first round game
(7) type o negative, “black no. 1 (little miss scare-all)”
(19) the sisterhood, “colours”
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 6.
eric scott fischl on “black no. 1 (little miss scare-all)”
July 29, 1885: Theodosia Burr Goodman (above) is born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a Polish Jewish tailor and his Swiss wife. She is likely named after the beloved daughter of former American Vice-President Aaron Burr; in 1812, Burr’s daughter disappeared at sea, possibly captured and killed by pirates. She is never heard from again, although rumors persist that she lived in hiding for some years after, until her natural death. It is unclear why Theodosia Burr Goodman is given her name.
August 17th, 1993: Type O Negative releases the album Bloody Kisses, featuring the sarcastic, eleven-minute epic Black No. 1, a satirical paean to a goth ex-girlfriend of frontman Peter Steele. The name of the song refers to a type of hair dye. Steele was born Petrus Thomas Ratajczyk on January 4, 1962, and chooses the porny stage name “Peter Steele” for reasons of his own. Steele stands 6’8” tall, and looks like this:
September 30th, 2018: I receive my March Vladness commission to essay upon the aforementioned song Black No. 1. I really know very little about goth music. In truth, Type O Negative was one of the few bands on the list whose music I recognized. Fortunately, my draft seeding is high and I get my pick. The song soon reaches the top of the charts in my house, played loudly and on heavy rotation – much to the consternation of my partner – while I begin planning my essay. “Are we going to have to listen to this shit for the next six months?” she says. “No, only for five months,” is my reply.
August 10, 2010: Peter Steele dies of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 48. Given his huge size, I wonder if perhaps he’d suffered from an undiagnosed case of acromegaly, a pituitary disorder. Cardiac issues are common with acromegaly. A Google search of “Peter Steele acromegaly” is inconclusive. I recall that Steele died on-stage. This is tragic, but is also extremely goth, and I think I can work this into my essay somehow. Then I realize I’ve been thinking of Mark Sandman, from the band Morphine; Sandman is another bass-playing, baritone-voiced frontman. On March 3, 1999, he dies onstage in Italy at the age of 46. Morphine is not a part of the March Vladness selection. As near as I can tell from Google, Sandman stood six feet tall, which is my own height. I’ll turn 46 in a few months, and have also been a musician. This all seems very ominous, but then I remind myself that I no longer play music. I’ve been listening to a lot of songs about death. A Google search for “musicians who died onstage” brings back a surprisingly large number of men and women who went to their final reward in that very public manner. Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele is not included in their number.
1908: Theodosia Goodman moves to New York City and makes her Broadway debut in “The Devil”.
1991: I’m in high school. I’m often gloomy, but I’m in no way a goth. I have long hair and wear tie-dyed shirts and play Hendrix tunes, badly, on the guitar. I’m co-captain of the football team and run track. But I have some goth friends and, as high school winds to a close, I begin spending more time with them. We often spend hours and hours, late into the night, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in a nearby Denny’s, talking about literature and art, because there isn’t anything else to do. I don’t smoke. Sometimes we use drugs. My goth friend Amanda weepily confides in me one night that her room at home is possessed, that she’s visited by a witch, an ancestor of hers who wants her soul, and that her (Amanda’s) parents had an exorcist come out to drive the evil influences from the house. I act like I believe her, because she’s a very good friend, even though what she says is clearly nonsense. I worry that she actually believes what she says. When we we were sophomores, Amanda, a natural brown-blonde – although, in truth, I’m unsure of this now – stripped and dyed her hair so much that it turned a dry, brittle, ashy gray, and then it somehow died and entirely stopped growing. I didn’t know that could even happen. For the years I knew her, her hair—which cycled through various colors – was always exactly the same length.
1917: Theodosia Goodman is now “Theda Bara”, one of the country’s biggest silent film stars, and has become enormously wealthy. She’s considered one of the first on-screen sex symbols, and is generally typecast as ‘the vamp’. ‘Vamp’ is short for ‘vampire’. The origins of her stage name are disputed. According to Wikipedia, to promote the movie Cleopatra, “Fox Studio publicists note that the name was an anagram of Arab death, and her press agents claimed inaccurately that she was ‘the daughter of an Arab sheik and a French woman, born in the Sahara’”. I choose to believe this. The prints of Cleopatra are lost in a vault fire in 1937 and only a few seconds of Bara, in her most famous role, now exist.
