first round game
(1) siouxsie and the banshees, “cities in dust”
(16) london after midnight, “kiss”
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.

Which song best pleases your black heart? (Vote by 9am AZ time 3/4)
Cities in Dust

danielle cadena deulen and j. max stinson on “cities in dust”

It had been almost a year since I was last hospitalized when Kristin began making overtures. It might have been sooner, but I have always been frustratingly obtuse regarding signals from women. My natural gift for uncomprehending feminine attentions was certainly made worse by the torch I held for a girl I met in the hospital. Oh, Hospital Girl. I white-knuckle gripped that torch. Beyond the clear romance of meeting in a psychiatric ward and sharing some childhood trauma, Hospital Girl was a brunette, dark-eyed punk. Hardcore punk. Where I meekly suffered the aftereffects of my damage, she donned it like rusty spiked armor and threw her weaponized self at the world. In the radiance of her glorious self-destruction, all other girls were peripheral shades. So, I had to blink and look sideways at Kristin when she plopped down next to me on a smoke break between classes and asked me to prom.

“Prom? Us?” It was not just the “us” part, but I had never given prom serious thought. I was not able to properly imagine it.
She was visibly nervous and brought the bravado on heavy. Backhanding my chest, she said, “Hell yes, us. We would tear that place down, dude. We can storm the thing, and when we get bored just pull a fire alarm or something. Say yes.”
“How much will it cost?” My weekend job at the car wash only covered gas, music purchases, and the exorbitant rates teens usually pay for their drugs and booze— which Kristin had been supplying me with during our lunchtime valium-and-vodka talks off campus. “And I have to buy a tux, too. Don’t I?”
“I already bought the tickets.”
“Really? Why?”
She shrugged. “I think it is going to be fun. I plan to blow the minds of some preppies. Come on. Say yes. And you rent a tux, not buy one. Be sure the cummerbund is red. I’m wearing a red sash. You don’t have to go. I’m gonna go. If you don’t want, it’s no big deal. I want you to, but it’s no big deal. I could sell the tickets.”
I regarded her for the first time as a possible date. She was pretty. Slender and pale with reddish-brown hair and sharp features. She wore skinny black pants and a green flight jacket with her hair spiked up in all the right ways. She was a traditional punk, first and second wave. I was a mix of maudlin Brit synth pop and death rock. I wore red eyeliner to look especially unhealthy, a whip of blue hair across my face, and a general disposition of gloom. Kristin had an older sister who was living large in the LA scene and was a conduit for her tastes. For weeks, she’d been making me mixed tapes and loaned me VHS cassette collections of some damn obscure music videos. She introduced me to bands she enjoyed like Killing Joke and The Buzzcocks, and to music she rightly thought I would like, such as “Cities in Dust” by Siouxsie & the Banshees. In a nearby parking lot, we’d had the deep talks all teens think they are having while we ate our food, took our pills, and drank our booze. Looking away from me, waiting for an answer, her jaw tensed.
I held my hand up to calm her. “No-no. Sure. Yeah. It’s gonna be cool. Let’s do it.”
She hugged me—a first—and headed back to campus. If she looked back, I didn’t see it. I stared at my cigarette and tried to understand how I was feeling.


A banshee is a creature you hear before you die. Nasty hag, beautiful woman, singing soothsayer, omen embodied, she flies around the houses of the ill and injured, divining their deaths with a piercing wail. She screeched her hymns through famines and plagues. She wailed with storms, mudslides, floods, and when Mount Vesuvius opened its maw above the ancient city of Pompeii, it was her howl that erupted over the crowds of people just before they were covered in ash.

Nearly two millennia later, that banshee would return as Siouxsie Sioux, releasing “Cities in Dust” to a throng of devotees, making her own legend. An anachronistic diva. The future is the past:

Water was running children were running 
You were running out of time 
Under the mountain, a golden fountain 
Were you praying at the Lares shrine? 

