first round game
(11) the creatures, “exterminating angel”
(6) the mission uk, “deliverance”
and plays 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.
kirk wisland on “deliverance”
His name was Christian, and he was a real Goth.
I was perched in a window seat on the #6 Bus as it crept through Uptown Minneapolis, peering down at the sidewalk strollers and gawkers of Hennepin Avenue. There was Christian, striding Gothically towards some Uptown locale (work? Café? Home?) in his heavy black Doc Martins. I could almost hear the solid thud of rubber sole on concrete sidewalk, penetrating through the rumble of the bus. Black pants, long-sleeve black turtleneck. His black hair a gloriously high, arcing ode to Robert Smith, its long pointy sweep defying gravity with copious quantities of gel and hairspray. A resplendent black-and-white peacock, strutting down the main thoroughfare of Minneapolis coolness circa 1994.
Multiple rivulets of sweat, streaming out from under the mass of hair, down his forehead, across the cheeks, into the blackness of his turtleneck. Because it was July, midday, ninety-plus degrees. And I stared out the window as the bus rumbled to life, leaving the sweat-soaked Christian behind, simultaneously impressed by his no-exceptions Goth adherence, while also in a quiet, judgmental Minnesotan way thinking, that’s fucking CRAZY.
I was Weekend Goth. After-dark, nightclub and dancefloor and after-bar rooftop party Goth. Small-g goth. My hair was dyed raven blue-black for a few months. My after-dark clothing palette was primarily black, with the occasional white shirt, a nod to my lingering subconscious desire to be Han Solo. My boots were black, over-the-ankle, too expensive relative to my meager income. I smoked stylish cigarettes in dark smoky nightclubs. I let my fingernails grow long, and wore renaissance-style silver jewelry, my favorite ring a delicately curlicued silver ornament on my right index finger, something that looked appropriately Vampire Lestat.
But by day, I was pure Minnesota functionality. My alter-ego to the Nightclub Vampire was Summer Surfer. On those ninety-degree July days, I sauntered through Uptown in my t-shirt, board shorts and Birkenstocks. I was less Vampire than Slacker Batman, unrecognizable and unremarkable in the daylight.
Please don’t watch the video. Listen, but don’t look.
I apologize to the Mission UK, and the RealGoths4Life, because this won’t be an ode to Gothic Greatness. I am not trying to lose; but I also don’t care enough about winning to muster the necessary heroic cheerleading. That is a boulder too heavy for someone who now relishes the light.
I wanted Concrete Blonde. Is it bad form to admit here that The Mission UK, deserving and Goth-certified though they be, were not my first choice? I have been mulling my epic Concrete Blonde essay for years now, thinking about the 1990 convergence of Concrete Blonde with the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles. How I used to imagine that Johnette Napolitano, the dragon-lunged chanteuse of Concrete Blonde, was obviously Anne Rice’s alter-ego, writing soundtrack music for Louis and Lestat and Armand and the myriad 18th Century vampires stalking her literary creations.
How badly I wanted those stories to be true. How I would have given anything to be bitten and brought into the fold. That at age eighteen, I would have gladly sacrificed the sunlight for the rest of my existence if it promised me immortality. And coolness—eminent, undeniable coolness. And of course power—the immortal strength to wreak vengeance on the jocks and toughs who had tormented my teenage years.
I am writing this in the last of the pre-dawn desert darkness, the blue glow creeping up from the ground into the treetops, the rooflines of the houses distinct in their solid blackness. And even now, two decades on from my Anne Rice obsession, I still imagine a solitary shadowy figure stalking down the alleyway across the street, one of the last vampires of Tucson abandoning the hunt before the first rays of sun pierce the peaks of the mountains.
Sorry, I have diverged from the path, into the realm of Anne Rice. But I think you simply cannot talk about the nexus of Goth music and literature without talking about Anne Rice. Bauhaus might have employed the original film Dracula for Bela Legosi’s Dead, but we Goths of the early 1990s weren’t into old campy black and white vampires. We were into the romance of Anne Rice.
