first round game
(4) the cult, “rain”
(12) the legendary pink dots, “the light in my little girl’s eyes”
and will play on in the second round
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchvladness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on March 5.
The Geography of Gothnicity: kelly shire on “rain”
Take it from me: it’s hard to be a goth in L.A. I mean, in an ideal world, Goth should mean never having to put on sunblock, because the sun doesn’t shine, ever—at least not within the chill gloom of the dark within and without your head.
But in Southern California, the sun shines nearly all the time, except when it doesn’t; in late spring and early summer, chances are good you’ll wake to the thick cloud cover known as “June Gloom.” This effect happens anytime the warm interior air from the desert collides with the cold Pacific jet stream, and the resultant thick clouds roll in and blanket over the sun.
When I was in high school and my radio alarm woke me to one of these overcast mornings out my window, I’d listen to the British accent of Richard Blade, the star DJ of alternative station KROQ, squint my eyes a little, and pretend I was actually waking up in England. O England! Faraway, rainy land of Kate Bush’s Heathcliff and pale boys with black eyeliner, like my true love, The Cure’s Robert Smith.
Despite my passion for Smith and his music, I wasn’t a very successful goth, and not just because of the weather: I liked too many different kinds of music, and had neither the budget or thrift store fashion moxie to pull together a consistent Look. (My high school closet was no gravity-sucking cavern of blackness, but included white shorts and striped polo shirts.) Or maybe it was because even though it was smack-dab in the heart of the 1980s, I felt myself already late to the alternative-music scene, one of those maligned “poseurs” that my quasi-friends spoke of, a word I mispronounced in front of them, instantly outing myself as a fake.
In my junior year of high school, when I was really blooming into my full sadness and trying hard to find clothes that mirrored my roiling emotions, I purchased my first-ever concert ticket, for The Cult.
I loved their first U.S. single “She Sells Sanctuary,” and bought their album Love, in preparation for the concert. The sky in late April, 1986 might well have been gloomy and chill, but it’s not the weather I remember, but the hours-long wait outside the Palladium on Sunset Blvd., dropped off early in the day by my friend Christina’s mom. We arrived early so that we’d be near the front of the line, among the first to hand over our General Seating tickets and rush the stage. I don’t remember the outfit I assembled from my closet, but remember the thrill of the bass guitar pounding in my chest and through my body, and the push and shove of bigger, male bodies as we struggled to secure a few square feet close to the stage. How my ears rang and echoed hours afterward; my temporary tinnitus a badge of honor.
But what I remember most vividly is later, when beneath the blue light bulb that made Christina’s bedroom swim like a Goth video, we pored over our souvenir concert programs. We both homed in on how much Ian Astbury, the Cult’s lead singer, seemed to resemble L.A.’s own great Goth god. Astbury was hot, with his brooding good looks and full, sexy lips. Across the program’s slick pages, he posed and stalked, alone and with his band mates. Between the combination of his long, dark hair and his clothing of jeans, leather pants, hats, and shirtless, he seemed to court a comparison to Jim Morrison.
A few of the program’s pages had nonsensical sentences charting the band’s evolution, and near the end of one of these paragraphs came this: “...the Cult were becoming contenders, and Ian Astbury’s hair grew long and proud—part soul, part two-fingers to an alternative establishment that had grown up (grown up?) to regard them as its own. The Cult were no-one’s own. They were getting ready to break on through to everyone.”
A-ha! There was Jim Morrison, peeking through with that reference to“Break On Through (To the Other Side). I knew exactly who Morrison was, knew his song catalog better than any goth band’s. Chalk it up to my cool aunt (or, in Christina’s case, a cooler older brother), who exposed us to The Doors. Or maybe because, though my mornings belonged to KROQ, my late nights were often spent across the radio dial at album rock station KMET, where DJ Jim Ladd pontificated about the Night and Darkness and LOS ANGELES, MAN before queuing up the very Gothic tales of “Riders on the Storm” or “The End.” (My teen intuition was vindicated decades later, when the surviving Doors’ band members chose Astbury to be their front man when they went on tour in 2002.)
