first round game
(2) joy division, “dead souls”
(15) 45 grave, “procession”
and plays on in round 2
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.
allison dushane on “dead souls”
Following the release of their debut album Unknown Pleasures in 1979, Joy Division performed a live set featuring "Transmission" and "She's Lost Control" on BBC Television's "youth program" Something Else.
In discussion preceding the performance, the radio and television personality Tony Wilson remarks on the qualities that distinguished the relatively unknown band from acts currently in heavy radio rotation:
There are records that are better than the dross that is around, but they don't get played because they are slightly unsettling, for the simple reason that they come from somewhere slightly deeper in the soul than the level of a pure hit factory...this lot are...using melody and rhythm in a hypnotic way, which is what makes a hit single. But because it's unsettling, and slightly sinister and gothic, it won't be played, which seems a shame.
Unknown Pleasures failed to chart, and the release of the non-album seven-inch single "Transmission" also failed to elicit the popular radio airplay that Wilson had hoped for (despite the song's refrain: "Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio"). Nevertheless, Joy Division continued to release music in a manner befitting the punk ethos of their independent label, Factory Records. "Dead Souls" was released alongside "Atmosphere" in March 1980 on Licht und Blindheit, an EP limited to a mail-order run of 1,578 copies.
Someone take these dreams away
That point me to another day
A duel of personalities
That stretch all true realities
That keep calling me
The distinguishing feature of the gothic, despite the variety of subgenres that lay claim to it, is its capacity to unsettle: its tendency to question the boundaries of genre and propriety, the way that it plays with the line between harmony and dissonance, life and death, past and future, joy and sorrow, Licht und Blindheit (light and blindness). The opening instrumental of "Dead Souls," which takes up almost half of the running time, is exemplary of the "hypnotic" blend of harmony and dissonance, the familiar and the unfamiliar, that makes up Joy Division's signature sound. That sound was crafted by keyboardist and guitarist Bernard Sumner, drummer Stephen Morris, and bassist Peter Hook; in his memoir, Unknown Pleasures, Hook attributes his contribution to that sound sound to playing the bass high, remarking that the this technique is "also why I make so many bum notes. I'm renowned for them." The mythos of Joy Division, however, is primarily built up around its lead singer Ian Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy and depression, and whose death by suicide brought out new layers of significance to his already dark lyrics. In his essay on Gothic literature and aesthetics, Sigmund Freud explores what he calls the "The Uncanny," or, "that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar." In other words, the things that frighten us tend to lead back to something within ourselves that we tried to ignore, but which will always return. "Dead Souls" begins with plea for release from "dreams" of an ongoing drama, "duel of personalities" that replays itself over time and space, invoking the idea of human nature as divided by the fears, anxieties, and unfulfilled desires we bury within ourselves.
Where figures from the past stand tall
And mocking voices ring the halls
Imperialistic house of prayer
Conquistadors who took their share
That keep calling me
Ian Curtis was a lifelong student of art, philosophy and literature. The band, originally known as Warsaw, changed its name after Curtis read the novella House of Dolls, which relates the experience of Jewish women who were kept in "Joy Divisions" as sexual slaves for Nazi soldiers. Many of Joy Division's track titles are references to literary works, including "Dead Souls," which is named after a 19th century novel by Nikolai Gogol that satirizes Russian social policy. The "mocking voices" of the "Imperialistic house of prayer" and the "Conquistadors who took their share" that appear in "Dead Souls" gesture towards the British Gothic novels of the 18th and 19th centuries, which were often set in past in order to critique the political and religious ideologies that continue to oppress the present. For example, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, usually regarded as the first Gothic novel, was set in the time of the Crusades. A series of supernatural events, including a giant helmet that crushes a groom on his wedding day and a portrait that appears to come to life, reveals how systematic political and religious corruption infiltrates family structures and individual lives. In "Dead Souls," as in the Gothic literary tradition, the uncanny not only operates at the individual level, but also surfaces as a reflection on the atrocities of human history, linking the political atmosphere to the personal psyche. The members of Joy Division came of age in a decaying industrial center, Manchester, under the rising authoritarian influence of Thatcherism. "Dead Souls" conveys a sense of the despair that comes with trying to make sense of one's own life in the context of overwhelming historical forces. It is fitting, then, that "Dead Souls" resurfaces on the soundtrack of the 1994 film The Crow, a revenge tale set in a crumbling city mired in corruption. The industrial style of Nine Inch Nails and the vocal stylings of Trent Reznor coat that despair with rage.
