first round game
(5) mazzy star, “mary of silence”
(12) death in june, “little black angel”
and plays 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 4.
katie jean shinkle on “mary of silence”
I search the Internet for the following: “Do goths listen to Mazzy Star?” and “Is Mazzy Star considered goth?” and “Is Mazzy Star considered gothic music?” and the Internet booms a tomb of silent, deadly nothingness. The first and only search result attempting to ask and answer these questions comes from the bizarre Q & A site Quora, a question posed September 12, 2016: “Do Goths listen to Mazzy Star?” with a Youtube link underneath for “Fade Into You” and tags of “Mazzy Star (Band),” and “Goth Subculture.” The one answer states “Well, I’ve never heard of a such a name, so for goths like myself, the answer is no.”
In late 2001, when the lead singer of Mazzy Star Hope Sandoval’s band Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions released Bavarian Fruit Bread, my friend MJ was obsessed with both the new album and Hope Sandoval. This obsession reintroduced Mazzy Star back into my life. The music felt so different than the circular obsession of the Grateful Dead and Phish of my friend group at the time. There was a sea change happening in our small hamlet in West Michigan, a fade out and ushering in of the “new” (and we were teenagers, and teenagers should be allowed to reinvent and try on as many hats as possible, although so many are not allowed to at the hands of their peers, as we know, which is sad and hateful). And while our friend group wouldn’t move our interests outside of jambands for a few more years as we entered new phases of our lives, Hope Sandoval was a genesis. Beyond Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, I personally forgot about Mazzy Star and their sophomore album So Tonight That I Might See as a quintessential early ‘90’s album, the simplistic purple and gold cover a stand out in a time of album covers like the plastinated angel a la Body Worlds of Nirvana’s In Utero. Our friends would be hanging out and MJ would say, “I’m going to go home to be by myself and listen to Mazzy Star,” a very goth thing to say, as it were, and we teased him mercilessly about going home to be alone and sad with what we considered slow and sad music (which was partially the case, as we were teenagers and as such it was unfathomable both being alone and going home alone with the sole intention to listen to Mazzy Star).
So Tonight That I Might See is 25 years old, released October of 1993, and while I was barely nascent about how So Tonight That I Might See was a particularly distinctive album among the grunge and alternative rock that permeated the charts at the time, So Tonight That I Might See is an album that is frozen in memory—an album that houses the song “Fade Into You.” “Fade Into You” is one of those songs that brings you back to time and place as a deja vu. Where were you and what were you doing? Who broke your heart? Who did you kiss? “Fade Into You” is to date Mazzy Star’s biggest single. Today in 2019 the song continues to make me wildly uncomfortable, much as it did then.
Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See gets repeatedly compared to Jim Morrison and the Doors throughout the Internet—too many times to even list here. This comparison is confusing, except for the use of electric organ (arguably I am no Doors or Morrison aficionado—it was never my bag, musically), but when I conjure the music of Mazzy Star there is hardly a Venn Diagram in my mind between them. However, interestingly, the term “gothic” for the goth music genre was coined by John Stickney in the Williams College News in March, 1967 about The Doors and Jim Morrison specifically: “The Doors met New York for better or for worse at a press conference in the gloomy vaulted wine cellar of the Delmonico hotel, the perfect room to honor the Gothic rock of the Doors.” (Read the article yourself HERE on page 174).*
So, it is a sort of if-a-tree-falls-and-no-one-is-around-to-hear-it-does-it-make-a-sound scenario: Can any of Mazzy Star’s music be considered goth if goths don’t listen to Mazzy Star (huge generalization based on zero evidence except for one person on Quora, but go with me)? Therefore, can “Mary of Silence” be considered goth? It depends on your definition of goth. All the songs on So Tonight That I Might See range in criticism from pop to college alternative/indie to sadcore to shoegaze (which I would argue heavily against) to dreampop to folk to “doom-mongering psych-goth” (nme.com).
The last definition sounds about right to me as far as “Mary of Silence” is concerned. “Mary of Silence” is indeed Mazzy Star’s gothiest song, even if Mazzy Star themselves are not considered goth, and it is a far overlooked and underappreciated track.
“Mary of Silence” is heavy, languid, and more reminiscent of Bauhaus than Jim Morrison any day.