In any case, it seemed clear enough that Astbury didn’t want to be a goth king, but secretly longed to be the Lizard King.
There is a distinctly 1960s vibe in the video for “Rain,” the second single off of their album Love: after some frames of jerky film reel numbers (we’re going back in time! It’s an old TV clip!) Astbury appears in a black cap, his white shirt’s dramatic lacy cuffs and jabot springing out from a patterned red jacket, a look that feels more ‘60s Carnaby Street dandy than ‘80s New Romantic. The Cult is on a shiny, well-lit studio set (made shinier by a random bouquet of Mylar balloons), backed by a trio of fabulous Goth go-go girls, twinning in ironed-straight long black hair, red dresses, and high black boots. They literally go-go dance, all hips and thrusting elbows to the beat. The blond guitarist, Billy Duffy, windmills and shreds, performing all the right rocker moves. During the bridge, the screen fills with whirling, colorful psychedelic lights, then cuts to the shadowy outline of a woman’s body dancing behind a screen. Before Astbury sings a single word, the camera focuses on the lower half of his face, and he licks the microphone. Later in the video, he proceeds to not only run his pink tongue up the mic’s silver head, but wraps his thick lips around it, strings of spit flying. “Hot sticky scenes, you know what I mean” he growls. As Morrison sang, the men don’t know, but the little girls understand.
An internet search of the song reveals that “Rain” may be based on a traditional Hopi rain dance, which to me sounds directly inspired by Jim Morrison’s famous origin story claiming that, while a teenage spectator at a car accident in the desert, he absorbed the spirit of the old Native man who died at the scene, but not before locking eyes and transferring his soul into young Morrison.
“Like the desert sun that burns my skin,” Astbury sings. Here, finally, was a semi-goth British band singing about a landscape I could relate to, as opposed to, say, Kate Bush’s wild and windy moors. I wondered if Ian Astbury and his pale skin knew anything about actual desert heat when he wrote his song; had he driven across the Southwest in the summer, as I had in the backseat of my parent’s station wagon without working A/C? (Also, for a very long time, I thought he was singing “hot sticky seats” which conjures a different visual altogether.)
Here comes the rain, here she comes again, Astbury sings over and over. That tongue, that mic in his mouth, the aloof dancers in thick black eyeliner thrusting against the beat. The Cult’s use of vaguely Native American symbols and feathers on their concert program and concert tee, the fringed black leather jacket Astbury donned for the video of their first single, “She Sells Sanctuary”: all of it combined into a vibe that felt something like sexy Goth-Americana. I might never get to the British Isles, but here was a look for a California girl ready for a Jim Morrison redux, here was a sound for days when the clouds covered the unrelenting sun, and the weather finally matched my gloomy teenage soul.
I love the rain!, I love the rain! Astbury screams over and over near the song’s end. No matter his influences and aspirations, if this isn’t a Goth call to arms, I’m not sure what is.
Kelly Shire still owns her cool aunt’s original copy of The Doors’ first album. A native of Southern California, she grew up in Whittier and Pico Rivera, and holds an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. She recently wrote about the The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers for the online project The RS 500. Other music-themed essays have appeared in Under the Gum Tree, Full Grown People, The Museum of Americana, and other journals. When not working at a high school library, she’s writing a family memoir. You can find her at www.kellyshire.com
drew burk on “the light in my little girl’s eyes”
It’s snowing in Tucson as I perform this thing. It’s a literal cold day in hell, the desert for this moment obscured and erased so I can focus on my hands on the keys, focus these hands on the keys. These hands: the nails on the right slightly long, buffed and lacquered in celebration and acknowledgement of this quiet solo performance. They’re well-shaped and a little sharp. I push them into the pads of my fingers, the pads below, making marks, occasionally breaking the skin. If there’s a comment, I make noises about guitars and how I make noises with guitars. And while that’s true, I generally do not use my nails on my guitars, except when I do. I employ a thick pick that scratches across the strings, because I love dark and dirty sounds. My nails make me feel pretty. My nails make me feel elegant. My nails hurt me, and as I get older and begin to diminish I see more and more Nosferatu in my appearance and the nails feel more and more appropriate. I’m thinning and hollowing and all my edges are sharpening (I’m Schrenking). I keep the left hand shorter to maintain the guitar story—and also because I have to keep the nails short to play my guitars. My subterfuge is multifaceted and nonsensical, and is only occasionally subterfuge. All these things are true. These things are sometimes simultaneously true, and I only occasionally know which truth is ascendant, most often knowing only afterward, only who I was in that moment rather than who I am now. Mostly I don’t know.
