first round game
(2) smashing pumpkins, “bullet with butterfly wings”
(15) nosferatu, “diva”
and will 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 8.
a world of vampires: ian maxton on “bullet with butterfly wings”
Capital is dead labor, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks. —Karl Marx, Capital
The world is a vampire . . . —Smashing Pumpkins, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
I bought it at Goodwill. The plastic tabs that allowed the case to swing open were broken. An irony of the CD era was that indulgent double-albums were packed into cheap plastic cases, visually minimized to the point of being ridiculous. The case would break and fall apart and scatter across the floor of my Pontiac Trans Sport minivan—the first step on its long journey to the landfill. The discs would either make their way into a fake-leather album that housed dozens of discs or, eventually, get dumped onto my iPod, a small brick compressing the grandiose album even further into absurdity. The result was that I carried Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness around in my pocket every day of high school.
An admission: in my youth I related more to the sweeping melodrama of “Tonight, Tonight,” and the broke-down nostalgia of “1979.” I would drive, with windows down, through the flatness of suburbs and cornfields around my hometown, haloed by halogen streetlights, Corgan’s voice curling through the evening summer air, inscribing meaning on the empty, dark world passing out the window, in love with my own sadness. But these are not the songs I am writing about. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” offers something these others cannot. It is a tune through which to channel anger. It is cathartic. While certainly in the same vein as the rest of the album’s too-muchness, the too-muchness here is all about being mad at like, the system, man.
And Billy Corgan is pissed. Corgan is a particular type of ur-American-white-boy. He vents his rage as a way to flatter his own vanity, to flout his virtuous anger, and hide the fact that he is a drama-queen—a phrase which disguises this attitude as a gendered one, which it most certainly is not. Corgan is petty. He is a fit-thrower. In the year of our lord 2019, Corgan’s antics are common knowledge to anyone who has ever paid attention to his career. But, on Mellon Collie, he channeled all of this into a two-hour rock opus that modulates wildly and thrillingly between rage and romanticism. It is an album for the freaks and the ghouls, with Corgan as ringmaster. He is an actor, swinging from melody to invective, sweetness to venom. It is difficult to say if he is completely self-serious, or scenery chewing. I am inclined to think the former. No matter, we love him for it.
Here is a list of some things that make “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” undeniable: the monotone drawl of the opening line; the way Corgan curls his lips around the word “rat”—spitting it through his teeth; the way the toms gurgle up from the primordial ooze of the opening line to lead the song on its dark march; the guitar noise holding out for those four beats at the end of the chorus; the way, three-quarters of the way through the song, all the noise that has been built up drops out, leaving only Corgan’s voice and that gothic guitar as he intones: “Someone will say, ‘what is lost can never be saved’”—before the band bursts back in and Corgan curls his lips once more; the unresolved chord at the end. The song sits perfectly at the nexus of goth and punk and grunge, where dread, petulance, and bitterness are in balance.
There is something silly in all this. It is easy to poke fun at the song simply by intoning the first lines in one’s best Corgan impression—tHe WoRlD iS a VaMpIrE. I have done this. In the lyrics, it isn’t enough for Billy to compare himself to plain ‘ole Job (who is, despite what the song might suggest, mostly known for losing his cool)—he’s got to be the Son of God; he will settle for nothing less. I have laughed at this song as often as I have sung along to it. Then again, when artists are afraid of looking ridiculous, of risking parody, they accomplish little.
Indeed, it is a testament to Corgan’s abilities as a songwriter and musician (I trust he will not read this, the swelling of his head could be fatal) that “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” manages to move me. All the same, I am skeptical of identification in art, and this is a good example of why. “Identifying” with Corgan, or, if you prefer, the persona he takes on in this song, requires one to adopt a level of paranoia, of self-aggrandizement, of chosen-one ethos that is truly staggering, almost absurd. And yet, have I not felt this? Needed to feel this? It is not enough to rage, and here, it is all channeled back to Corgan’s ego, making the anger of the song easily internalized.
Karl Marx more or less prefigured Corgan’s own observation that the world, indeed, is a vampire. For Marx, the goth(ic) image of the capitalist-as-vampire was a distillation of his larger critique that the capitalist class could only survive through the exploitation of workers, sucking their time and labor—their very lives—dry, in order to sustain the lifestyles of the ownership class, who do no real labor. In my youth, I did not think of Marx when I listened to Smashing Pumpkins. Now—I do.
It is strange, how I have changed. I’ve aged, but managed to stay the same, too. These bizarre connections, across space and time, will continue to persist through the years. This Marxist wrinkle in the song—this echo which I doubt Corgan ever intended, and which I, until recently, had never noticed—has made the song layered and interesting, to me. It has given it a different life and space in my head. The story of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” is that one can only escape by transcending the world as a “chosen one” through authentic and singular creative acts. If only the record company vampires would leave him alone, Corgan could be real every night on that stage and make whatever most satisfied him. I identified with that—maybe I still do.