“Mary of Silence” has all the markings of any good goth song, tapping into a kind of darkness which is dreamscape, landscape, sometimes hellscape. It is by far the darkest song on the entire album of So Tonight That I Might See, housed between “Bells Ring” and “Five String Serenade” both light and airy songs comparatively, songs that could easily fit into the genre boxes otherwise given to the album in its entirety. “Mary of Silence” is the singular song from this album that bucks all boxes except goth—and does the goth genre justice, to be sure. While “Fade into You” reminds me of all those Where Were You When moments of life, “Mary of Silence,” in many ways is the exact opposite and bites those moments in the neck, vampire-style. It is a jarring song, almost deeply depressing, definitely coffin-shaped.
There is talk on the Internet, although disappointingly scarce and elusive, that in certain lesbian circles of the mid-‘90’s that “Mary of Silence” was seen as a gloomy lesbian anthem of foregone love. The argument against this particular read of these lyrics are that A.) As far as the public knows, Hope Sandoval is straight—or at least there is nothing public to the contrary (not to say she can’t Write Gay, just to be the messenger of what the Internet says) and B.) She grew up in a strict Catholic home, and, therefore, these lyrics are clearly about Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, Catholic iconography, and the complex relationship to Religion. I have to say, the interpretation of lesbian love is my favorite interpretation of these lyrics, and makes this song all the more goth to me:
Oh Mary of silence
You pick my heart with a smile
Oh sweet Mary
Come inside for a while
Help me get a hold on you
Or I look in the night
I thought of myself beside you
Take me into your skin
Oh, sweet Mary of silence
Oh, sleeping Mary of silence
We have a steady confusion
You’re looking at fear
It doesn’t seem like the first time
You walked out in a hurry
Oh, sweet Mary of silence
Oh, sleeping Mary of silence
I look in, in your window
To check my head in your pane
My last thoughts, they come to me
I can’t take the pain
Oh, sweet Mary of silence
Oh, sweet Mary of silence
Help me walk with you, to the sky that we see
Shuddering in myself, in-my-self
Sweet Mary of silence (x3)
My friend MJ was on to something, I know this now: “Mary of Silence” is a song I have rushed home to listen to alone for months, saying to people “I need to go home to be by myself and listen to Mazzy Star.” While my teenage Grateful Dead loving-self would be horrified, my 30-something self is and was delighted by the gloomy solitude of Mazzy Star in my ears, especially as the days grew shorter and the darkness of the world began the fade from Fall to Deep Winter. Oh, sweet Mary of silence/Oh, sweet Mary of silence.
*Admittedly, this version of “Mary of Silence” does sound the Doors-esque:
Bonus: Hope Sandoval’s goth-y take on writer’s block, as interviewed in Consequence of Sound:
It’s possible. I mean, some people talk about songwriting like it’s a business. Others feel it’s much more muse-driven and more spontaneous. Isn’t writer’s block just the most archaic idea?
Sandoval: I didn’t even know what that was until the late ‘90s. Like, what the hell is that? People aren’t able to do something? That’s crazy. What does that mean, “writer’s block?” What the hell does that mean? You can’t write or play music or paint? That’s just crazy. It’s like a posh term. You’ve gotta be super rich to fucking have writer’s block, you know what I mean?
Because it’s not your full-time job and it’s just a hobby on the side, so you can take time to muse about writer’s block.
Sandoval: [Mocking] “I’ve got writer’s block, guys. I can’t work!” Honestly, writer’s block is baby crap. Get it together, people. Stop thinking about it and just do it. That’s just overthinking it. It’s not so precious; it’s just a song. It’s just art and art is nothing. Art is not precious, anybody can do it. A five-year-old can do it. It’s not a big deal.
Katie Jean Shinkle lives and writes in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
i got nazis. maybe we all did. nicole walker on “little black angel”
For March Vladness, I had planned to tame a raven. How could I lose the Goth Wars if I had a raven as a pet? But our intentions are often subverted: I woke up early on a Sunday, reached over to my phone to collect my email. Subject heading: March Vladness. I clicked. “Little Black Angel” by Death in June. What the hell? Where was the Joy Division I ordered? I went to my Google. I typed Death in June. Google came back with Douglas Pearce, the lead singer of the punk-band the Crisis turned folk- was a Nazi. Why did I let the Arbiters of March pick for me? Fuck bands who sing about Nazis.