I was born the year that Joy Division released their first EP and made their television debut and was not yet two years old at the time of Ian Curtis' suicide. In third grade, I had a babysitter who let me stay up with her to watch 120 Minutes on MTV, which, over the years, would introduce me to Goth staples like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Bauhaus as well as other "alternative" genres. Because I was hypnotized by the video for "True Faith," she gave me a copy of New Order's Substance 1987 on cassette tape. I played that tape over and over on my Walkman while I went to sleep at night, at the playground at recess, and whenever I could sneak it in class, until it snapped; when I was unsuccessful at taping it back together, I convinced my parents to by another copy. My favorite song on the album, which remains my favorite song today, was "Ceremony." In contrast to the signature driving synth of dance tracks like "Bizzare Love Triangle" and "Blue Monday," it had an air of melancholy underscored by the subtly haunting opening line: "This is why events unnerve me." It wasn't until 1994, when I was debating the merits of various songs on the soundtrack to The Crow with a friend in the university-adjacent record shop, that an employee informed me that "Dead Souls" was originally recorded by a band called Joy Division. Seeing the blank look on my face, he directed me to a copy of Closer and informed me that if I liked Joy Division, I might also like New Order, and everything came full circle. It wasn't until much later that I would fully immerse myself in back catalogue of Joy Division, but when I did, it was if all of the other music I had absorbed during those late nights watching 120 minutes had a common ancestor, a shared DNA. After listing to the original recordings of "Ceremony," one of which was made only four days before Ian Curtis' death, I could see how New Order had transformed the song into something slightly more melodic and slightly less dissonant—but somehow even more haunting, given the context—by Bernard Sumner's vocal delivery and the re-rendering of the instrumental track.
Calling me, calling me
Calling me, calling me
They keep calling me
Keep on calling me
They keep calling me
They keep calling me
Joy Division—particularly "Dead Souls"—is Goth stripped down to its essence. I have never been very Goth in appearance. I was introverted and awkward in elementary school (see author photo below) and became a cheerleader with a tendency towards grunge fashion in high school. However, the music called to me at a young age and stayed with me through the years, particularly as a graduate student immersed in Romanticism and now as a professor trying coerce students into seeing value in examining the cultures of the past. The thing about Goth music that keeps calling its fans, generation after generation, isn't exclusive to the aesthetic trappings of the subculture—the hair, the makeup, the clothes, the gloomy club atmospheres¾or the tropes that an outside observer would most readily label Goth—graveyards, flies, vengeful angels, vampires, succubi. The thing that keeps calling us is the expression of the often unacknowledged, unsettling, and slightly sinister aspects of ordinary human existence that reveal themselves to us in terrifying forms.
Allison Dushane lives in Texas, where she teaches literature, herds cats, and listens to too many true crime podcasts. She has published articles about William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Erasmus Darwin, and environmental aesthetics.
mo daviau on “procession”
I got my March Vladness song assignment an hour before the man I’d been seeing for a month took a Lyft to my neighborhood to break up with me face to face. Such gestures are rare in Portland, Oregon—we are a passive people, and the truth was, I would not have cared much had he done the deed in a text. In fact, not having to see his gaunt face one last time might have been the greater kindness. He came over to give me yet another loss. We hadn’t even dated all that long, but I’m not young anymore. I have all this love to give, and it seems that no one wants it. Love comes with responsibility. It isn’t asking for nothing, you know.
How much death will you experience by your forties? In my case: my father, whose death continues to haunt me twenty-seven years on, a pretty-good-for-awhile marriage, a handful of friends and acquaintances. This is the age where you must begin to steel yourself for more death: parents, mostly, and the friends who smoked and drank too much, or couldn’t face down another day of bullshit, and so found a bridge or a bullet just to make it stop.
What, then, is love without the spectre of death? In the days that followed this mediocre break-up, I forced myself to listen to my assigned song. I had never heard it before. My Goth phase as a teen was limited to a few months of black eyeliner and wearing a Cure t-shirt I’d found at a record store. I liked The Cure and The Smiths and Echo and The Bunnymen, but goth never really appealed to me much beyond that, and I had every reason to go there and stay there. I’d been mourning my father since I was little, since before he died. He was sixty-five when I was born, old enough to know from my baby days that he wouldn’t be around for the adult version of me. He and my mother chose to saddle me with this permanent sense of loss. They never saw it that way, of course, and looking back, I think I threw the black eyeliner away because didn’t want people to think I was turning his death into the dominant feature of my identity.
Dinah Cancer, great mother of Death Rock, her name sounding like “dying of cancer” (note: per my Googlings, Dinah Cancer is alive and well and does not have an actual cancer diagnosis, and, as of 2017, 45 Grave was still together, performing around their hometown of Los Angeles), wails the song “Procession” from the grave. She has written that much of 45 Grave’s music was inspired by Italian horror movies. Indeed, there is a sort of campiness to “Procession” that doesn’t sit well with me. The song itself makes me feel like I’m in high school again watching a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Death and the rock subgenre that celebrates it, is all about the show. Death is a pageant. A procession. But there is also sense of relief in putting that out there, the need for death to be seen. In 45 Grave’s performance, there’s a reminder that there is some kernel of life-force.
“Procession” is also an angry song. Dinah Cancer is yelling at someone. She wants to be noticed. Noticed by whoever didn’t believe in her. Whoever did not acknowledge her, her beauty, her struggle, her humanity. Marching through a graveyard, shouting at the living, defending her right to live and love. Late at night, she walks the streets/late at night, she’s awake/she comes in, in search of you.