I have a tendency to misperceive—which is quite different than to simply misunderstand. No. That’s not quite it. I misapprehend, then correctly perceive the wrong things I apprehend, and these faithful perceptions yield a robust understanding of things that quite likely do not exist. Alone, here, in my box, there’s no way to really know. I think I might be saying that maybe I’m not to be trusted. Also, that may or may not be true. Probably it’s both.
It’s hot and it doesn’t make sense. My nails are short and well-shaped, to keep them clean. I’m a map of burns and lacerations, the territory growing as new roads are incised, and boiling fats sear strange new shapes on my hands and arms. My right arm ends in eight inches of folded steel.
Those close to me (I mean in proximity rather than emotionally; there’s little point in even really learning their names—the best of them will level up and leave, and the rest, eventually, one by one, I will have to kill. Will have to fire. I do not want anyone near me that is not good enough to do more, to do better, to outshine and outperform me, and I give them everything I have to that hopeful end), they share a fear of art, an active and pervasive disdain of education, a mistrust of anything intellectual, and an apparent need to be horrible. To engage in a performative kind of misogyny, homophobia, racism and stupidity that, when confronted about, they will deny outright every last bit of. The kitchen, this space, a horrific bulwark of anti-intellectual insecurity, classic rock, dick jokes and gangsta rap erected against any incursion of the intellectual with all its words and consideration and looks down noses, also happens to be where I can do these things I’m really good at.
Culinary work entails or contains a structural disdain for inefficient language. Needs must be expressed with the fewest possible number of words. There is no emotional vocabulary in cooking, there is no you in cooking, except that you are but one of many tools to be employed toward a specific outcome (and a full expression is doubly pointless, as—see above—much of the staff lacks the capacity/experience/desire to bother to understand what you’re on about anyway). When things are functioning, we communicate in code, where a short burst of words—brunoise, bourbon au sec, sear, braise—will describe your next three hours, or even your whole day. I have a culinary-based negative reaction to full explanations. I expect that you have done the work and know the code. I bark and you say HEARD! The thought of having to use all the words is exhausting and infuriating. (I am attempting to use all the words, now, because you are not my staff and you agreed to nothing.)
Culinary work perhaps disdains not just inefficient language, but language itself. I want your actions instantaneous and unconsidered. I want to have circumvented your language centers; I want you as reflex; I want a performance of no self; you a function, you a reaction. The most perfect and ideal services performed with various of my staffs have been utterly silent. (A direct correlating inversion of the perfect and ideal performances with my bands, where again language would have done nobody any good.)
In this context I do not need to be trusted. I am right. It does not matter whether or not I am right. I say a thing, you say HEARD! and we all behave as though these things are true. And besides, assigning notions like trust or truth to functions and reflexes is not a good use of anyone’s time.
Even so. None of us can be trusted. We exist in flux and we vary depending on context and current and present participants. None of us are stable, none of us can be predicted. Even if we behave as expected there are still too many variables in play at all times—it’s only that we’re so connected now that we even have access to facets of each other that maybe we don’t need to see or know, and maybe this imposition of distributed external awareness diminishes our capacity for a more distributive and honest performance of our selves—the various and multiple personae we of necessity enact (this and then this and then that, site-specific instances, and even if it’s this and then this and then this, it’s iterative rather than continuous: we are not still this, we are this again. There is no continuity of self, only an iterative performance that plays out in reprises and sequels); and where there is overlap and concomitant dissonance, we unsee for each other, a Mievilleian courtesy, letting these jarring staticks slip and not join our necessarily selective apprehension of the swath of available information.