We embodied the darkness. We listened to a lot of Gothic, moody music. Sisters of Mercy, the Cure, Depeche Mode, the Mission UK. In one of my undergrad art classes I made a pretty good linoleum block print of the Sisters of Mercy “Floodland” album cover, meticulously carving Andrew Eldritch’s face in negative relief, while my compatriots struggled with their non-homage art. One of my cats—the black one—was named Eldritch. (The gray cat was Bowie, for what that’s worth). One of my first metal sculptures was my interpretation of a vampire dancing in the bonfire—the suicide of Nicholas, a prominent tragedy from those Anne Rice tales. The follow-up was two vampire masks—my melted sheet-metal and paint version of Thalia and Melpomene, the comedy and tragedy masks of classical theater—but in this case Lust and Regret, a common theme of my Weekend Goth lifestyle. We bought thrift-store black gothic candelabras and nailed them to our cheap apartment walls. We burned a lot of candles, chain smoking and drinking our red wine.
I’m so Goth my rectum has cobwebs. (YouTube comment by Ethereal Catholic on the “Deliverance” video)
The damning pictorial evidence, from my birthday party, 1995:
Note the preponderance of dark clothing and hair. Note the red wine, note the jewelry, the be-dangled wrists and fingers. See the turquoise and silver Lestat ring on index finger. Note the fancy black and gold Sobranie cigarette—another nod to Goth fashion that I couldn’t really afford. See the Vampire masks—Lust and Regret—hovering overhead, foreshadowing the outcome of so many of these Nightclub Goth Nights. Even the dreaded red-eye effect—the bane of 90s film-camera technology—was actually welcomed by we the wannabe vampires.
Wayne Hussey, Mission UK frontman, was the guitarist for a brief stint in Dead or Alive, whose 80s dancefloor smash You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), was an integral dancefloor thumper for many a Weekend Goth nightclub night.
Don’t watch the video. Just listen to the song.
Old videos mostly suck. I didn’t have MTV, so my knowledge of the music videos of the 1980s and 90s was limited to the occasional MTV-binge at cable-friendly houses, or the videos played at the Weekend Goth nightclubs. I had listened to the Sisters of Mercy’s “Lucretia” hundreds of times, but never knew the video was so lame until yesterday. There is an inevitable discontent in discovering the never-before-seen videos for some of my favorite songs. Like my favorite books made into mediocre movies, I am cursed with perpetual disappointment by the visual interpretations of songs burned into my neural memory. But I guess in defense of the Deliverance video (which we are not watching), it is very much true to the Goth script.
All of this extravagant Weekend and Birthday Goth costuming was for show. Laying around my apartment, eating my hangover-lunch while watching Northern Exposure on daytime syndication, I was an unimaginably different person from my Weekend Goth persona. This is what separated me from the real Goths. This is what separated me from Christian. The real Goths were Goth all the time. There were no surfer shorts, there were no Birkenstocks. There was zero acquiescence to weather, or comfort, or any of the trappings of ease, or even economic reality. The real Goths worked Goth-friendly retail and service gigs, at the Uptown cafes and bookstores where service with a vampiric smile was at least tolerated, if not adored. Real Goths were dedicated to their vampiric image in all walks of life. This wasn’t a costume, a weekend gig, a Halloween charade. Every Day WAS Halloween.
We chain-smoked and posed. We chain-smoked and drank, and stayed up until dawn, imagining that we suffered. But we didn’t know real suffering. As a wannabe twenty-two-year old vampire I was full of righteous certainty that my unrequited love, that girl who didn’t want me back, was an epic, Gothic tragedy. At twenty-two I might have embraced the Mission UK’s Deliverance video, if I had been the kind of Goth who could afford cable TV. I probably fully believed that the Gothic vampiresses that I wanted, that sometimes wanted me back, were in fact dangerous—the blade of their Gothic love threatening me as surely as the shadowy man stabbed in Deliverance. That was the lure of Goth, of vampires and darkness—imagined danger. That life could be epic and romantic and full of metaphorical swords and daggers. Our lives could be beautifully, epically tragic.
But they were small-t tragic. None of my fellow twenty-something Goths—the weekenders or the lifers—had known real tragedy. Our relationship to tragedy, our pleas for deliverance, were no more real than the play-acting murders in black and white videos.
Give me, give me, give me deliverance
Brother, sister, give me, give me
Deliverance, deliver me
A quarter-century later, Deliverance sounds different. A man who can barely see the outline of that twenty-two-year old Weekend Goth in the mirror, a man who lives for the daylight warmth of the Arizona sun, a man who struggles to keep the darkness contained—this man hears the chorus differently. Death and divorce—the real daggers that have pierced this heart—make the raw guttural wail of Hussey’s chorus ring true.