Song bio: Little Black Angel was released by Death in June on the album But What Ends When The Symbols Shatter? The but and what and double death of ends and shatter are pretty gothy. The warbling synthesizers and repetitions and some trumpeting toward the end signal regular Cure-like existential crisis. But the symbols shatter means more when your band is accused of Nazism from the get-go. Is it the most extreme version of goth to shrug at such accusations. “We’re all going to die anyway.” Is that the sentiment of a fascist or the sentiment of a depressive? Little black angels—do you picture foggy beach scenes or rows of heil Hitlering men? Both images, black and white, are actually mostly gray. No one like a gray area. Either you’re a Nazi or you’re not. Either you wear black cloaks and walk your everlasting days through the rain or you don’t.
Black angel, black angel
As you grow up
I want you to drink
From the plenty cup
My little black angel
My little black angel
My little black angel as years go by
I want you to fly with wings held high
I want you to live by the justice code
I want you to burn down freedom's road
My little black angel
My little black angel
My little black angel
My little black angel
Lie away lie away sleeping
Lie away safe in my arms
Your father your future protects you
Locks you safe from all harm
Little black angel I feel so glad
You'll never have things I never had
When out of men's hearts all hate has gone
It's better to die than forever live on
My little black angel...
The 1980s were hard on everyone. There were so many names to call people and so many names to be called. The taxonomies were strict: fascist, a Nazi, a skinhead, a punk, anti-nazi, a poser, straightedge, goth, a granola. Categories rarely overlapped. The striking thing about Death in June is that they were called all of the names. Perhaps they are particularly prismatic. Perhaps dynamic. Perhaps they were just a crappy band who made a choice to use Nazi imagery and the band’s name is an allusion to Hitler because they were so goth they didn’t care what anyone thought. Or maybe they really did think a bunch of white people singing about little black angels was an homage to Hitler.
What I remember about the 80s was that it was a great time to be extra stupid.
I was 17 when I started college. Virgil’s dorm room was across the room from mine. I mainly knew how to interact with boys by sleeping with them but this boy was not interested in that. He cared mainly about my record collection. Flipping through, he said, “Crass,” (Courtesy boyfriend #2) good. “Loverboy.” (Courtesy “boyfriend” #1) Bad. “SubHumAnz” (Courtesy boyfriend #3) Good.
”What is with all this Rush?” (Again, “boyfriend #1) The Rush purchases were a byproduct of another boy who I thought liked me and so I tried to sidle up to him, like any goth-girl in the making. Virgil approved of my Pixies. His Descendents poster. My Massacre Guys’ 45 (Courtesy boyfriends 1 and 2). I like approval. I never did like Rush. Really.
An article in the Broward News digs deeply into Death in June’s Nazi associations.
The band's name refers to June 30, 1934, the “Night of Long Knives,” when Hitler ordered the murder of about 85 Nazi soldiers he deemed a threat to his power. Lead singer Pearce did not respond to an interview request sent through his website, but in the past, he's been quoted as playing down the Nazi imagery. "Obviously people have fallen into the trap of taking it on a surface value," he said. “That is their problem.” On a song called "Gorilla Tactics" he mocks the entire country of Switzerland's ‘little minds’: “Their banks are filled/ With Nazi gold/ But Death in June's banned/ I've been told.”
Being banned is central to punkness. CRASS sings “Banned from the Roxy/but OK. I didn’t much like playing there/anyway./They say they only wanted well-behaved boys/well do they think guitars and microphones are just fucking toys./Fuck them./I choose to make my stand/against what I feel is wrong with this land.
I typed this from memory, which is totally punk rock of me. I Googled the last lines because I couldn’t quite remember how CRASS made their stand, which is not punk rock of me or of CRASS because being about to Google your lyrics is not punk rock at all. Posers are we all.
Every night, I spent in Virgil’s room, talking for hours about music. So Cal versus London punk occupied a lot of our conversations. Did this count as dating? It seemed like a gray area. Mostly, I sat mouth open, inhaling taxonomies my boyfriends had neglected to exhale, on Virgil’s bed while he sat in his chair and clarified the real origins of Doc Martins and the better/safer way to mosh. He was right. When Virgil and I went to see bands in the union, the organized elbow-out circle moves were much less punishing than being bounced around the room like a hacky sack. But the hacky sack had its purposes. We were hard core punk kids from the pre-cutting generation. How else were we going to get our self-inflicted licks in?