The destruction of Pompeii has drawn the imaginative attention from people in the Western world since it was unearthed in 1748.  Some are drawn to the site because of its preservation of the past—the way it provides insight into everyday historical experience. Some are drawn to the narratives made from the remains of the human forms, some to how swiftly and completely an entire city was removed from existence—a terrible reminder of mortality. You think you’ve got big plans, huh? Remember Pompeii. But there’s something about the particular moment in which Siouxsie composed the song that harmonized with the youth of America. The single came out in 1986, smack dab in the Age of Reagan—ultra-conservative, middle class, Christian values reigning everywhere, or at least the veneer of them—everything bleached and shining like the laminate kitchen counters in suburban homes.

There’s a mocking tone of the opening verse that places itself in direct combat with domestic complacency: the children running, the fountain fashioned from gold, and the Lares Shrine—a guardian deity of the household often placed near the hearth—all gone in one fell swoop. Also, the “you.”  As in “you people.”  As in, not me—and maybe even I ran away from your bullshit town a long time agoYou thought that trinket shrine would protect you… 

But oh your city lies in dust, my friend 
Oh, oh your city lies in dust, my friend

But it gets worse. How, you might wonder, does it get worse than all the inhabitants of a city crushed or suffocated by molten rock and ash?  Well, centuries later, the people who found their unmarked graves would be so fascinated by their horrible death that their bodies would be displayed, photographed, and fetishized, in the way capitalist values make nothing sacred:

We found you hiding we found you lying
Choking on the dirt and sand
Your former glories and all the stories
Dragged and washed with eager hands


The night was what it was. When this off-campus event called prom adhered to the school rules on smoking and everything else, I wanted to leave. I was a dud date, I am certain, preoccupied and angry. I can’t remember if she even got a dance out of me. Most likely not. What a treat for Kristin.
“Let’s go. Let’s just take off and drink or something,” I sulked. She was gracious enough to leave with me. I drove us to the elementary school near her house and parked where we drank more vodka and ate more valium. She put on a mixed tape she made for me, straddled my lap and kissed me so deeply that her braces began to draw blood. She whispered confessions of affection as we kissed and dry humped, the shadows from the street dimming her face, her spikey hair. When “Cities in Dust” came on, she climbed off me and sat in the passenger seat. She eased it down and pulled me over on top of her. Siouxsie Sioux sang out over the speakers:

Hot and burning in your nostrils
Pouring down your gaping mouth
Your molten bodies, blanket of cinders
Caught in the throes…

Kristin held my face, kissed my cheek. “I want this. I’m ready.” She laid back, brought balled fists to her chest, and nodded. I realized she was a virgin.
I decided the night was over. I had had an unsettling amount of sex by the time I found myself in that car with Kristin, but I had never been a person’s first, and had a big hang-up about that—maybe a hangover from my Southern Baptist past. I viewed the act of deflowering a person as evil. When the opportunity presented itself and she to me, I literally ran away. I rolled off Kristin and started the car.
“I should get you home.”
“Wait—what? What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing. I just have to get home.” I was starting to hyperventilate.
“Yes! Now!”
We were in front of her home in less than five mute minutes. The lights were on.
“I don’t understand what just happened. What did I do wrong? Tell me. Can we leave before my parents see us? Let’s go back, and you can tell me what I am supposed to do. I’ll do it.”
“This is me being weird. This just is not right. You are fine. I am the one messing up.” This went on for a couple of minutes until her driveway light came on.
“Your parents are waiting. Go.”
She climbed out of my car, bewildered. I was careful to not let the tires spin out as I pulled away.