2003: Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele states in an interview that he suffers from bipolar disorder. In a 2007 interview, he says “I’ve always been a very depressed person, but that's only one side of me, you know. It makes me feel better when I can express my depression, my anger, my frustration through music ... sonic therapy.” For an alternate form of therapy, he does massive amounts of cocaine. Both of these facts are also from Wikipedia.
October, 2018: I’m beginning to worry about my essay. I have no idea what to write about. I know that I have time yet but, so far, all I’ve done is look things up on Wikipedia. When I start, I have the idea that I’ll write something about Peter Steele’s goth maneuver of dying on-stage and then I have the idea that I’ll link it back to the tragic life of Theda Bara, who perhaps could be called the first goth of the modern era and act as a suitable referent for the woman in Black No. 1. But then I figure out the truth about Steele’s death, and discover that Theda Bara had a really good life, all in, from the little that I learn about it. I’m almost sure I’d read somewhere that, like many of the early Hollywood film stars, she’d descended into vice-ridden depravity and then died at a young age. This proves not to be the case, and I begin to question just where I get all my information. I give up on researching Theda Bara. I drink a lot of alcohol. For inspiration, I decide to list the various goth elements of the song Black No. 1, thinking that I can change my essay into making a case for Black No. 1 being the most goth song of all time, even as a satire. Again, the song is named after a type of black hair dye, after all. Here’s that list, which I annotate after I’ve been drinking:
A “Devil’s mark” on a milk-white neck (what exactly is this, is it a nipple or a mole or that 666 sign from The Omen or what)
A full moon on All Hallow’s Eve
A date at midnight with Nosferatu (Denny’s: open 24 hours)
Lily Munster (would have preferred seeing Morticia Addams here)
Wolf-skin boots (PETA)
An “erotic funeral” (Not sure just what this entails, but I know little about funerals. When I was young, I went to Catholic schools and was an altar boy. From time to time I’d be able to leave school so I could serve at some stranger’s funeral mass. Because I was trustworthy, the priest would let me lock up the church when we were done. After he’d left, I’d glug down Gallo communion wine from the jug, as much as I could stomach, and go back to class. Someone told me that if you breathed on a mirror and your breath evaporated quickly, it meant you were drunk. After the funeral I’d drink a pint or two of bad wine, and then breathe on a mirror to make sure I was all right before I went back to my sixth grade class, drunk as a lord but with normal mirror-breath. In hindsight, this seems fairly goth, or simply troubling.)
Perfume that smells like burning leaves
A harpsichord (sampled, most likely)
1917 - 1930: Polish-Swiss Ohioan Jew Theda Bara is now known as “The Serpent of the Nile.” In interviews, she discusses mysticism and the occult. She’s known for her revealing, erotic costumes which, in 1930, are banned by the moral strictures of the Hays Code, limiting her available roles per her vampiric typecasting. All of this according to Wikipedia.
November 2018: I’m now thinking I might write about my goth friend Amanda for this essay. It makes sense, given the context. But I haven’t seen or heard from her in over twenty years. How does that happen? We were once such good friends. In thinking about this, I’m tempted to find her, to see how she’s doing. But I’m not sure I want to know. I want her to have turned out just fine, but I’m fairly certain she was at least somewhat mentally ill. She was also so goth, though, for that time in the late eighties and early nineties, before she evolved into something else. Our friendship was always entirely platonic. Amanda had tattoos before it was cool, and she once dragged me into a closet to show me her new clitoral piercing. It fascinated me. Everything she did was so full of intensity. She’d blithely, apropos of nothing, tell me how she’d recently pleasured herself with a candle and got herself all waxy on the inside. Again, ours was a platonic friendship, but somehow these conversations were never odd. After the tattoos, she wanted to have some decorative, ritual scars made, like she’d seen in the book Modern Primitives, published by RE/Search in 1989. At this time, decorative scarring was a very edgy, mostly homebrewed thing, and I was there, then, to hold her hand for support while her boyfriend did the cutting. A triangle on her shoulder, to start, perhaps three inches on a side; the plan was that this start would later be expanded to include more elaborate tribal designs. When the boyfriend got dizzy before the first incision was even made, I cheerfully took up the knife and did the cutting on his behalf, as one does, in that position. I endeavored to be a gentleman, and she was my crazy, good friend. I’m not a squeamish sort. When is the next time someone will ask me to carve designs on their skin, I thought. I’ve always believed that one should embrace new experiences. I’m proud to say that I did a precise, steady job, but it was incredibly painful for her. Making scars usually is. After the cutting was done, ash was rubbed in to darken and raise the tissue when it began to heal over. Here, at least, the boyfriend was able to contribute. Everything was done in an extraordinarily unsanitary manner, but we were young. So far as I ever learned, the tribal designs were never added. She did too many drugs, Amanda, and I worried about her. And then we lost touch and I never saw her again.
