing tracks she created in GarageBand, it’s clear Fatale doesn’t need to be on stage to command the stage.
Katie Feeney, a monthly open mic night host at Connie’s, says she’s always excited to see Fatale perform. Though she says Amanda Palmer is an obvious comparison, Feeney also says that Fatale is definitely her own unique artist.
“Anomie has a really powerful voice both in terms of what she is choosing to say with her music, but also her actual vocal ability,” Feeney says. “She has this deep, booming, lower register that’s really gorgeous to listen to, like honey or molasses pouring slowly out of a pitcher, if that makes sense. I’m always excited to see her at my monthly open mic at Connie’s Ric Rac because she’s so genuine and what she chooses to do musically always excites and interests me.”
This opportunity to invite others into her experience isn’t lost on Fatale. She injects advocacy into her art but does not aim to jam her views down the throats of her audience. Much like her love of those Blondie songs, Fatale invites anyone willing to listen to interpret their own meaning.
“Maybe somebody else had an experience that didn’t exactly fit into what I intended for the song,” she explains, “but if they feel it, and they’re connected to the song, that song is now theirs.
“That’s how songs should be, I think. They shouldn’t just be straight forward.”