Goth is a histrionic art. At the center of the arguments that deride the music, the style, is a distaste for the theatrics of it, which I suspect is disguised discomfort with the emotional, the feminine. The dramatic externalizing of pain through fashion and music might strike some as inauthentic—a commodifying of pain in the way capitalism commodifies everything. Pain, as western people understand it, is a thing yoked to shame, and you don’t parade shame around on stage, or sing about it. You let it burn in your pockets, on your tongue. You let it bury you. There’s a distrust of anyone dangling their darkness out in front of them. If she is drawing our attention to pain—the civilized mind imagines—she must not have actually lived it. She must be a liar, or deranged—hysterical.
Hysterical. Histrionic. History. I think of the Salpêtrière asylum of Paris in the late 1800’s—a place for vagabonds, epileptics, women with venereal diseases, old maids, malformed infants, and mad women. Upon arrival, they were whipped, interned once their “punishment certificate” was complete. The head physician of the hysterical wing was Jean-Martin Charcot, now known as the “Father of Neurology.” Charcot was an exhaustive taxonomist of hysteria: drawings, photographs, observation, description, classification. He wanted to discover, claim, name, categorize—not cure. In his observational sessions, his patients were stripped naked and ordered to keep silent while he drew them, supposedly to focus on the symptoms that neurology might explain: motor paralyses, sensory losses, convulsions, and amnesia. 
His theory was that hysteria was caused by lesions in the brain, so he waited patiently for his patients to die to crack open their skulls. He never found lesions, which frustrated him. Instead, he found how his philanthropic work with these women—who would interact with such creatures except a saint?—fascinated the people of high society. Hysterical symptoms were so tawdry, consumable: hypersexuality, imaginative to the point of hallucination, self-centered, emotionally demonstrative, given to violent outbursts when their stories of sexual trauma weren’t taken as true. The lurid fascination for these frail and dangerous women reached fever pitch in Charcot’s Tuesday lectures, attended by scientists and aristocracy alike, during which he paraded his patients under hypnosis, triggering them into outbursts, flashbacks or seizures—all for the approval of his audience.
What made these women so strange and wicked that they were kept away from the innocent public? First, they were haunted by their painful pasts, and second, they displayed their pain. In other words, good girls don’t cry—and neither did good boys, for that matter. For decades, men suffering from similar symptoms, usually upon returning from combat, were treated for “male hysteria,” then “shell shock” and now PTSD—a disorder that forms when a person has difficulty recovering from the shock of a traumatic event. By the time was I sent to the psychiatric hospital, the men and women suffering from what would have historically been called hysteria were treated together, in talking circles, with coffee and cigarettes. We could listen to each other’s stories without flinching, recognize that we freaks could form a community.
I’m not saying that it’s genius—the Goth way of making drama of darkness. In fact, most of the bands that have been credited with creating or riding the first wave of that post-punk genre give sour lips to the label “goth.” Siouxsie despises being labeled “goth.” So does Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy and Robert Smith of The Cure, and Peter Murphy of Bau-fucking-haus. They are fine with their fans calling themselves that, but they will also explain how their commercial successes cannot be laid on the shoulders of such a relatively small, niche purchasing group. This upsets the fans. Siouxsie does not care. This delights the fans.
It’s just that Siouxsie showed a different aesthetic, a different perspective. At the black heart of goth style is the subversion of the conventional ideals that trap people in a façade of nice. The theatricality surrounding pain, darkness, and death, is meant as a mirror to the theatricality of The Normal. To make art of confusion, the clothes remix contemporary and historical fashions in an anachronistic display. The make-up is clown-like both in image and aim—to unsettle its audience with exaggerated features, distorted mouths. You can see why this might appeal to those who felt sequestered inside the standardization of 1980’s America: the madwomen, the queer boys, the totally reasonably depressed. Instead of hiding their strange backstage to protect the sensibilities of convention, they could strut out into the spotlight, into a bright applause. That is, we could applaud each other. As pearl-clutching mundanes and normies looked on with their own theatrics of outrage and unself-reflective chagrin, we could fall in love with each other’s pain.