But now, on top of that, is an entirely different layer. Marx’s critique is, at its core, a critique of structures and systems. Yes, they are made up of individual actors, but getting rid of a few capitalists—getting rid of a few record execs—will change nothing. Marx urges the individual to recognize their place in this complex web of systems, choose a side, and form webs of connection and solidarity that seek to dismantle the system as a whole. To channel the rage one feels at the sense that things are unjust at their core into action that might begin to change that fact. As the late writer Mark Fisher wrote in his essay—aptly titled—“Exiting the Vampire Castle”:
Our struggle must be towards the construction of a new and surprising world, not the preservation of identities shaped and distorted by capital. If this seems like a forbidding and daunting task, it is . . . . We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree—on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication.
When Corgan snarls the world is a vampire, I snarl along with him. I know, too, that he is missing the point—evident in the age of his tea shops, wrestling leagues and InfoWars. This is the rage—attention-seeking, misdirected—of the “misunderstood” bourgeois artist.
It is difficult to extricate oneself from the art one found meaningful in youth. Like all kinds of belief, taste begins to calcify at a certain point, and you have to learn how to own it rather than be embarrassed by it. This is the legacy of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”: I cannot quite get away from it, though there are times I want to. It is now a question of living with its central feeling—rage—and through whatever alchemy I can, turning it toward productive means. Righteous anger is still just anger. So, one hopes to add to it the soberness that sometimes comes with growing older. Time is never time at all, isn’t that how it goes? You think your past is on the other side of the ocean and then you turn a corner and there it is, unexpectedly staring you in the face—both alien and familiar. One hopes to listen; to be patient; to be kind; to do the humble work that is required for any real change to take place. To move from feeling, to critique, to action. For Corgan, it is all about him, but there is no reason we need to find ourselves uncritically reflecting this.
Still, there will be days when you find yourself trapped, when things seem meaningless. There will be days when you are worn down and the fire begins to die. And on those days, you must return to the dawn of it. Pull that dull brick that holds the ones and zeroes that form the strange passageway to that girl, emerging from a star—an entire galaxy of feeling. You must put your headphones in your ears, or turn the volume up on your speakers, and shout along with this strange, ridiculous, pallid man in order to ensure that the embers never fade . . .
Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage . . .
And I still believe that I cannot be saved
Ian Maxton is a writer and an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and their two cats.
margarita cruz on “diva”
Somehow, history repeats and all good things happen in the light.
In the hollow smiles of men that dance
The wheels of might in wasted miles
The light shines bright for you
And the night comes down
The light shines bright for those who never want to see it. Or don’t get to see it. Like the dead, or rather more so the living dead—vampires. The popular subculture in which people paint themselves pale (if not already blessed with it), live only at night, and feast off someone else’s energy or blood. How did we get here, how did we become so obsessed with pretending that we are dead, powerful creatures of the night reliant on the energy of others to sustain ourselves? You can thank Nosferatu, the first and oldest cinematic vampire in the world. Nosferatu brought vampirism to the forefront of the European world, kicking Bram Stoker’s Dracula to the sidelines. So naturally, one of the most notorious and scene setting bands was named after a classic: Nosferatu.
Nosferatu is named after the cinematic masterpiece, which is not only just about vampires but is in itself such a badass film. Basically plagiarizing Dracula by Bram Stoker without permission, Nosferatu was distributed around Europe before Stoker’s heirs realized that the director, F.W Murnau had mostly plagiarized the story. The Stoker estate sued the company that had produced the film, Prana Film, and won. The movie was ordered to be destroyed, recalled, and banished from existing. After pillaging most of Germany for this movie, few copies still survived to become the classic we know today. Nosferatu should not have even survived, should never have even left Germany. It’s a masterpiece that shouldn’t have made it. Arguably, but perhaps not even arguably, Nosferatu the band could have lived and died during the beginnings of the second wave but it didn’t. Perhaps they really were the living dead.
Nosferatu should have never lived, either. Arguably. The original band lineup constantly changed, lead singers dropped in and out. Their first show almost never happened, a blown amp and a last resort to play on something much smaller. A lead singer who left. Their mom helped fund one album and someone’s boss, another. For extended periods of time, they took breaks to focus on writing. Later on, they would have close run-ins with death, like having their car die in the middle of Parisian traffic. How did a band become resurrected so many times?
Perhaps it was fate that they began to curate their marketability towards vampirism during the height of second generation goth music in the UK. They were already fascinated, taking up the name Nosferatu, but how does one take it towards the next level? They began to ride in hearses to shows, appear on stage in coffins, and preach from pulpits (before Marilyn Manson, okay!). In 1992, as they reached a stage of popularity where they were booking show after show after show, they also released “Diva”. This is the song that gains traction on a much larger scale. Nosferatu releases “Diva” on a seven inch red vinyl in which only five hundred copies were created. After selling all of the copies, the vinyl becomes so hard to get a hold of it's been said that not even the members of the band have one. They were a vampire group with a blood red vinyl, rare as vampires in the daylight.
Somehow, history repeats and vampires never die.
The corn grows tall in hallowed fields
The flames burn high
The bodies yield
Keep me halo.
Margarita Cruz is a MFA candidate for Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University. She is currently the poetry editor for Thin Air Magazine, secretary for the Northern Arizona Book Festival, bookseller and social media manager for Bright Side Bookshop, and the tiniest bouncer in the most Irish pub in Flagstaff, Arizona.