first round game
(14) the wake, “christine”
(3) rob zombie, “dragula”
and will play on in round 2
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.
ryan grandick on “dragula”
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus’s last performance was on May 21, 2017, a year after retiring its trained elephants after pressure from animal rights activists and an increase in state animal protection laws. At least that was the idea presented. In truth, after being sued over its animal rights abuses in 2001, the company countersued and in 2014 received over $25 million in settlements from a collective of animal rights groups led by the ASPCA and the Humane Society. The reason the circus closed is honestly probably because circuses are expensive to operate and nobody really wants to go to them anymore. The reasons why circuses gradually became an outmoded form of entertainment is complicated and has a lot to do with changing tastes, and perhaps conservative commentators were right that the publicizing of potential animal rights abuses led people to avoid the circus. But from personal experience, perhaps the main reason that people stopped going to the circus is that the circus is kind of boring. The idea of the American circus as a wonderland is tied to the circus as a setting and as a concept, a place filled with oddballs and eccentrics and uniquely talented performers, an intensely rich, bizarre inner life, a psychedelic absurdist daydream. But in practice, it’s a lot of sitting on a bench in a tent that smells like animal shit, eating cotton candy and just sort of watching stuff happen. The circus is a travelling tautology. The circus is the circus because, you know, it’s the circus. You see the circus because, hey, a circus. If you grew up in an area where a zoo was unavailable, it’s exciting to see animals from diverse places, but it only takes a little bit of nudging to see how sad eyed they all seem. Even the best performers, the gymnasts and daredevils and clowns and animal trainers, are doing what they do because they work in a circus. What makes the circus fascinating is the implied narrative of it, and that narrative doesn’t exist within the shows themselves. There’s a reason there isn’t a cliché about kids running away to watch the things.
When I was younger, I hated Rob Zombie. I thought his music was cornball and repetitive and insincere, at a time when sincerity, or at least the very specific sincerity one looks for at age 15, was what I used to judge all music. I was about two thirds right. Zombie’s music is cornball, a sort of bouncing sludge, a softcore horror soundtrack to a burlesque routine in an erotic thriller in 1999. If you needed a scene where Nicolas Cage or Keanu Reeves or Bruce Willis went to an especially grimy strip club in a bad Joel Schumacher movie, Zombie had about four solid albums, both solo and as the front man of White Zombie, ready to go, full of the kind of driving, stomping, pseudo Ministry, pseudo Nine Inch Nails, pseudo Marilyn Manson nu-metal adjacent gothic skronk. His music is undoubtedly repetitive. He’s sort of a one hit wonder who just released that hit with marginally different lyrics over and over again. Most bands will release a ballad or maybe a pop tune or something. Even Kiss, masters of cornball insincerity, released “Beth” and that disco song. But Zombie wouldn’t try to branch out until 2006’s Educated Horses, after a solid ten years of re-releasing variations on “More Human than Human”. And even Educated Horses, with its Tori Amos title and its introspective adult contemporary album cover, regularly gives up on experimenting so it can go back to film samples and songs that can be dismissed as “What if a stripper was also a monster?” Zombie has a wheelhouse and his music seems to say is if you’ve got a wheelhouse, and you like your wheelhouse, and you’re comfortable in your wheelhouse, then why would you ever leave? Which is honestly a pretty solid question that people don’t ask themselves enough.
I feel comfortable criticizing Zombie’s music like this because, first of all, I like him now. I like White Zombie and I like his first couple solo records. But also, I feel comfortable criticizing Zombie’s music because the music isn’t the point. At least not the whole point. It never has been. He’s not building a comprehensive catalogue that builds and develops and changes and introduces new contexts. Like Joel Schumacher, who started out as a window dresser and fashion designer, Zombie’s music has always served a purely aesthetic purpose. It’s not a coincidence that the two best tracks on Educated Horses are “Lords of Salem” and “The Devil’s Rejects”, also the names of his two best films. Zombie is at his best when he’s admitting to himself that his music is really just a base. It’s there as a foundation for some other often hypothetical multimedia thing. But it’s also telling that the most important song in the film The Devil’s Rejects isn’t Zombie’s title track. It’s “Free Bird”. The music isn’t the point. “The Devil’s Rejects” exists, possibly, because Zombie listened to “Free Bird”, used that to center his movie, and then just, sort of, wrote a song about the movie he’d made. Everything inspires something but nothing really connects. The Lords of Salem is about a radio DJ, but music doesn’t drive the film. The fact that Sherry Moon Zombie’s character is a radio DJ is an aesthetic choice. It’s a cool job that doesn’t really exist anymore, at least not in the classical sense, just like carnies and circus performers, and so it exists in Zombie’s wheelhouse.