It was before midnight, and I got on the freeway to kill some hours before sunrise. I headed to Hospital Girl’s neighborhood and drank coffee at a beachside doughnut shop, romantically dour until the sun came up. It was a school day, and I planned to catch Hospital Girl on the way out her front door.  She would understand me leaving the prom.  She would approve of me leaving Kristin without ruining her.  She would, perhaps, be cool with my confessions of affection for her. I pulled up in front of her house and, too eager, I walked to the door and gently knocked.
Her mother answered. She looked burned out, exhausted, confused:
“What’s going on? What’s happened?”
“Is she here? I just left a prom date to come here. I need to tell her something. That I’m ready?”
“For what? What is happening? Have you heard from her?”
I learned Hospital Girl had run away months ago. Her mother had no idea where she was or if she was alive. I’d been harboring these feelings, this story about us, and she had a completely different story. I wasn’t even in her story.  I stood there stupidly a moment, said something like “sorry to bother you, sorry she’s missing” and went back to my car.
When I returned to school, I gave Kristin a wide berth and minimal acknowledgement. Everyone assumed we had sex, and I corrected them, I thought, to save her honor—though deep down I knew I was just covering up my freak out. Of course, I said nothing about how she was game or how I derailed the evening. Instead, I told people that her braces shredded my mouth and that there was no way I was going to have sex with her. I thought this was respectful of her and the best way. Kristin and I never really spoke to one another again. I dropped out of high school not long after.
Three decades later, and still that moment in my car with Kristin rising up every time I hear “Cities in Dust,” I decided to find her on social media sites to see if I might apologize and explain my behavior. I didn’t expect that it would change her life—maybe she didn’t think of me at all—but I still felt like I owed her that much. It didn’t take long for me to find friends of friends, who told me that she was dead.
She went in her sleep in her early twenties. They offered no further details and I didn’t push.


A banshee cannot harm or heal.  She can only give warning. Her voice points into a time, into a place, into a moment of illness, injury, disaster. She’s not a reaper, but a seer, not a teacher, but a singer—her song a sonic crash between the living and the dead. In her arrival, she strikes the living into fearful contemplation. In her departure, she leaves contrails of questions.

Danielle and Max Day of the Dead.jpg

Danielle Cadena Deulen is the author of a memoir, The Riots (U. of Georgia Press, 2011), and two poetry collections, Lovely Asunder (U. of Arkansas Press, 2011), and Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us (Barrow Street, 2015). She’s an Associate Professor at Willamette University and hosts a literary podcast at On Twitter: @DanielleDeulen. On Instagram: @dcdeulen. On her author site:


J. Max Stinson is a recovered ne’re-do-well, stay at home dad, and podcast co-host at On Twitter: @VitaReadings. On Instagram: @litfromthebasement.

denry winter willson on “kiss”

I don’t want to overwhelm you with personal detail right off the bat, but, at one point during my second stab at a bachelor’s degree, I signed up for a Gothic literature class because it met an elective requirement and I thought it sounded cool. I texted my friend and Goth colleague Guillermo that I’d be pondering death and wearing guyliner in no time.
Part of earning a bachelor’s degree is occasionally powering through papers you don’t want to write about books you don’t necessarily love. I wrote my fair share of those papers, and I turned them in with my chin up. I read The Mysteries of Udolpho for my Gothic Literature class just like I’d read The Castle of Otranto before it. I kept a reading journal on Udolpho. I thought about the themes of Udolpho, and how those themes connected to specific instances in the narrative that I’d flagged for review. I went to office hours.
I withdrew from Gothic Literature knowing that I’d eat the units and the tuition. I cried. It was Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho that broke me. When it came time to write an academic paper on Udolpho, I froze up. I just couldn’t have cared any less about any of it. It was as if my paper was trapped inside of some moated psychic castle.