Give me, give me, give me deliverance
Brother, sister, give me, give me
Deliverance, deliver me
This was my go-to song when prepping for patrol missions in Northern Iraq in 1991 courtesy of a Sony Walkman. (YouTube comment by OhHaiNSA2 on the “Deliverance” video)
“Deliverance” isn’t necessarily a Goth song. It’s more. Sure, the video (which we are agreeing not to watch, but trust my judgment) is plush with the trappings of the usual Goth oeuvre: dim, shadowy black and white footage, knives and scary-sexy vampiresses—the kind of thing I was probably creating in my video arts class as an undergrad around that time. The verses are Super-Charged Goth—dutifully invoking ancient fertility rights of pagan Britain, and the mists of Avalon, and swords from the lake and the whole Arthurian romance. Goth, like its adjacent cousins, Metal and Glam, was often still about sex.
But I don’t hear the verse, I don’t see the imagery. I just hear that chorus, and in the plea for deliverance I hear an angst as true as Leonard Cohen or Springsteen. Am I being insulting by suggesting that Deliverance has the bones of something better? That it could be more than “just” a Goth song? That re-recorded in 2019 by a properly edgy-but-earnest indie rock band, it might find legit critical acclaim? My apologies to the band, and the true believers.
Because I can’t abide the affect of Goth anymore. I can’t take it seriously. Some genres are age-dependent. Metal, Rap, Goth—these all seem like genres of music that should be heartily embraced in their rebellious teens and early-twenties, but left behind in real adulthood. I can’t take Goth seriously circa 2019, in the same way that I can’t take seriously people with facial tattoos or people who only dress in camo or sports jerseys.
I guess I kind of suck at these annual “-Ness” tournament essays—and not just because of my streak of second-round knockouts. Maybe I suck at these because some part of present-day me refuses to fully engage that past on its own merits? That the 2019 version of that 1994 me who was thinking that the real sweat-soaked summer Goths were crazy can’t help but judge those Weekend Goths in the rearview mirror as pretty cracked too? This is an odd dissonance for somebody with a body of work that is primarily about mining the past and finding that resonance with the now. But the present-self sits unrepentantly in judgment of that younger, Gothic, solipsistic self. It’s the blessing and curse of growing old for us mere mortals.
Kirk Wisland is a recovered former Weekend Goth. He is also theoretically a PhD Candidate in Creative Writing at Ohio University (ABD4LIFE). His essay collection, The Melancholy of Falling Men, was selected by Roxane Gay as the winner of the 2015 Iron Horse Chapbook Contest. He has some other work scattered about in print and online, including at Brevity, The Diagram, Proximity, The Normal School, Electric Literature, and Essay Daily. Kirk lives in Tucson, where he teaches writing at the University of Arizona, lives for the sunlight, and still frequently eats lunch lazing around the house in shorts and sandals.
Come to Kill Your Sons: melissa faliveno on “exterminating angel”
Here it comes again
Taste of jagged glass and rusty can
“Women just aren’t good musicians,” my cousin said. I was fifteen and she was sixteen. She, like me, lived in rural Wisconsin, our towns an hour apart, with populations of only a couple thousand, most of whom were working-class, God-fearing, and white, who drove pickup trucks with their radios tuned to the country station.
She, like me, was a black sheep. But while I tried to fit in, she reveled in her outsider status. She cut off all her hair, dyed it bright orange, and wore it in short gelled spikes. She painted her nails black and drew charcoal circles around her eyes, wore oversized black t-shirts with band names spattered across them like blood, and maybe, if memory serves, a wallet chain—those signifiers, sacred and profane, that we of the small-town sectors could only obtain from a weekend trip to Hot Topic. It was a look that, back then, and in that place, was sometimes referred to as goth. But usually it was just called freak.
It was a look I coveted. I experimented with eyeliner, chokers, and, briefly—one of many missteps in a failed understanding of goth aesthetics—JNCOs, but never went much further. I admired my cousin for having the courage and irreverence I lacked, for so fully embracing her weird. And so I followed her like a disciple into other obsessions, taking in the words she taught me: that women didn’t make good music, that men were better actors and athletes and writers. And for a while, I believed them.