Virgil and I found new own bands of our own to listen to after we’d lived across the hall from each other for a few months. The Buzzcocks and NoMeansNo and the Butthole Surfers. The 90s were coming. I fell for him pretty hard. After we dated for three short, intoxicating weeks—the first night we hooked up, he carried me all the way from the union where we’d both moshed and slow danced to the band to the dorm—he went back to his So Cal girlfriend who didn’t really mosh. It’s probably a bad idea to date someone who goes out of her way to get elbowed in the face. It’s probably a bad idea to date someone who liked music that came to her exclusively through boys she wanted to like her. I kept the Buzzcocks. He kept Everything But The Girl. Across the dorm hallway, I sang “Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with,” in really loud and very subtle ways from my dorm room.
The 80s were the masticated remains of World War II. It takes 25-30 years to digest a war. This war, extreme, took 35. CRASS’s Banned from the Roxy goes from complaining about the Roxy to complaining about Hiroshima. “Little Black Angel,” seems to have slipped even further into the abyss when Death in June sings, “I want to burn down freedom’s road.” If punk rock is full of rage, this goth song hangs up its boxing gloves and slides down the wall into utter despair. It takes effort to be a Nazi. Why would the wall-sliders of the world trouble to organize mass murder? Why associate with assholes at all?
These lines seem to be pushing it a bit with their never and their forevers: “When out of men's hearts all hate has gone/It's better to die than forever live on.” Relationship counselors always say to never say never or always. After Virgil, I dated a guy who said to me, “It’s always all or nothing with you.” I could make a goth song out of that. I, twenty years later, am beginning to think he meant that I think there isn’t a lot of gray area in love. Or, in hate. It’s a cliché to say that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. If out of all hearts pretty much everything has been drained, well, then it’s time to abandon these Moorish lands. But maybe he meant that I am high needs. Wasn’t that another Goth attribute? You and me, sitting in the park, sharing cigarettes, imagining we were the only ones left in the world?
Perhaps “Burn down freedom’s road” isn’t meant to be violent, as in, “burn it all down” but maybe the Little Black Angel herself is meant to burn—in a good way—like the T-shirt my friend Ben Watanabe wore to high school every day: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” I would like to burn while walking down freedom’s road. That seems horrific and yet not anti-Semitic. Prepositions are hard.
When we were neither dating nor broken up, Virgil pulled the Alfa Romeo he had restored in front of Old Dorm block. He opened the car door for me. All metal and leather, the seats so close to the ground, the asphalt vibrated through every cell of the body—car and human. “Slow down before the turn, speed up at the apex. Downshift. You’ll have control.” We both were going to be Formula 1 drivers when we grew up. We drove along the scenic highway where the waterfalls fell. We climbed in the dark between the douglas firs to look at the water, moon reflecty. The ferns large and prehistoric looking, we pretended to be sleestaks from land of the lost hunting Holly and Will. Promised to make kamas cakes for each other for our birthdays. What were we doing out here, romantically calling the dome on the side of the Columbia Gorge the Basillica san Gorge? Who opens doors for people? Call me your girlfriend, damnit. But there we were, in the soggy world of Portland where boundaries melt in the rain, and all I wanted was a label.
Reading through the lines of Little Black Angel, “As you grow up/I want you to drink/from the plenty cup” I imagine Jonestown Massacre. I imagine Heathers the movie—the drinking of the Drano. I think of someone wanting another to drink hard from the dark plentitude of hateful hearts is a little on the Fascist side. Encouraging someone, especially a tiny angel, to gurgle upon nothingness, “never having the things I never had,” does ring of Paul Celan’s “Death Fugue,”
Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night we drink it and drink it we are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there
Paul Celan survived the war. He narrowly avoided swallowing Cyclon B gas. His parents died in the concentration camps. He knew things the band Death by June couldn’t know. Paul Celan killed himself in 1970. He didn’t listen to the music of Death by June but if he could have, he could have intoned the Gregorian like chants of Little Black Angel.
Perhaps in naming themselves Death by June they meant we, humans, are all complicit. Maybe they meant Hitler killed the members of his Secret Service who planned to assassinate him. Maybe they’re celebrating Hitler’s would-be assassins. Maybe the band shouldn’t even have gone there if they didn’t want to be associated with Nazis. The idea that you can determine in what fragments your symbols shatter fell apart as soon as Theodor Adorno said, “After Auschwitz, there can be no more poetry.”