I know Guillermo from working with him at a second-hand multimedia and knickknack Tucson superstore called Bookmans. We worked together for three years. Here’s something I can comfortably say: if I started seeing Guillermo around town wearing clothes that weren’t black, I’d just know in my heart of hearts that he was undergoing some profound spiritual change.
I set up a casual interview with Guillermo to ask him what Goth is. I knew some stuff going into the interview: my gothic literature professor had spent a couple of lectures on Gothic architecture, I’d read a couple of Gothic texts, I’ve taken introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses on hurt and death, I stay up late and would probably stay up later if I could, I’ve toured a couple of graveyards myself, I think I look good in black, but I am muddled in my thinking about how it all adds up. Guillermo and I met at a bar called The Royal Room--a space formerly known as the Velvet Tea Garden, which was, in its day, a bar and venue for an after hours goth-industrial event called The Haunted Palace.
I set up a little recorder and fired away. My rendering of it--from what I can tell--Guillermo got into Goth, at least partly, for the same reason that many young boys show interest in anything at all: girls. He got his Anne Rice starter kit. He bought his first pair of black Bugle Boys. He sought an escape from the suffocating super culture. He felt the adolescent pangs that accompany the realization of the actuality of death and doom and just how very real everything can be. The nights he didn’t want to end, he ended with early mornings of coffee and pie at the Village Inn.


Guillermo tells me that “Kiss” isn’t about getting Bauhaus’d in the parking lot or for Orlockian wanderings through the mists, but for dancing. He tells me “Kiss” hit a major dancehall nerve. He assures me--Denry Winter Willson--coming off the bench for the big game--up against Siouxsie and the Banshees--that there are many souls out there for whom “Kiss” was and still is a must-dance favorite.
I imagine it goes something like this: you’re at the club buying a drink when the DJ puts “Kiss” on. The opening notes start hitting and you know you have about eight seconds to pay the bartender and race to the dancefloor. You know that you won’t make it in time for the splashy beat to drop, and that you’ll spill half of your drink dancing on the way, but you don’t care, knowing as you know and as you are that this whole world’s teacup is already broken.


The lyrics have rage, rape, fate, and way more.


At the end of our interview at The Royal Room a couple of weeks earlier, Guillermo invited me over to his house for a tour. My questions about Goth culture had been general and aimless, and Guillermo felt that it would be a good idea for me to behold some serious Goth antiquities in three-dimensional space, to flip through actual 1980s issues of Propaganda.
I went to The Red Manse. Guillermo’s dog Buddy, is the kind of dog I immediately imagine myself taking a bullet for. Guillermo and I spent a half hour admiring Buddy while Buddy leaned against my leg in a way that made me imagine long montages of Buddy and I playing fetch in fields of fallen autumn leaves. Buddy was wearing an enviable corded sweater the color of coffee and cream. I knew I’d come to the right place to learn about an aesthetic-heavy culture when I found myself feeling the fabric of Buddy’s sweater and wondering, Where did you get this?
We poured some absinthe, put on Cleopatra’s 4-CD Goth Box survey compilation, and toured The Red Manse.
On the mantel in his living room, Guillermo has a huge black-and-white papier-mâché guitarrón. In his office he has a collection of fountain pens and a silver-plated chair whose back looks like the spinal column of the Gigerian alien. In the hallway he has a very cool and—I’m going out on a limb here—well-composed B&W photograph of an asymmetrical cross made from negative spaces between portions of a mausoleum in Paris.
We ended up in the library, the informal but known destination of this tour. Guillermo is a used bookstore veteran and he has a varied and deliberate collection of books with sections like Castles, Racing Dystopias, and, Tsarist Russia, to name a few. As much as I’d come for the Goth B-sides though, I’d also come for the hits.
This is March Vladness. Out of a field of 64 bands, I know ten by name, possibly 9. When I think of Goth I think of wearing black all the time and a state of perpetual mourning. I think of Euro dudes with shaved heads shiny from designer drugs. I think of the commercial with the group of hip vampires and the rising sun, where one of the vampires explodes for the unforgivable sin of forgetting his Ray-Ban sunglasses.
I was at The Red Manse because I needed a tome and codex of Goth Culture. Well, it turns out that such things actually exist. The big two seem to be Mick Mercer’s Gothic Rock: All you ever wanted to know … but were too gormless to ask, and Hex Files: The Goth Bible. When I flip through them though, the information and photos contained therein means little to me because the scene the books describe took place decades earlier, while I was airballing basketballs and listening to the soundtrack of Free Willy.
I’m probably more on the level of Aurelio Voltaire’s What is Goth? That’s Voltaire of New Jersey, rather than Candide fame. Guillermo described Voltaire to me as someone who is Goth, but also a clown prince of Goth, a spirit of contradictions (I liked him immediately). I flipped through What is Goth but, by then, it had become pretty clear to me that my true Guide to Goth wasn’t in the books, but outside of them, showing me around his library.
One of the funny things about Goth culture--aside from wondering whether or not it’s un/dead--is that it’s a bit of a sandbox match as far as who started it. Was it the media looking at the bands? Was it the audience listening to the bands? Was it the media looking at the audience? Did the bands have anything to do with it? If it was Mick Mercer calling a song “Gothic” in ZigZag, surely that was just a happenstance spark that landed in a field full of dry cultural grass.
It seems like everyone has their own personal finger to point though, and Guillermo and I did dip into the conversation about how there are some dearly held and highly-seeded  artists in this year’s tourney who have rejected the “Goth” label. Guillermo showed me a copy of July 1997’s Details’ “The Gloom Generation” as well as a Tucson scene veteran’s own first issue of Newgrave August/September 2000 featuring none other than LAM’s Sean Brennan on the cover w/ interview. Most of the interview with LAM was just about what they were up to, musically, in 2000, but it took a broader turn towards the end:

