Cristina is a punk rock chanteuse whose pseudo-decadent rendition of the Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller song "Is That All There Is?" so offended its authors that they sought, and were granted, an injunction against further sales of the 12-inch single.
But that is not all there is.
Cristina Monet is a Harvard College dropout who studied playwriting under William Alfred ("Hogan's Goat"), wrote theater criticism for the Village Voice, and considers Bertolt Brecht's "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" one of the prime reasons that "German theater is the best theater in the whole world."
But that is not all there is.
Cristina Monet Palaci is the 23-year-old, bilingual, ocean-hopping daughter of a French "neo-Freudian" psychoanalyst and an American illustrator-novelist-playwright "who's been married lots of times." Her upbringing transcended the notion of spoiled brat: for her eighth birthday, her parents commissioned a designer to create a Madame de Pompadour gown with an undershirt top ("I looked like Toulouse-Lautrec in drag.")
But even though that is not all there is, let's back up to the cause celebre, the rewritten lyrics to the song Peggy Lee made famous more than 20 years ago.
Lee offered a bittersweet, first-person torch song recounting a series of blows to the heart that might lead some to utter despair, even suicide. But Lee's breathy, tough-woman refrain was: "Is that all there is?/ Is that all there is to love?/ If that's all there is/Then let's go dancing./ Let's break out the booze/And have a ball." Aside from changing "booze" to "ludes," a contraction for the powerful depressant Quaalude, Cristina does not do particular violence to the refrain, nor to the melody, even though it now has a nouveau disco rhythm and she concedes she can't sing very well.
But violence is done to the recitative verses of the song, and violence-as-sex-sex-as-violence is one of Cristina's new themes: "And then I met the most wonderful boy in Manhattan. We used to walk by the river, and he beat me black and blue and I loved it. I could kill for that guy. But then James left town and I said to myself, Is that all there is? . . ."
Degenerate parody? Tasteless camp? Jet set shock-schlock? Punk romanticism? Avant garde satire? Whatever it is, it isn't what Leiber and Stoller had in mind when they gave ZE Records permission for Cristina to make the disc. ZE's owner, Michael Zilkha, an Oxford-educated person of inherited wealth, apparently neglected to mention the change in lyrics. (That Leiber and Stoller once allowed the Beach Boys to remake their 1950s rock and roll hit, "Riot In Cell Block Number Nine," as "Student Demonstration Time," may not be relevant. That Bette Midler reportedly has a Leiber and Stoller-approved version of "Is That All There Is?" ready for release even now - that may be quite relevant.)
In any event, Cristina came to Boston late last week to talk about her not-for-sale single; her inoffensive, danceable, year-old album (just now being released in the United States); her latest project, a nouveau disco remake of "Drive My Car" by the Beatles, a cassette tape of which was innocuous, perhaps even cute; and herself.
Cristina does not perform in public, nor does she write her own material, so the visit was purely promotional, demonstrating either panache or chutzpah. A far-ranging two-hour interview did not quite resolve that choice, but it did demonstrate that she is intellectually precocious, artistically ambitious, engagingly honest about her own talents and surprisingly sensitive to Leiber and Stoller.
"I find it disappointing and a pity that they did what they did," she said in slightly affected Anglo-American."It wasn't a parody; I was quite serious. In fact, when I was asked to punk out the song itself, I said I wouldn't, it was too good for that. The lyrics per se I thought could legitimately be made a springboard for an expression of a 1980s sensibility. I made up the lyrics as I went along to demonstrate what I meant. I was exploring narrative, a conversational approach that might last have been heard in the clubs of Montparnasse, you know, Paris in the late 1950s."
What, Cristina was asked, has that got to do with rock and roll? "I see what you're driving at," she said. "Well, yes, there is a real authenticity to rock that is its greatest strength, and perhaps some of my stuff is overintellectualized, too cutesy and all that. But I'm terribly tired of hearing emotionally masturbatory ballads, and I wanted to get something with an edge. My strength is not in my voice, nor do I have sexy ankles. I have an analytical brain, and maybe that's a liability in rock and roll, but if I play it right, it will translate musical principles into theatrical terms, which is what I have to do anyway, given my lack of technical expertise in music."
Cristina reveled in Verdi's operas - live in Italy - as a child, and now cites Kurt Weill, the Talking Heads, Cole Porter and Dolly Parton as particular musical favorites. She reads voraciously (a sample: Edith Wharton, Georgette Heyer, Maupassant, Agatha Christie and "fun but kitschy" Emile Zola), and works "lazily" on notes for directing classical repertory theater ("I have some great ideas for a revolutionary Richard III").
Cristina is nothing if not clever. Her birthdate, she said, is Jan. 17, "the same as Chekhov's." A little research back at the office proved her right: Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov was indeed born Jan. 17 - under the now-obsolete Old Style Russian calendar.