The Legendary Pink Dots did not exist for us—me and my friends (though I think I, due to my special apprehension of and interaction with the world, was not a very good friend. I was a very good singer, and a very very bad everything else)—as a band per se, but instead a facet of a gestalt we imagined ourselves to understand in the years spanning 1989-1994 (when our friendships collapsed alongside the record deal; LPD continued despite us…), the laziest and easiest assembled version of which consisted of LPD, Current 93, and Death In June. For our purposes here, we’ll be lazy and easy. For nearly 40 years they’ve instantiated variously as the Dots, and in collaboration with, in part and whole, C93, DIJ, Skinny Puppy (The Tear Garden)… as recent as last year Edward teamed up with Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls and familying up with Neil Gaiman fame), presenting variously throughout the avant-garde, slipping across and through psychedelia, dark apocalyptic folk, industrial, boring jazz, and yes, goth. Whatever that is.
I’ve been giggling to myself for months thinking about a 64-song bracket and the associated essays all asking What Is Goth? To put a super-fine point on it, goth isn’t. We could think of it as a series of gestures an individual might employ, emotional, performative, aesthetic, behavioral, unintentional… steps you take and moves you make, an expectation of the world that resolves in a certain and particular shape, but it’s not. No choreography of self in performance in the world, despite your intended meaning or the results you expect from this demonstration of this arrangement of matter state unequivocally that you are this thing, because you cannot be trusted to know what the hell you’re doing. What I mean is no one is goth alone. The conditions necessary for an instantiation of goth are met by meeting, one or more making a mutual observation and collapsing the probabilities through agreement that this, this, whatever form and whatever sound, is an instance of goth to be serially reiterated until such a time as it inevitably decoheres. Alone, despite all signifiers, you exist in individual superposition, indeterminate until an external observation determines your state. If there’s anything that can I think can consistently and reliably be ascribed to the notion of gothness, it’s maybe a sense of remove, of turning away. A collaborative nonparticipation, semi-social hermitage in a shared alienation, and those of us sharing that temporary dark space determine who will provide the soundtrack for this performance.
In the 90s, we did this to the Dots, constituent of the gestalt. We’d already collapsed together and were actively iterating at Marilyn’s, at Helter Skelter, at the Metro, whatever club constellated appropriately on whatever night of the week, their structures a response to our demands rather than the intents of the bands constituting same (Siouxsie insisted they were pop, the Cure insisted they were pop, as just a couple examples. We determined otherwise).
Though the album was released in 1988, I didn’t encounter Any Day Now until late 1990, when the DJ played the ten-minute “Waiting For the Cloud” in an attempt to clear out the club at the end of the night. It didn’t work. We stood, transfixed, all of us, those who already knew and loved the song, and those of us who, like me, at 18, had never heard anything like it. “Cloud…” is the eighth track on the album, and because I’d just hit repeat on the track until I fell asleep, it took me several months after buying the CD to make it three tracks further along to the track at issue/in question here.
Track 11 on Any Day Now, “The Light In My Little Girl’s Eyes,” once I finally got there, made immediate sense to me. Transiting the album, you start with Madeline who seemingly cannot die, and is thus shunned and scorned and lonely for ever and ever. Then there’s something about religion that I never quite figured out. Following that there’s a lovely romantic piece about being moody with your other on the beach, which I always understood to be him missing his dead girlfriend, though I don’t think I had anything other than apocryphal whatnot informing that idea. The next a jaunty insanity which I was always perfectly pleased to not understand…
Anyway, the point is that each track is rooted in and begins elsewhere. “The Light In My Little Girl’s Eyes” starts here. Right here. Mundane and prosaic and so so yeah, of course, we all get this. And then it wanders. Like me. While we differ in the specifics of the details, the way the song iterates and resets, shifting into what I understood as its objective reporting on an other reality, whether or not any of it was true, the first time I really heard the song, I understood it as an accurate representation of my experience of reality. Saying it out loud (typing, whatever…) terrifies and saddens me—but back then, I lacked the capacity to completely understand why that song hooked me, I knew only that it did and I really didn’t care why.