All of this is to say that, to understand Zombie as an artist and a person, to get what he’s about, to tie all of these pieces together, it doesn’t hurt to look to Zombie’s best and most defiantly half-assed and fundamentally meaningless cornball as shit song: “Dragula”. “Dragula” is great. It’s a song about the car from that one episode of The Munsters where Herman Munster, a Frankenstein’s Creature, has to compete in a drag race in a modified coffin made by his father in law, a vampire, because his son, a werewolf, was talking out of school in that sort of “my dad can beat your dad in a drag race” kind of way. When asked about the song in an interview with Billboard, Zombie just used the opportunity to talk about how much he liked The Munsters and then let it slip that the song just sort of came together and almost wasn’t on the album. And it’s easy to see that “Dragula” came together fast because it is dumb as hell. The lyrics are mainly Zombie listing the spooky shit he saw in a CVS Halloween display mixed with vague gambling terms and nonsensical references to movies he’s seen and Edgar Allen Poe poems. It’s fucking excellent. The video is a rear projection nightmare, with Zombie cruising around in the Munster Koach, not even the titular Dragula, with a guy dressed up in a devil costume that wouldn’t be out of place on a pack of chewing tobacco from the 1850s. At one point he dances with the robot from The Phantom Creeps. Sheri Moon Zombie does a bizarrely rigid choreographed routine alongside a pair of devils while it cuts to footage of children crying. Footage from nuclear tests and public domain carnival movies and John Barrymore’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde play over and under the action. Like the song, it doesn’t really make sense or mean anything, but it is cool as shit.
It’s hard not to speak entirely in superlatives with Rob Zombie songs because Rob Zombie songs are superlatives. In the same way that Schumacher’s Batman films are a series of sets and costumes that occasionally, unfortunately, have to have actors walking around and talking all over them, Zombie’s music is a series of visual concepts set to music, which is perhaps why his music possesses that sort of superlative quality. It’s an excited friend describing movies to you with drop D guitars. To say that Rob Zombie doesn’t love music would be unfair. He seems to love other people’s music. But his own seems to be a means to an ends, a soundtrack to a horror film he’s directing in his head. A backdrop. Perhaps that’s why it never seems to amount to much on its own, why it always works better as a music video, or a background to a scene set in a vampire nightclub, or as the rhythm of a strip club performance. It’s goth in the sense that it conjures something spooky, but there isn’t an interiority because bringing an interiority to his music isn’t a thing Rob Zombie does or has ever done.
This isn’t to say that Zombie is lazy. If anything, he’s almost too ambitious. Before releasing Hellbilly Deluxe, his first solo record, he wrote a script for a Crow sequel and worked as an animator. After releasing it, he designed a haunted house for Universal Studios called Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, which then served as the inspiration for his first movie, which he filmed in 2000. When Universal decided to drop the cinematic House of 1000 Corpses after it received an NC-17 rating, Zombie bought it and sold the distribution rights to Lionsgate, which released it in 2003. He also, finally, released a song called “House of 1000 Corpses” in 2001 on his second record, The Sinister Urge. It’s a trail that leads directly from amusement park ride to movie to song, with the song serving largely to remind you that Rob Zombie is, at the end of the day, a musician.
From 2013 to 2015, Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare, a seasonal horror theme park, operated out of Villa Park, Illinois. In its last year it hosted three haunted houses: Captain Spaulding’s Clown School in 3D, bringing back Sid Haig’s House of 1000 Corpses character to its purest form as a sideshow character, The Devil’s Rejects, based on his 2005 film which also featured Haig’s character in a leading role, and eventually 31, based on his 2016 film, released after the park’s closure. Previous years included a Lords of Salem ride, The Haunt of 1,000 Corpses, based more explicitly on the song, the movie, and the other haunted house, and Rob Zombie’s The Haunted World of El Superbeasto 3D, based on an animated film named after his song “Superbeast”. The songs become the movies become the rides become the movies become the songs again. Everything is complete and yet everything is related, in some loose way, to some other incarnation of the thing.