The Creatures started out as a side project. Formed in 1981 by Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie, the Banshees drummer and Siouxsie’s future husband, the drums-and-voice duo released their first full-length album, Feast, in 1983, followed by Boomerang in 1989. Their third record, Anima Animus, was released ten years later, when the Banshees had disbanded and Siouxsie and Budgie, by then married, had turned full-time to the Creatures.
Inspired by Carl Jung’s concept of the woman inside the man, the man inside the woman, Anima Animus came out in 1999. I was sixteen. I didn’t know who the Creatures were then. I didn’t know who Siouxsie and the Banshees were, either. I had no concept of punk, post-punk, or goth. What I did know was goth’s nebulous 90s progeny: industrial music.
My cousin got me into it. We played The Downward Spiral on repeat. We watched MTV2 in her basement, marveling at Marilyn Manson’s vampiric sexlessness, both horrified and strangely turned on. As was the regrettable fate of so many teenagers at the turn of the century, we would soon move on to the angry-man titans of nu-metal: Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and Korn. But for a while, our truest love was a band called Orgy. Posters on my bedroom walls of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonathan Taylor Thomas were replaced by Jay Gordon’s industrial quintet of androgynous men in asymmetrical haircuts, glam outfits, black eyeliner and lipstick. Alone in my bedroom, I ran my finger along Jay’s jawline and memorized the angles of his spiky black hair as he screamed New Order’s “Blue Monday” through the speakers of my Sony three-disc stereo. It’s embarrassing now, my infatuation with a neo-goth dude like Jay Gordon. But where my cousin and I came from, landlocked and limited to Top 40, before either of our households had an internet connection, bands like Orgy were as transgressive as it got. And with his penciled-in eyebrows and high cheekbones, a swivel in his hips as he sang, Jay’s was the queerest body I’d ever seen—long before I had the word for it. Like my cousin, he existed in a strange new space between the masculine and feminine, and I looked to them both with wonder: this boyish girl and this girlish boy, so far beyond the frontiers of normal, each possessing something I wanted and wanted to be.
Plumes of dirt
Caress a urine-coloured sun
Swarms of angels
Come to kill your sons
There are two ways, linguistically, to interpret the words “Exterminating Angel.” First, as entity: The Angel Who Exterminates. (See also: the Angel of Death.) Second, as action: Killing the Angel. In both cases, in my mind, the Angel is a woman.
In her essay “Professions for Women,” originally delivered as a talk to the Women’s Service League in 1931, Virginia Woolf wrote, now famously, of killing the Angel in the House. From a poem of the same name by Victorian poet Coventry Patmore, the “Angel in the House” is the ideal woman: a devoted housewife who cooks and cleans and cares, whose purpose is to serve her husband and children and God. She is passive and powerless. She is charming, graceful, and meek; she is submissive, sympathetic, and self-sacrificing—“If there was chicken,” Woolf writes, “she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it.” She is pious and pure. And she should not dwell in the mind, but rather the heart; for it is the heart, and not the mind, that makes a woman.
It is the woman writer’s job, Woolf says, to kill the Angel in the House.
“I should need to do battle with a certain phantom,” she writes, “and the phantom was a woman. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing…. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her.”
“My excuse,” she says, “if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing.”
Oh those strange Argonauts
Digging again in your pit
Cover them in menstrual stream
Throughout history and across cultures, the Exterminating Angel has made several appearances. It’s the name of a 1962 Mexican surrealist film (and a 2015 opera adaptation) and the nickname of a sixteenth-century French pirate. The Society of the Exterminating Angel, meanwhile, was a nineteenth-century Spanish Catholic group that killed liberals. But the iteration I like best, and the one I would wager inspired the Creatures’ song, is a 1981 painting by Salvador Dalí.
In the painting, “The Exterminating Angels,” an angel bearing a dagger appears to pour forth from the body of a woman—more specifically, from a gaping hole below her belly, in a stream of something that could be interpreted as menstrual blood. The angel, who has no discernable sex organs, raises one arm high above its head, clutching a dagger. Its wings fan out behind it. It is both flying and lunging forward—toward what? Another kill? We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that in angel’s wake, beneath the woman from which it was borne, two bodies—one that might also be an angel (for it too clutches a dagger)—fall dead.
