first round game
(2) nine inch nails, “the perfect drug”
(15) ghost dance, “a deeper blue”
and 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 6.
dave madden on “the perfect drug”
My perfect drug would turn everyone in the world, me first, then maybe your children, comfortably bisexual. Picture a pill. Not one that, should a person swallow it, would turn them bisexual. A pill that, once I swallowed it, would turn everyone in the world, me first, then your kids, comfortably bisexual.
In this way, drugs are genies.
The perfect drug isn’t the problem behind Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug”, it’s the wanting of the drug that brings trouble, the way money itself isn’t the root of all evil, according to Saint Paul, but rather the love of money. Money’s just a tool for us to do the Lord’s Work. Sheltering the homeless costs money. Feeding the hungry does, too. To love your money more than you do the homeless and the hungry is the evil that will send you right to hell.
I like money, but I love drugs. The speaker in Trent Reznor’s lyrics likes their body but loves the feeling of its destruction. What they want is a kind of dissolution, albeit a cheerier one than we’d expect from a goth hit: “My blood wants to say hello to you.” We can dismiss Reznor his misfire here (oh and Mark Romanek can dress Reznor up as Vlad the Impaler all he wants but it doesn’t change the fact that “The Perfect Drug” isn’t so much Goth as Industrial, not only for how Reznor’s mixed his drums—chugging and blasted—but also for how the song was on the Lost Highway soundtrack, and if you’ve seen any David Lynch movie you know the soundtrack’s gonna be like 90 percent machine drones), but we shouldn’t dismiss that yearning. Drugs are for people who don’t like themselves, or who don’t like the situations they’re in—which, if we’re being honest, is all of us.
For a long time my drug was TV. The gang at Bayside let me pretend high school could be pleasurable, and set in California, and that as a high-voiced nerd who dressed poorly I could fit in easily there. In college, I thought of the Friends as my friends. By then, I’d found alcohol, a better drug if not a perfect one, a drug I still use to turn off the sun and pull the stars from the sky often enough that I’m writing this during a self-assigned period of abstention.
I want a drink when I’ve folded my third load of laundry in one night, or when the man at the gym doesn’t return my gaze. Six sips in, a good drink can start shaving off the barbs of my reality and make it easier to pass through the world according to the map I’ve been drawing of it. Aren’t I smarter, stronger, and sexier than this man I’ve become?
“Yes, of course,” alcohol says, every time.
“Heavens! what a revulsion! what an upheaving, from its lowest depths, of the inner spirit! what an apocalypse of the world within me!” wrote De Quincey re opium, but he’s not my people. “The pleasure potential of a perversion (in this case, that of the two H’s: homosexuality and hashish) is always underestimated,” wrote Barthes, but that’s not my drug. Marijuana keeps pushing the moment I’m trying to enhance away from me, the party’s conversation running like a rabbit between my legs. Cocaine I only tried once after hours of drinking and it didn’t make me any happier. When I take drugs the government doesn’t regulate, I think about murder. Who got shot in the head so that I might snort this up my nose and keep this feeling going another thirty minutes?
Which brings us back to money, because drugs are expensive. They cost a lot.
I saw Lost Highway three times in the theater when it came out. I loved Bill Pullman’s notion that he wanted to remember a moment the way he remembered it, not exactly the way it happened. I never liked NIN, but I loved this song, chiefly for its rhythms, and in my blue Sunbird I wore out my tape of the soundtrack. For 21 years, when I’ve sung along, I’ve sung “You want the perfect drug the perfect drug the perfect drug” and it wasn’t until research for this essay that I discovered I’ve been singing it wrong.
You, in Reznor’s song, are the perfect drug.
Imagine it. I know he’s not singing about you, but imagine he is. That power to possess, in all senses of the word, the person who takes you in. To be, at the heart of you who are, something irresistibly consumptive. Drugs abound in the gothic imagination (witness Romanek’s use of absinthe to deliver the song’s break), and so do sex demons. Vampires. Succubi. We ask of them what we ask of any drug: Take this away from me.