So maybe I’ll write about that, I think. She was the epitome of goth, for that short time. She has my scar on her shoulder. Maybe she’s a better Black No. 1 than Theda Bara. Now, I want to know that Amanda is OK. But I won’t try to find out. Sometimes it’s better not to know.
2005: Peter Steele disappears without explanation for an extended period of time. Later, it’s revealed that he’d spent time in Riker’s Island for assault, and in a mental institution. He has problems with substance abuse, and cocaine-fueled paranoia. His family stages an intervention.
1994: I’m in college, studying music, and an orchestration professor tells us that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. I can’t remember to whom the quote is attributed.
December 2018: I begin to worry that I’m just dancing about architecture in this essay. I’m not going to write about Amanda. I’m not. It’s too personal. Plus, it seems trite, like I’m making her out to be something she never was. Maybe listening to Black No. 1 over and over has convinced me that she was the same sort of person that Steele was writing about. It seems too easy, though; I don’t trust myself. I worry that I’m just trying to fold another persona around her, trim off and tuck it in where it doesn’t fit. She was just a girl I knew. She was just my friend. Maybe she wasn’t mentally ill at all, but was just a young girl struggling with life. Everyone struggles at times. Maybe she just wanted attention. And maybe she got help, or maybe her supposed problems weren’t really problems at all. She could be a real estate agent now, or an accountant. I haven’t thought about her for twenty years, mostly, but now this fucking song, over and over, and I can’t help but to. I miss her. I miss the intensity of those kinds of friendships, even though I’m happier now than I ever was then. I don’t have any friends from high school left. They haven’t died, I’ve just forgotten about them. I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know where this essay is going to go, either. I regret taking it on, now. I remember once, in a low period, sitting in my house, alone, drinking a bunch of airline bottles of vodka that a former girlfriend had left in my freezer, and then smoking a couple cigarettes from a pack she’d forgotten. I don’t even remember what I was depressed about, exactly, but I was very drunk and tried to work myself up into a dramatic, performative act of some kind, so I wound up yelling and throwing a tiny vodka bottle at the wall. It didn’t break, just landed on the futon after making a pitiful little plinking sound. I felt foolish, and then I laughed at the spectacle of myself, and felt better. I was sick from the cigarettes, though, because I don’t smoke, and in the morning I had a terrible hangover. What the fuck ever happened with Theda Bara? I need to look the rest of that up. How did she turn out? I worry that I drink too much. Again I question why I took on this essay.
1921: Theda Bara marries film director Charles Brabin. They’re together until her death in 1955. They live in a villa-style home in an affluent area of Cincinnati, with a summer place in Nova Scotia, on 990 acres. She retires from the movies in the 1930’s, never once appearing in a movie with sound.
2007: In an interview, Peter Steele admits he identifies as a Roman Catholic, and is no longer an atheist, even though he still looks much like a huge, scary vampire. When he passes away, three years later, he has been sober and drug-free for some time. He’s put his life in better order, but then he dies, and that seems cruel. Presumably, though, he goes to his reward within the offices of the Church, and is given a funeral mass. I hope the altar boys drink from the jug of communion wine while the priest is away. I also wonder if Steele’s goth ex-girlfriend, the subject of Black No. 1, attends the mass, and I’d like to know how her own life turned out.
April 7, 1955: Theda Bara dies at the age of 70. Her husband, Charles Brabin, dies two years later at the age of 75. They have no children. In 1994, Theda Bara’s image is on a US Postal stamp. In 2011, her large Cincinnati villa is demolished.
December 2018: I’ve entirely stopped listening to Black No. 1. I love it, but I’ve sucked the joy out of it. I find that odd: that an eleven minute, slow, dark, dirge-y goth song can be considered joyful. But it is. It makes you feel better, if you let it, like throwing a tiny vodka bottle at a wall. We need that kind of thing. Because sometimes you drink too much, or do too many drugs, or wind up in Riker’s Island or in a mental institution. You can be a big, broken guy, with a conceited ex-girlfriend who dyes her hair black and flounces around like Morticia Addams, and you can write a song about it. You can be an upstart girl from Ohio who becomes an anagram for Arab death, and then retire, happy, to a villa in Cincinnati. Sometimes your films are lost in a fire. Sometimes you clean up, become a Catholic and then die. Sometimes it’s less than this, it’s just getting through your days until you straighten out your life. Sometimes people just aren’t there anymore, and that’s just the way it is. I wonder if Amanda ever thinks about me. I think I’ll listen to Black No. 1 again, after all.