Cover them in black gold
Ripping through your menstrual stream
Anima Animus is a weird album. It’s industrial, kind of, marked by lots of synths, metallic-sounding drums, and plenty of studio fuckery. But it’s also techno, electronica, alternative, and art rock. It’s a little bit of everything, and a thing entirely its own, uncategorizable and genre-defying. Whatever it is, it’s dark, atmospheric, strange, and erotic. It’s disturbing. It’s haunting. It’s undeniably goth.
The labels rejected it. It wasn’t commercial enough, they said; it was too avant-garde. So Siouxsie and Budgie made it themselves, and created their own label, Sioux Records, on which to release it. The Times of London gave it eight out of ten stars, calling it “entrancing, hypnotic, and inventive.” The Sunday Times wrote, “Siouxsie’s voice has lost none of its ability to seduce and unsettle.” They called the eighth track, “Exterminating Angel,” “exquisitely menacing.”
“Exterminating Angel” is a song about the end of the world. More specifically, it’s about destruction borne from the body of a woman who’s sick of it all. Let me be even more specific: It’s a about a giant, man-killing, universe-ending menstrual stream, and the woman who unleashes it. The apocalypse progresses like so: There have been some dudes—let’s call them Argonauts—digging around in our hero’s pit for far too long. And so, like the women of Lemnos, she decides to kill them. All of them. First: Plumes of dirt caress a urine-colored sun. And then: Swarms of angels come to kill your sons. These angels of death pour forth in the great tide of our woman-god’s menses, washing away the sun and the stars, covering the land in death and darkness. Oh, and there are also locusts: hordes of them, blotting out the sun, raining down, rain on everyone. It’s chaos. It’s biblical. It’s a big, bloody war, and this omnipotent woman in the sky is waging it. After all the sons are dead, she’s going after the bourgeoisie (poor little rich thing, poor little misunderstood), and then I’m pretty sure she’s going to kill the angels, too. Because why not? She’s had it, and this is Armageddon. And we the listeners: We’re left somewhere out in space, in the aftermath. There are just black holes where the stars would be watching. Just black holes where the stars should have been.
Show me a song more goth than that.
Out of sync, out of phase
Out of sight, out of spite
I first heard Siouxsie in the early 2000s at a dance club in Madison, Wisconsin, called the Inferno. Like so many businesses in the Midwest, the Inferno was housed in a strip mall—a squat gray building next to a liquor store, a body shop, and a Chinese restaurant, out near the airport and the Oscar Mayer plant, where for many years my father worked. The club is closed now, but back then it was a haven for misfits in a city that afforded few such spaces. The Inferno hosted a monthly theme night called Leather & Lace, at which goth music and the city’s kink scene converged. For a few years, while I was finishing college, I went nearly every month. And it was on one of those nights—the Cure and Joy Division and the Banshees droning through the speakers, pale bodies disaffectedly bopping in the strobe lights, their fishnetted skin flashing in the dark—that I first saw Siouxsie, too. Projected onto a screen, videos in black and white: Siouxsie in a black shirt and tie, Siouxsie in leather. Siouxsie in short, spiky black hair, Siouxsie in painted black lips and eyes. She was everything I had once loved about Jay Gordon but so much better. Jay but so much more real. Jay but a woman, wearing a look that—like the cover song that made him famous—he had only co-opted, and she had created.
As for me, I wore PVC pants and knee-high leather boots. I wore a studded leather belt, a dog collar and cuffs, a tie or a corset or a zip-front Dickies dress, depending on the day. I cut off all my hair and wore it in short black spikes. For a while I ran in the fetish scene, got tied up and tortured, and did plenty of the torturing too. I was top and bottom; I was neither and both. I went to houses in the suburbs, where men called Sir built dungeons in their basements and hosted BDSM play parties that doubled as potlucks—casseroles and crudité after a round of flogging; Midwestern bodies, mottled and red, eating Swedish meatballs from paper plates. And though I eventually decided the scene wasn’t for me, I discovered some important things there, tied to a crucifix in a suburban dungeon, dancing at the Inferno, falling in love with women and men. I asked questions of myself—about my body, about desire—that I’d never been able to ask.