Goths know that sometimes it’s as fun to be ravished as it is to ravish, to fuck you like an animal. This is why goth boys wear makeup and goth girls wear leather. This is why the neutral of black. Which is the darker part of this enterprise: admitting that we want our control taken over, or standing up to be the perfect drug for those desires?
Either part in me I’ve lived afraid of.
And I want you
And I want you
And I want you
And I’m not you
Another mishearing, this one willful. The story of my queerness has been an ongoing clash between desire and identity, the moment of my true becoming always in the future. “Don’t dream it, be it,” goth hero Dr. Frank N. Furter told me at age 13, and I went ahead and became a dreamer. Whence the drug of TV, and probably now the drug of liquor. I’ve long dreamt of the pedestal I’d finally get to stand on and know myself to be perfected. What I’ve failed to acknowledge is what I’d step up there with: my own feet.
1. My body is my best means of transport.
2. Drugs take me away from my body.
At 40, I can hear the end of this song as a triumph, or at least the promise of one. “Without you without you without you everything falls apart,” the speaker wails, but if your Everything is a dream, the chasing after ideals, isn’t that destruction a good thing?
The perfect drug might be just a slap in the face. We know it will hurt and feel very good. We know reality bites. What I want to learn is how to bite back.
Dave Madden is the author of If You Need Me I'll Be Over There and The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy. He directs the MFA program at the University of San Francisco.
noam dorr on “a deeper blue”
Deeper Blue was the unofficial name given to IBM’s second iteration of Deep Blue, the artificial intelligence machine designed for one purpose—to defeat a reigning chess world champion. The first match in 1996 was a bust for IBM, then champion Gary Kasparov winning 4-2. But where Deep Blue failed, Deeper Blue succeeded. In 1997 it defeated Kasparov 3.5-2.5, and called the first win in the robot uprising. According to Nate Silver, Deeper Blue’s victory was not due to a supreme intelligence: a failure in the programming caused the computer to make a random play in the forty-fourth move of the first game. The unfathomable decision caused Kasparov to see a deeper intelligence where there was none. His anxiety and self-doubt over nothing led to his eventual failure. Kasparov, however, disputes Silver’s claim. IBM neither confirms nor denies. We could ask the machine, but no evidence remains of Deeper Blue. IBM disassembled the computer and refused to let anyone put it back together again.
Responding to the First Order (צו ראשון) I show up in the morning at the Recruitment Bureau in Haifa. This is the office for the northern region of Israel, closest to my parents’ address. But my high school is in Jerusalem, so the bus ride ends up being far longer than anticipated. I go through the usual paces of the Israel Defense Forces’ attempt to quantify me—the personal information verification, a short interview, SAT-like cognitive tests to determine my intelligence—and then the final stage: a physical. The medical examination is built like an assembly line—16-year-old boys moving from station to station, cubicles really, in which one aspect of their body is determined: here a urine test, there a coughing test. Hernias uncovered, flat feet found out. In the least intimidating cubicle of all, a soldier sits at a desk with cutout paper circles. I sit across from her as she holds up a circle and says What number is this? but all I see are little blue blobs. No numbers at all. One circle after another comes up and to each one I have to respond I don’t see a number. The test is over in under two minutes and she says, You’re colorblind. I didn’t know this about myself, but I don’t know anyone around me to share the revelation with. I shuffle on to the next cubicle to make way for the boy behind me.
What is the blue in Ghost Dance’s “A Deeper Blue?” Our first encounter occurs in the second verse, and creates a paradox: Show me where the colors fly / And disappear from view / Paint the endless sky a deeper blue / A deeper blue. It is as if a deeper blue was not a color at all, but rather an anti-color, or a non-color that overrides all others. But what is the source of blue? Where does it come from?
Goth wasn’t really a thing when I was growing up in Israel. There were two Russian girls in my high school that dressed all in black and listened to a range of goth and metal music (technically one of them was Armenian, though Israeli high school identity politics dictated a crushing of that kind of nuance). But goth wasn’t a label we used for them or they applied to themselves—they preferred the term “Devil Worshippers.” One of them was a gifted illustrator and had sketchbooks full of pencil portraits of the other embraced by a handsome Satan, an immortal beloved. And though I had occultist inclinations of my own (mainly a curiosity about tarot and astrology) I found their desire towards a dark so well defined (Satan’s features oh-so-sharp, the capes and pendants) to be, frankly, kitschy.