(FUN NOTE: My first attempt at this essay had no personal pronouns. It totally didn’t fucking work. My second attempt tried to diminish and elide the notion of my own personal self. I did not want to talk about me. But this song is me—specific details aside—and so here. Here you go. All I ask is you do not, should you have the opportunity in the future, tell me that I can’t trust my own experience, using this document as evidence to support that assertion. Okay? Don’t.)
I understood it in a series of starts and resets. This first thing that happened? Yeah, that happened. Then that second thing happened, and maybe both were happening simultaneously, but our weirdo brains, they do things to us with the information we gather from the world (our apprehension of reality is not actually linear—linearity is a post-processing effect of the work our brain does to help us pretend that we’re having a continuous performance and experience of self and reality. Or, sometimes, it doesn’t. Or it does it less well, or it does it differently. Anyway), and we maybe just do the best we can with what we get.
The song, for me, broke down thus:
The streets looked kind of different—
harsher colors, sharper angles.
Shops stacked high with stereos and rows of magazines.
Smells of coffee, glossy limousines;
the sun danced on the chromium, slant eyes drowning in the light…
A bit of a recounting of apprehension and perception of information yielding a performance in a generally agreed-upon instance of shared reality. We’re on the street. There’s the usual stuff. Hey, we’re all people here occupying a space.
The street looked kind of different—
the paving stones were playing cards
that cried out as I skipped from the red to the black.
Cracked a joke about the Joker, saluted all the Kings,
threw a ring to the blackest Queen, who ushered me away
to her palace in the square, where the air’s so cold
and it gets so lonely in the night…
While highly improbable, in an infinity of possibilities and potentialities it cannot be stated definitively that the paving stones were not sentient playing cards, that the blackest Queen did not take him home. We can be fairly certain that this is a correct perception derived from a faulty apprehension, but we cannot be absolutely certain. That happened then, this is happening now. Both of these things are true.
She whispered sleazy secrets on the couch
by the tv: 3D visions of a soap flake.
Trumpets blared, a voice declared:
“Are you feeling dirty?” Yes.
But also very pleased.
Heard applause, felt the claws in my back,
rocking backwards, rocking forwards in the groove—
the earth moved! The couch moved!
We rolled on the felt, knocked the vases off the shelf…
A celebration, reveling in whatever the fuck this is, opening respective boxes and peering in until,
Iteration Three (a continuation of a new instance):
Watched ourselves in the mirror, like animals, like cannibals—
and you ate my ear, while I nibbled on your shoulder.
Rolled your tongue up in my hand,
I swallowed it whole.
Flesh decreasing by the second till all that remained
were the eyes, mine brown, yours black.
Tilted back, we stared at the Hollywood sunset…
Each iteration a next step in an evolving dissociative state resolving in annihilation, an eroticized autocannibalistic reintegration of newly instantiated fragments, a private external observation collapsing personal probabilities into this new thing, this new self, and the subsequent performance thereof. Was it goth? I don’t know. We thought so, and observations demonstrated that we were goth, in that moment at least, and the next, and the next; in that instance just prior to decoherence, we determined that this array of songs and bands, each its own probability in our perpetually reinstantiating goth superposition, would collapse their waves and instantiate a further iteration of this unprecedented and unrepeatable whatever. Until it didn’t. Or did.
All these years later I’ve come to realize that I really dislike a whole lot of the Dots’ discography. I love that I dislike it. I love that they have never once bothered to care what I think. I think some of the things I don’t like are failures on my part, that I’m unfairly imposing my needs and expectations, and were I smarter and kinder and maybe less culinary about my performance in the world, I could appreciate more these things they’ve done. But I suspect they don’t care. I hope they don’t care. Caring what I think is super not goth. I love so much of what they’ve done, and they gave me this one song to keep and call mine, and that, for me, is enough. They didn’t make it okay. But that’s okay too.
Drew Burk makes books with and for Spork Press. Drew Burk makes food.