Death and love, always together, best friends forever, always searching. Therein the tension lies: will this person the procession Dinah Cancer wails about searching for ever be found?
I was in my late thirties before I got close to dying over love. Five years later, I still struggle to make sense of what happened, how this and this and that added up to abuse that added up to two separate PTSD diagnoses that manifested in my amygdala’s unstoppable danger alert whenever I drive down Hawthorne Boulevard, the street where he and I spent so much time together, added up to the years-long crater that exists at the center of the recent history of my life. What I remember, though, is how in love with him I was. Fully. Way, way too much. All of my heart and then some. Photos taken of me during those heady first few months of our relationship show my face with cheeks so red, I glowed like a neon sign. I had never been so in love with anyone. A year later, after he had thrown me away, I couldn’t eat. I lost fifteen pounds. I took a selfie of myself in the airport, flying out of Portland to go stay with my mother for a while. My face looked gaunt, my eyes haunted. Those two weeks at home, my mother yelled at me to stop crying, I was ruining my face. I was aging myself, she said. What did he do to you? Stop it! He wasn’t worth it!
But I wasn’t aging myself. He had sent time screaming in the other direction, back to my teenage years. Specifically, the year my father died. In the strange, barely describable explanations of what he had done, I had tried to explain that one of those things was recreating the death of my father in my head. What might belong to an Italian horror movie was happening in my head and I couldn’t shut it off. That old grief that I thought was long settled, that thinner body that I hadn’t missed, he had given to me and then he sat back and watched me burn. He made in me a horror show.
You didn’t cry this much when your father died, my mom shouted when her sympathy ran out and she started to resort to threats to get me to stop acting crazy.
I first wanted to die lying face up on the bed listening to the tick-tick-tick of the ceiling fan in the bedroom of a friends’ house where I had gone to stay, unable to live alone. My brain could no longer process the passage of time. I thought death was the only way back to normal.
What stopped me from actually killing myself was the fact that the ex, ever after known as The Abuser, would have loved it if I did. That was his big prize: a girl killing herself over him. He could spin the story in so many ways: Mo was fucking crazy. I tried to help her but I couldn’t. She did it to draw attention to herself. He would tell that story to all the women who fell into his clutches after me. He would say I did it to hurt him. He would tell them that he had no sympathy for someone who would act out in such an infantile, selfish way, and that I was infantile and selfish. He would feel so important with my blood on his hands. And those women would comfort him, as if he were the victim. And I knew it. So I didn’t. And later, I found out that the other women he had broken down so low had made the same choice for the same reason.
Dead girls can’t sing. Even if they give themselves names like Dinah Cancer. Even if they meet their sorrowful wailings with anger. Even if they are the queens of Death Rock. Even if they spend forty years singing the same song.
The thing about dying for love is that if you actually do it, it makes a terrible story. While we can enjoy the stench of tragedy as it pertains to loss, actually dying of love, either by your own hand or some Romeo/Juliet-type circumstances…well, no one likes the song very much after that.
Maybe you just want attention. And maybe, that’s okay.
And maybe that’s why this whole Goth aesthetic exists in the first place. As a bid to have others bear witness to your humanity, and therefore your pain. You can’t actually die for this to be satisfying to you in any way. You can only die symbolically. You can only be a white face floating around a graveyard. You can only be a ghost in a procession. You can only throw away a name like Heather or Mary Ann and call yourself something that sounds like a fatalistic pun. You can only throw away all the things that you think make you unlovable, and leave your body intact so you don’t miss the rest of the show. You can find yourself one day in your sixteen-year-old body forced to relive the death of your father twenty-some years after the first time because you loved the wrong person so hard that he left lesions in your brain that you will come to accept as permanent.
And you will mourn the woman you were before. You will endlessly search for her. You will want her back, but you’ll know that she’s gone forever, and you will wail in anger over that loss.
When the procession of love goes by
They search for you
I search the photos of myself before I met my abuser for who I used to be. She was beautiful. She wrote a cool time travel novel. She had hope and swagger and knew her worth. And I wonder, if I were still her, would there be something more lovable about me? Would I still be getting weak-ass break-ups that leave me crying on a street corner with all my untouched, unwanted love? Did that guy not want me because I’m not the whole, unbroken me anymore? Did he see that I’m just a ghost? Did the sum of my sorrows scare him away? Did he think I was dead? Dead, with so much love, and still alive, that kernel of life-force still so strong?
Mo Daviau is the author of the indie rock time travel novel Every Anxious Wave (St. Martin's Press, 2016). Her other work has appeared in The Toast, The Offing, Nailed Magazine, and McSweeney's. Mo's new project is No Love Signs, a dating and relationship advice podcast for people over 40: nolovesigns.com. 2019 marks the tenth anniversary of the last time she smoked a clove cigarette.