The lyrics of “A Deeper Blue” are surprisingly vague. Searching for a concrete image we slide off the text with very little to hold onto. Only in the third verse are we introduced to a relationship between an “I” and a “You” and the real-life moment of this song: The colors fade / Somewhere inside / And the promise made / In your eyes. There are living people here after all, engaged in meaningful gaze. The fourth verse clarifies: But when I look into your eyes / I know it’s true / Surrender to surprise / A deeper blue / A deeper blue. Is the whole mystery of “a deeper blue” really as simple as a “surrender” to the blue eyes of a lover?
Three buses later I walk through the high school’s red gate and immediately search for my girlfriend’s arms. When she asks how the First Order went I tell her about the funniest thing, that it turns out I’m colorblind, but for shades of blue. Her response surprises me. She is visibly upset. Far more upset than I am, it appears. When I ask her what’s wrong she tells me she’s crushed. If you can never know the color of my eyes how could you possibly find me beautiful? How could you possibly find my artwork beautiful? Since I know no other shade of blue than the shades I know, and since I find those shades of blue beautiful I have nothing to say. I can’t seem to explain that I find the painted blue rectangle in the center of her art installation mesmerizing. I can’t seem to detail how, when we (in the most clichéd gesture of high school lovers) spend hours looking into each other’s eyes, there is a point when time stops functioning at its regular pace, a single instance where I do lose myself in the blue of her eyes, a blue that terminates in a narrow band of gold-green around the black of the pupil.
Perhaps it’s unfair to put so much pressure on “A Deeper Blue’s” lyrics. It is, after all, only a song. And yet I find myself stretching for a greater meaning. A further reaching. I’m not convinced that this desire can be resolved with an image of the singer looking into her lover’s eyes. After the last verse ends, its echoes seem to cut through that simpler answer: Across the sea a great divide / Through time I’ll follow you / Lost forever in your eyes / A deeper blue / A deeper blue / A deeper blue… And in my mind the singer is calling back to us from the other side. What began inside a lover’s gaze reached a different dimension entirely—a place of ever deepening blues.
Pre-internet, when one lived on the periphery, music arrived as a mishmash of sound that had no allegiance, where boundaries were not defined between one genre and the next. This aural history is entirely arbitrary and biographical: a cassette tape stolen from my older sister, a mix made by my girlfriend, a bootleg forgotten by my city cousin the last time he visited the kibbutz.
For every generation there is another deeper blue. Do not confuse Ghost Dance’s “A Deeper Blue” with what could have been my parents’ version of this song: Shalom Hanoch’s 1976 “What is Deeper is Bluer.” The refrain ends with: And when I open the door / And look at it all / Everything looks like eyes / What is deeper is bluer / What is deeper is bluer. And though the singer never mentions another person at all, not a lover or a partner or a friend, we know that when he opens his door and encounters the world outside he turns the world into a set of eyes, and these eyes are deep, and in the deep he finds the blue, the bluer.
The truth is that “A Deeper Blue” is not a supernova of a song—it won’t give you the misunderstood-genius-feels like “Paranoid Android” or get you on the dancefloor in spite of yourself like “The Perfect Drug.” When listening to Anne-Marie Hurst’s vocals you are left unsatisfyingly searching for a feeling—like a satellite orbiting a planet whose surface you can never reach. The song says it wants to punch through the atmosphere—the forceful guitar says so—but all you can do is repeat a circular trajectory. You will never set foot in the deep. You will always hurtle forward in your stretch for the deeper.
I was once awake for 43 hours straight. There was a national security emergency and my section of the Intelligence Corps had to respond. In order to deal with the crisis, I was tasked with compiling a report to explain to the higher ups the nature of the problem. I found an elegant solution using MS Excel that involved a color-coded table (each color referring to a different kind of problem). At the end of the 43 hours I reported to my commanding officer and showed him my findings. Very impressive, he said, but what is the difference between problems marked in this shade of blue versus those in this other shade of blue? And I had to explain to him that I never intended for there to be a difference. That to me they all looked exactly the same.