Eric Scott Fischl is the author of DR. POTTER’S MEDICINE SHOW, THE TRIALS OF SOLOMON PARKER, and the upcoming IN MEMORY OF THE GIRL IN GREEN. He lives a non-goth life in Montana’s Bitterroot mountains.
michael fournier on “colours”
“Colours” by the Sisterhood is eight minutes of chilly drone—maybe enough, if you’re a fan, to advance this song to the next round of the bracket.
But part of the fun of any genre is context. Secret histories of bands and musicians add allure.
And the story behind the Sisterhood is nuts.
So consider this before you vote:
The Sisterhood is a spin-off of the Sisters of Mercy, a group you might already know. They were founded in 1980 by the mercurial Andrew Eldritch and guitarist Gary Marx. Fledgling drummer Eldritch wanted to concentrate on vocals, so he brought in a drum machine named Doktor Avalanche; second guitarist Ben Gunn and bassist Craig Adams were added to flesh out the live show. In retrospect, the early Sisters’ stuff, particularly the excellent Reptile House EP, sounds not unlike Swans or nascent Big Black.
Gunn quit the band and was replaced by Wayne Hussey, who had been in an early incarnation of Dead Or Alive. Hussey’s arrival coincided with prep for the group’s first full-length First and Last and Always.
By the time of Hussey’s arrival, Eldritch was in full bad boy/impresario mode, letting the other guys in the band do the dirty work of writing the songs. He often arrived in the studio at the last minute to add a stamp and take the credit. Marx had enough and quit during the subsequent tour, with the Sisters of Mercy finishing the last spate of gigs as a human trio (plus the aforementioned Doktor).
Everything to this point has been pretty standard band biography: troubled frontperson, rotating door of band members, acrimony.
Now check this out:
Hussey and Adams wrote a bunch of songs for a new record, which Eldritch rejected outright. He didn’t like the duo’s musical direction and ended Sisters of Mercy. But Hussey and Adams felt ownership of the band: they’d done way more work on the debut album than the group’s founder, after all.
Hussey and Adams started circulating the demos of their new songs under the name The Sisters of Mercy.
Of course Eldritch called bullshit: the Sisters of Mercy was his band. He’d started it. (And some versions of this story have him recording his own demos of new songs.)
Hussey and Adams, in full ‘fuck you’ mode, dubbed themselves The Sisterhood instead, intent on playing the songs Eldritch had rejected for the Sisters of Mercy. They booked an inaugural show.
Eldritch was furious.
So he started a second band called the Sisterhood.
And he released a rush job single on the same day that the other Sisterhood, the first one with Hussey and Adams, was scheduled to play their first show.
Of course, if Eldritch sang, his record company technically owned the rights to the recording. So he recruited James Ray, whose band Eldritch had produced, to record vocals, and released the single as an indie.
Then he sued Hussey and Adams for using the name they came up with. Since he released a record first, the name was his.
High drama, right?
And there’s more!
After the two Sisterhoods debacle, publishing rights for ex-Sisters of Mercy members were still owned by RCA. A forthcoming advance was to be split between Hussey/Adams (who renamed their band The Mission) and Eldritch. But Eldritch figured out that the first band to release an album would get the whole thing.
The Sisterhood recorded an LP titled Gift—which “Colours” appears on—and got that money.
Sisters of Mercy founder Andrew Eldritch broke up his band;
Ex-Sisters of Mercy members Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams circulated demos of their own stuff under the name “Sisters of Mercy;”
Eldritch freaked out;
Hussey/Adams gave themselves the name The Sisterhood, which you have to admit is pretty similar to ‘The Sisters of Mercy;’
Eldritch started a new group also titled The Sisterhood and bogarted the name by putting out an album before the original Sisterhood could;
Eldritch successfully sued his old band members for using a name they came up with first;
The Sisterhood put out the album Gift specifically to screw his old band out of their half of an advance; and
The song “Colours” is on that record.
You won’t read a crazier story anywhere in the bracket.
Please vote accordingly.
Michael T. Fournier wrote about the Minutemen's "Double Nickels on the Dime" for the 33 1/3 series, and is author of two novels (Swing State and Hidden Wheel, both on Three Rooms Press). His writing has appeared in Pitchfork, Razorcake, Electric Literature, Full Stop, Entropy, The Millions and more. He and his wife Rebecca live on Cape Cod with their cat. Get at him: @xfournierx