Siouxsie Sioux was born Susan Janet Ballion in 1957 and raised a suburb of southeast London. Her mother was a secretary and her father was an alcoholic bacteriologist who extracted venom from snakes. Siouxsie was sexually assaulted when she was nine, an event that inspired both her music and her rejection of suburbia. She dropped out of school at seventeen, left home, and joined the punk scene in London, following the Sex Pistols and cultivating what would become her signature style: a combination of punk, glam, and bondage fashion—stopping in at least a few times to Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s SEX boutique—her look would become an iconic part of the goth aesthetic. “I was isolated,” she said in a 2005 interview. “So I invented my own world, my own reality. The only way I could deal with how to survive was to get some strong armor.”
Susan became Siouxsie and formed the Banshees in 1976. Two years later, the band’s first single, “Hong Kong Garden,” reached No. 7 on the U.K. charts. “Siouxsie just appeared fully made, fully in control, utterly confident,” said Viv Albertine of the Slits. An impressive number of musicians have named Siouxsie an influence, from PJ Harvey, Shirley Manson, Sinéad O’Connor, and Santigold to Kim Deal, Ana Matronic, and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive (whose name derives from a Banshees song). Siouxsie Sioux was not just a pioneer of goth; she also changed the landscape for women in music.
Siouxsie Sioux is also a problem. Her name is an appropriation of a tribe of people to which she doesn’t belong, a name she gave herself nonetheless. Much of Siouxsie’s music has taken inspiration from other cultures, and the Creatures were no different: The drums on their final studio album, Hái!, were recorded in Japan. Boomerang was recorded in Andalusia, Spain, and incorporates brass arrangements popular to the region. The band’s first album, Feast, was recorded in Hawaii, and features the Lamalani Hula Academy Hawaiian Chanters on several tracks. Like such influences, Siouxsie has said her name was chosen in honor of a people she respected. And some of her music, like “Hong Kong Garden,” was written as a critical response to the racism she encountered in the punk scene. But even so, I can’t help but see a white artist taking what isn’t hers.
And how do we reckon with this? Where do we go with white, feminist icons who have given us something radical, something revolutionary, who have raged against various systems of power but who also take part in similar systems? The question is not a new one, but I still don’t know the answer. What I know is that, much like loving misogynistic music as a teenage girl—singing along to the Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” or Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP—as a listener, I’m complicit. I know that, even though the song was written as a send-up of skinheads, I can’t hear “Hong Kong Garden” without feeling uncomfortable. I also know that when I first saw that image of Siouxsie—dark, androgynous, slicing open the idea of femininity, of woman—something inside me broke open. That when I first heard her sing, I was transfixed. I know that each time I write Siouxsie’s name on this page, I feel the problem in my fingers. I know that when I listen to “Exterminating Angel,” I hold that problem in my fist as I throw it into the air.
I grew up in a family that appreciated music. I was raised on oldies, folk, and classic rock, and my parents started taking me to shows when I was young. Of all the musicians we saw together, and there were many, none of them were women.
I grew up playing music, too. I sang in the church choir and was trained on the trumpet. I played classical and jazz, and I was good. I summoned solos more than I played them, the silver instrument an extension of my body. I was the grace of Handel, the guts of an improv over twelve-bar blues. I was the growl of a rolled tongue in the mouthpiece, the wail of a high D.
The trumpet was an instrument for boys. All the musicians we studied were men, and most girls in my school bands played the flute, clarinet, violin—those instruments more tender and sweet. The trumpet was loud, and left no room for prettiness. You had to get ugly to play it. I knew this as I tightened my lips, as my face turned red, as the tendons in my neck stretched and the veins in my temples bulged. But I didn’t care. All that mattered was the music.
It could have been the same for guitar. I got my first acoustic when I was eighteen, my first electric ten years later. Both guitars were gifts. I never bought one for myself, I think now, because I never thought I deserved one. I was living in New York when I got the electric, a pretty sunburst Ibanez, and by then had played in a handful of soul bands as a backup singer and horn player. Two of those bands were fronted by women vocalists, but it was men who played the music. When I started playing guitar in a band of my own, I was terrified. Even though I’d been playing on my own for a decade, in a rock scene made almost entirely of men, I felt like a fraud. On stages throughout the city, I stood with my guitar in my hands and felt like an accessory to the real musicians—the men—who played lead guitar and bass and drums on those stages with me. Somewhere, in the darkest recesses of my brain (probably in the same corner of shame where I stored the Limp Bizkit phase) I heard my cousin’s words. When I gripped the neck of my guitar, my fingers shook.