Ludwig Van Beethoven, the goth of classical music, guided the heady structures of the classical period into the emotionally explosive (read: goth) expressions of the romantic period. In the 1994 film Immortal Beloved, Beethoven (Gary Oldman) confronts his secretary, Anton Felix Schindler (Jeroen Krabbé). Schindler is prone to sweeping sentimentality, but Beethoven, despite the romantic emotions he infuses into his later compositions, takes on a much more cynical approach:
Beethoven: [in reference to "Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 47" - "Kreutzer"...] Do you like it?
Beethoven: […] Music is... a dreadful thing. What is it? I don't understand it. What does it mean?
Schindler: It—it exalts the soul.
Beethoven : Utter nonsense. If you hear a marching band, is your soul exalted? No, you march. If you hear a waltz, you dance. If you hear a mass, you take communion. It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer. The listener has no choice. It is like hypnotism. So, now... What was in my mind when I wrote this? Hmm? A man is trying to reach his lover. His carriage has broken down in the rain. The wheels stuck in the mud. She will only wait so long. This... is the sound of his agitation. "This is how it is…" the music is saying. "Not how you are used to being. Not how you are used to thinking. But like this."
Part of the joy of music is the way in which we allow it to hijack our heart. Or to put it from the opposite angle, it invites us to be the lover whose carriage has broken down in the mud. The final “this” in Beethoven’s speech is the composer dictating to the listener how to feel. A language that sounds oppressive, until we remember that we are the ones choosing to submit.
What is Ghost Dance’s “A Deeper Blue” but the master key to all songs: the search over and over for a deeper, unnamable hue? We turn to music not because in music we arrive—we are never in the superlative deepest—but because in music we travel, forever clenching our fingers around air an inch away, forever in the comparative deeper.
Each section in this essay is labeled with a shade of blue from Sherwin Williams’ Horizon Blue color collection. In theory the shades grow deeper and deeper, but don’t trust me.
Is it possible that in reaching for a deeper blue Ghost Dance are actually reaching for the blues itself? for the ancestor of all rock music? As Otis Spann frames it in “Beat Up Team”, You know the blues ain’t nothing / But a botheration on your mind / When you think your woman’s gone / Your woman there with you all the time. The blues remains an unresolved melancholy. A pain from an unknown cause though with a known origin: our own mind. To be alive is to be blue. To have the blues is to experience the exhilaration of reaching for a heartbreak you know you will never contain.
Do not confuse “A Deeper Blue” with LL Cool J’s “Deepest Bluest,” the end credits song for Deep Blue Sea. In the 1999 film, scientists in an underwater laboratory genetically engineer sharks with super intelligence in order to cure Alzheimer’s disease. The sharks, of course, break free and eat everyone except LL Cool J’s character, an ex-priest cook with a pet parrot. As the credits roll, LL’s chorus accompanies us with the lyrics Deepest bluest / My hat is like a shark’s fin / Deepest bluest / My hat is like a shark’s fin. At the deepest point, it appears, we encounter a creature we cannot understand (the shark, not LL), both supremely intelligent and utterly incomprehensible.
The truth is that in high school I was surrounded by people who seemed to know way more about music than me. Not just of a particular genre, but every type of music. Two of my roommates were classical musicians who would discuss the relative merits of Gardiner vs. Barenboim conducting Mozart’s Requiem. The upstairs neighbors had every Prodigy bootleg. My classmates back on the kibbutz memorized Shalom Hanoch’s entire discography. Above her bed, my girlfriend’s roommate had a huge homemade “Sisters of Mercy” ASCII art banner, dot matrix printed on continuous perforated paper. And I was left wondering: why was she such a huge Leonard Cohen fan? I could fake my knowledge of music because faking knowledge is something that runs in my family. I could talk to the upstairs neighbors about the bass line in Primus because I watched the movie Empire Records and that information comes up in a post-credits scene. But not because I actually knew anything about Primus. Everyone around me seemed to be able to really dive into their musical tastes. But my taste felt hopelessly provincial. Accidental. Not deep.
