The world is full of beautiful people. Some actually manage to make a go of it in the entertainment business. When they do, they are often dismissed as shallow and only riding on their looks, since they obviously lack any real talent. So it hardly helps the deep-seeded prejudices when an ex-male model in a band is quoted saying, "I can barely play the guitar but if I'm gonna be in a band and have the opportunity to be signed to Atlantic, I'm gonna figure out a way to pull it off." But that's Donald Cumming.
Cumming's life wasn't all poses and flashing bulbs. The native New Yorker dropped out of high school at age 15 eventually stumbling into acting and modeling. He became a favorite subject of photographer Ryan McGinley after they met at a party. Cummings also 'starred' in the short film Bugcrush that won the '06 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.
Still, life can seem a little too fortuitous and convenient for the beautiful types. Frustrated that no one would read his stuff - poetry and general musings - Cummings decided to put his words into songs. He made some demos with guitarist Wade Oates and burned copies for friends. Then they recruited bassist Nick Zarin-Ackerman and drummer Erik Ratensperger.
Here's where you have to shake your head. The Virgins third gig was opening for the legendary Patti Smith (at a somewhat appropriate Paris Fashion Week show). That's pretty incredible but there's more. They toured with Jet and opened for Sonic Youth.
Reportedly, Atlantic Records signed The Virgins before ever seeing them perform. How often does that happen? Maybe beautiful people do live a charmed life.
The Virgins self-titled debut album landed in '08 with songs about "socialites, street urchins, drug binges, and sex romps." "Their lyrics are really poetic and very much about New York and the life that we live," offered McGinley.
In '12 the band announced their return with a new line-up backing Cumming and that they'd signed with Cult Records, founded by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes (former models take care of each other). And a year later, the band released "Strike Gently" worldwide. But the career upswing was short-lived.
Following a tour with The Killers, Cumming announced the band had split. Their '14 European tour was cancelled as Cumming embarked on a solo career.
2008 The Virgins
2013 Strike Gently
2007 The Virgins '07
With The Strokes on the beach (apparently) and a bit of time since the last Maroon 5 album there was an opening for The Virgins who have much the same appeal and a killer pop sense. They pile hooks on top of hooks and use a sharp, propulsive beat to drive their songs - sounding like they could have been contemporaries of The Pretenders.
Oddly, if there is a weak spot it's Cumming's vocals. He's good but his brooding drawl is too low key.