Newgrave: You have in some sense turned your back on the “gothic” and “macabre” side of things, you’ve headed toward a more commercial mainstream attitude. Why?

LAM: I don’t see what I do as heading in a commercial direction at all. And I don’t think I ever sounded like anything or fit in anywhere musically. I am still doing exactly what I want to do, however I have grown--evolution, not purposeful change in any direction. I mean, LAM has always been either praised or condemned because we didn’t sound like anyone, didn’t sound like a typical goth band, but we have lots of goths as fans. So, I don’t think there was a day that LAM fit in a category anywhere. So to say that we’ve changed from being something we never were in the first place is kind of inaccurate. Also, I find that the current goth scene is somewhat stuck in an eighties rut. I do not like most eighties music so for me to listen to bad new wave in a goth club, or bad goth music you’ve been hearing since 1984, while it’s not too exciting, and in fact, gives the genre and scene a bad name because people see it as this thing that never grows or evolves, and actually shuns new ideas. So, the stagnation of the scene is something that is not appealing to me. Also, there is a lot of negativity and a few people in the scene, people who spread lies and thrive off of chaos. But, there are some cool bands and great things happening also. Germany is a very active place and has lots of great things happening. So I have not turned my back on the scene as a whole, but from the people who thrive off the destructive and/or burnt out aspects of it. There are countless numbers of amazing people in the goth scene. But we as a band are going to evolve, and hopefully the scene evolves too.

And there you have it. LAM’s relationship with Goth is its own gem, kind of like the relationship represented in “Kiss.” LAM’s response strikes me as a bit more considered and balanced though, and a little less, um, merciless than some of the other rejection letters penned to Goth.
Guillermo and I wrapped up the night with me showing him my dance moves for “Kiss.” We talked about the various forces that conjured a subculture from spare parts, and about which audiences have been potentially buttering whose band’s bread all these years. We talked about what happens to a culture when the chieftains who never let anybody in eventually move on or die, and how for every chieftain, there is usually a handful of kids who seek keys to the inner sanctum, and who also want to wear dark clothes from Hot Topic.


Denry Willson lives in Tucson, AZ.. He would like to thank Guillermo the IVth for offering his time, hospitality, editorial assists, and all of the links above and beyond.  If you would like to read Guillermo’s writing on growing up Goth check out his blog Dark Entries, and specifically his personal recollection “on being the Gothfather” and essay “regard for the Gothic”.

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