Reaching for a deeper blue can be the reaching for a time no longer. My girlfriend’s sister was only a few years older than us, but was just on the right side of the timeline. She had access to an era that we never got to taste. Plus, she was part of the Tel Aviv punk scene. In other words, she was cool. And though one can argue that she had a more authentic experience of Ghost Dance than we ever could, I would counter and say that we had a bluer experience—we were searching and searching for something already lost, a melancholy of nostalgia.
Ghost Dance earn some extra Goth cred from ex-Sisters of Mercy lead-guitarist, Gary Marx. And it’s true—from the opening loopy arpeggios to fairly complex chorus licks—Marx delivers. Marx, however, also obfuscates: rather than allow Anne-Marie Hurst’s meditation on a deeper blue to resonate alone, the song retains the standard 80s response to all complicated and deep questions: a shreddy guitar. Or perhaps this is the necessary precision, a response in the sublime key to a question that language can’t answer. Perhaps a deeper blue can never be described in words, only in notes.
I spent the entire five-hour ride from Eilat listening to Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” on the mixtape she made me. I rewound the cassette over and over, and by the time the bus rolled into the Jerusalem Central Bus Station the weakened batteries slowed Lou Reed down to the vocal range of Tom Waits. It was the first time we were separated for longer than a weekend and I think I was actually surprised by how painful it felt. Lou Reed would linger on those pale blue eyes and I would try to visualize her blue, caught in a contradiction between wanting to feel Reed’s professed longing and my unresolved sense that “pale” was somehow an insult. I was down in Eilat to run experiments for my high school capstone bio project—DNA sequencing Tilapia sex hormones. The trip was the first time I encountered the Red Sea. Unlike the Mediterranean, the sea of my childhood, the Red Sea was fathomless. It was beautiful and it was terrifying. Not so much above water, where there was a pleasant contrast between the sapphire blue of the sea and the clay red of the mountains across the Jordanian border. But underwater, with goggles on, beyond the initial shock of blue I saw the trench: the seawall dropping into an impossible chasm, the water so clear that all of the details were visible, every single fish and coral. And then a blue growing darker and darker as you approach the deep. But all the visibility rendered was the sense of a beyond, a place that draws us to get lost in it, and at the same time instantly communicates how small we are. It is the closest I imagine I will ever be to floating in space. Though by then I already knew I was colorblind, at that moment I didn’t feel colorblind.
Jenny Boully: “But let me talk about blue for a moment: blue is the color of light the director will always choose for events which take place in the past. And so, character A will remember a walk in the snow: and although we are still in this character’s living room in the present, the lights dim, and the blue gel shines solely upon him, while he embarks to the past and reenacts for us his struggles to find shelter, his near-death in a desert so white. And so, here I am, so blue, so blue—it is summer; hummingbirds flit about the red hibiscus, while you are on the other side of the scaffolding, refusing to break through.”
Immortal Beloved culminates with Beethoven conducting his 9th symphony, “Ode to Joy.” The movement changes to a sweeping march, and as the soundtrack alternates between the symphony as the audience hears it and Beethoven’s deaf soundscape (heartbeats, his own breathing, a dull thud) the footage cuts away to a child—a young Beethoven running away from his abusive father. The child arrives at a secluded pond. The full choral bursts out with the Ode (“Hearts unfold… to the sun above”). We see a bird’s-eye-view of young Beethoven floating in a pool. And as the camera pulls back, his body growing smaller and smaller, the pond is filled with the night sky, Beethoven becoming one of many stars. The entire scene is, of course, saturated in blue.
Noam Dorr is the author of Love Drones (forthcoming from Sarabande Books, July 2019). Born and raised in Kibbutz Givat Haim Ichud, Israel, he is currently a doctoral candidate in the Literature and Creative Writing Ph.D. program at the University of Utah. This is a photo of him around when "A Deeper Blue" was released. It is the closest he will ever come to having Anne-Marie Hurst's hair.