Virgil and I stayed friends. Although he had cautioned me against the hippies, I drifted that way a bit. I was into hallucinogens more than he. In fact, except for beer, Virgil was pretty much straight-edge. My other friend, George, was straight-edge except FOR hallucinogens. Then, I dated a theater-guy which might have been when I was colored full Goth. I did wear a lot of black but I wasn’t the one who started training ravens to bring her baubles. Do you know what I really was that second semester of my first year of college? I was a mess. And an idiot. Eventually, I stopped dating and started listening to music I liked. Cue Bongwater. The problem for Douglas P.? He seems trapped in the post-modern 90s.
Music types defined the 90s. The Broward/Palm Beach Times article gives us a little context. Skinhead culture arose in working class England where poor whites and Jamaican immigrants mixed, but some people took the look and pegged it to a right-wing ideology. In the 1980s and '90s, there grew both left-wing skinhead groups — like ANTIFA (Anti-fascist Action), SHARPs (Skinheads against Racial Prejudice) and RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads)—and right-wing groups like the Hammerskins, which promoted a white nationalist agenda and whose members were even associated with race-based murders. Each side had its own music.
The lifestyle, Alvarez says, is attractive because “it's so mean and hard. You can put any type of politics on it.... Music is what fuels it.” North Florida, he says, was known for racist skinheads, while South Florida was known as a “true antiracist stronghold.” Though it's rare to see anyone in suspenders and Doc Martens these days, the lifestyle has never gone away, he says. In places like Philadelphia, New York, San Diego, and Oregon, skinheads still have meetings and an online presence.
Most of us, I think, have managed to move on to different kinds of name-calling. Fun that ANTIFA has stuck around.
Maybe Virgil and I can still be friends because maybe we were never dating. Maybe we actually still share both the Buzzcocks and Everything But the Girl. Maybe the 80s and 90s weren’t as dire as we thought they were. Now that I’m not dating at all, I’m apt to take the mushier view on things. It’s different kind of shruggery—yes, we’ll all die anyway so what should we have for dinner? Chicken? Chicken. Cody Conrad, writing for The Big Takeover writes with a more temperate view about whether the lead singer, Douglas P. promotes Nazism or not, “It appears as if every argument about the band, whether for or against, is only a step away from being written in ALL CAPS and punctuated with a million exclamation points!!! before dissolving into pure, incomprehensible profanities. In reality, the answer, as it often is, is lodged somewhere between the two extremes.”
We scoop up associations. Perhaps, Conrad argues, bands that use holocaust or Nazi imagery are trying hard to make sure we don’t forget either the holocaust or how Nazism came to power. As our current situation makes us feel ever-powerless, maybe accumulating all the symbols you can gather is the best power you have. Threatening that they may shatter may help them maintain their significance. Conrad says, “British bands like Joy Division, New Order, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Throbbing Gristle all made references to or use of Nazi iconography.
The Holocaust, like all great and numerous mistakes in humanity’s brief existence, shouldn’t be forgotten, and to present evidence that it indeed happened, no matter how brash, is actually the opposite of Holocaust-denial. Only from acknowledging its existence and being reminded of it in a ritualistic and continual manner can we progress as a society and understand how truly messed up we are.
“How messed up we are” is such a Goth thing to say.
NoMeansNo was the band Virgil and I listened to the most. More punk than Goth, they still had a great apocalyptic sense. “Real love/on a sunny day/is a crow on a telephone pole with something to say./and if you feel like someone/has just walked on your grave/well that’s real love.”
I’ve been feeding the ravens in my backyard. I don’t know. Maybe they’re crows. There are a few ways to tell crows apart from ravens—ravens are bigger, for one. But either way, these big black birds sit on the railing of the deck and we sometimes sing out together to the cars pass about Real Love, still questioning if we’ve ever fallen in love with someone we shouldn’t have fallen in love with or my other Favorite Crass song:
I see the velvet zippies in their bondage gear,
The social elite with safety-pins in their ear,
I watch and understand that it don't mean a thing,
The scorpions might attack, but the systems stole the sting.
PUNK IS DEAD. PUNK IS DEAD. PUNK IS DEAD.
I miss a time when I could believe there was no such thing as middle ground.
Nicole Walker is the author of Raven: A Love Story from Ohio State University Press and The After-Raven 26 Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet from Rose Metal Press. Her previous books include Where the Tiny Ravens Are, Raven's Egg, Microravens, Quench Your Raven with Salt, and This Noisy Raven.