Piss on it
I’m sick of it
Enough is enough
I wanna fuck it up
I’m still learning to forgive myself for the misogyny of my youth. I’m still learning to destroy it. When girls are raised in working-class towns, where men are defined by their jobs and women are defined as mother and wife; when all girls have access to is the work of men, the music and movies and writing of men; when they are told that men make the money, that men are the heroes; they internalize it. In places like where I grew up—even when one is raised in an open-minded family, where girls are told they can do anything they want—sexism is as indoctrinated as the importance of hard work and independence, as a love of guns and land, as the worship of God and beer and football and hamburger casserole. It builds up in us like a fortress, and it takes a very long time to dismantle.
“She died hard,” Woolf writes of the Angel in her House. “Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had dispatched her.”
I used to think of my own Angel only in terms of my life as a writer. It turns out I’ve had to kill her to make music, too. In both cases, it’s a murder I’m committing every day.
I was bleeding when I started writing this essay, and I’m bleeding now, a month later, while I finish it. Maybe this is a coincidence, and maybe it isn’t. But after spending so much time examining a song about an apocalyptic man-killing menstrual stream (and the woman who sang it), I’m struck by how hard it is to even mention my own.
The Creatures released their last record in 2003. A year later, Siouxsie toured for the first time as a solo act. Budgie was still on drums, but hers was the only name on the bill. The Creatures disbanded in 2005, and Siouxsie and Budgie announced their divorce in 2007.
In an interview that year, Siouxsie was asked about her sexuality—a question she dodged throughout her career. “I’ve never particularly said I’m hetero or I’m a lesbian,” she said. “I know there are people who are definitely one way, but not really me. I suppose if I am attracted to men then they usually have more feminine qualities.”
The same year, when Siouxsie turned fifty, she released her first solo record.
I wonder, sometimes, if Siouxsie ever felt like an imposter, a woman standing on a stage of men, pretending she belonged there. It’s hard to imagine Siouxsie Sioux feeling anything but confident, so utterly herself. But I can’t help but think of the Creatures as Siouxsie’s real sojourn into selfhood. The band was both Siouxsie and Budgie, sure. But to me, it seems, the Creatures—and in particular “Exterminating Angel”—spoke of something that had lived inside Siouxsie for a long time and was finally making its way out: something darker, something stronger, something about to split open. Of all Siouxsie’s work, “Exterminating Angel” is perhaps the most turbulent. It’s fed up, and it’s angry. It’s a feminist battle cry, a call to arms. It’s an incantation, a spell, a summoning of creatures brutal and dark. It might also be a proposal: to kill the Angels within us—that were born in us, that were instilled in us, that have lived inside us for so long—so that we might be free.
Maybe “Exterminating Angel” is Siouxsie’s own breaking free, as a musician and a woman, after existing for so long in a band, in an industry, in a world made of men.
Or maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see. Like all art, we bring to it our own interpretations. Our experiences and desires and hopes become what we make of it.
About a year ago, I bought myself a new guitar. It’s a Stratocaster, its body a glossy black. I replaced its colorful pick guard with a black one. It’s a gorgeous machine, and so exquisitely goth. I’m still learning how to trust myself when I hold it, to walk onstage and play without thinking about how I’m being judged. I’m still learning to believe I belong there. Sometimes when I play I’m a kid again, unafraid, my body a part of the sound I create. It vibrates in my fingers and rises up in my spine and fills my chest like I’m made of it. And sometimes my cousin’s words still ring in my ears. When that happens, I might channel Siouxsie Sioux. I might channel Karen O. I might channel Neko Case or Shirley Manson or Kathleen Hanna or Sister Rosetta Tharpe—any number of women who I have loved, who came before me, who did this long before I did and in circumstances far less forgiving. Who raged against systems that were made by men, who killed whatever angels lived in their houses in order to do it. Who got onstage and said, Enough is enough. I wanna fuck it up.
Melissa Faliveno is an essayist, musician, displaced Midwesterner, and member of the decidedly un-goth band Self Help, whose debut record, Maybe It's You, was released in 2018. Her essays have appeared in DIAGRAM, Midwestern Gothic, Prairie Schooner, and others, and her first collection, Tomboyland, is forthcoming in 2020.