Rob Zombie’s most complete works, the ones that seem the fullest, are his films. But even his films are the music videos and the music and the rides, all tied into one. They’re the culmination of all the other stuff but also, they don’t build. There is no thread that ties these disparate things together outside of their names and aesthetics. “Dragula” is the reference, is the song, is the video. The video does not inform the song, the reference does not inform the song, and the song does not inform the others, at least not really. And because these are not different facets, or even different interpretations, or even evolving narratives where one thing leads to a greater appreciation of another thing, where listening to the song “House of 1000 Corpses” informs your viewing of House of 1000 Corpses, there’s a strange sort of empty quality. Even when “The Devil’s Rejects” fairly explicitly references its namesake film, it doesn’t inform it, just as the film doesn’t really inform the song. They’re two attractions born out of the same concept. Just as all the attractions in the circus are there because the circus, all of the attractions Rob Zombie creates are there because Rob Zombie. They’re all various concepts under a banner. Even when the video for “Never Gonna Stop” addresses the Clockwork Orange references in the song, it doesn’t make the song better. And the song doesn’t make the video better. And outside of some stolen lingo and lip service paid to Alex’s Durango 95, the song doesn’t really do anything with the reference. There’s no exploration of the themes or ideas in the film. It’s all aesthetic. Rob Zombie cares deeply about The Munsters but “Dragula” uses it as window dressing. The reference is not the song any more than the song is the video. The lion tamer isn’t best friends with the high wire act, the elephant doesn’t necessitate the appearance of the globe of death. Everything exists solely to be enjoyed. There’s no way to be right or wrong about it. There’s only the thing and the brand it lives under and the concept it carries with it. Instead of strengthening the whole, making it greater, it is simply an event. And there’s nothing explicitly wrong with this mode of creation. The Rob Zombie brand is popular. It remains popular. And it’s led to some great work. But there’s a reason why circuses are synonymous with disjointed catastrophe. There’s a reason why calling something a circus is a way to call it a loud fucking mess.
Yelp and Google reviews of Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare were poor, dismissing it as a cash grab with long lines and a lack of content and underwhelming haunted houses. People seem to have generally liked the music though. It’s a shame, as a circus run and owned and operated by Rob Zombie seems like it should be the purest form of his creativity. A sort of truly perfect opportunity to express this rampaging id we’ve developed in our minds. But, despite the collective letdown, there are attendees who enjoyed themselves. People have bought into the Rob Zombie brand even fifteen years after his peak musical success. The common thread through all the reviews are groups of people desperately wanting to love this thing. Which makes sense. If you’re a fan of Rob Zombie, you have been primed for a Rob Zombie carnival for decades. This should have been the purest Rob Zombie experience and it wasn’t, but maybe there was never a chance for it to succeed. When you’re a fan, you build connections. You tie them together and connect them yourself and create mythologies where none exist. And when there’s really nothing there, you tie them into the creator. But Rob Zombie’s just some fucking guy who calls the cops on skateboarders. He’s not P.T. Barnum. He likes movies and music and making shit and showing you shit he made. “Dragula” references The Munsters because he likes The Munsters. That’s it. Rob Zombie is doing what he does because he’s Rob Zombie. Even the name The Great American Nightmare is the title of a song he wrote for the Private Parts soundtrack. Everything is complete and yet everything is related, in some loose way, to some other incarnation of the thing. Especially his failures. Rob Zombie just wanted to show us some shit he made, and it’s on us for expecting more just because of the insinuation that there exists something more. What makes the circus fascinating is the implied narrative of it, and that narrative doesn’t exist within the shows themselves. There’s a reason there isn’t a cliché about kids running away to watch the things.
Ryan Grandick is a golden retriever covered in corpse paint. He lives under the one raincloud in Tucson.
kori hensell on “christine”
I am goth because I am hurting.
Christine, you live across the street and we write spells together.
CJ, Christine. Christine, CJ. CJ lives across the street and we’re best friends. We dissect dead water moccasins together. We slice open the belly to find dozens of little baby water moccasins squirming around, trying to escape into the red dirt. But that’s impossible; I must be mistaking this for that scene in Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom.
CJ and I throw mud, blood, smoke, and spit together into bowls and whisper. Her dad loves Def Leppard. Her dad is missing pertinent fingers, and still he loves tickling little girls. We lock ourselves in her room with her six chihuahuas. CJ and I whisper into bowls. CJ and I sing into the pines.
CJ disappears from the 6th grade. Smoke.
Christine, you live across the street and you are not there.
Egypt is calling, Egypt is falling
Egypt is calling your name, Christine
Christine, you are the soul-crushing, minimum wage job.
While finishing my undergrad at the University of Alabama, I work full-time at Best Western. The worst part is getting unwanted attention from guests. One in particular, a truck driver from Arkansas, eyes me up and down; he is making math of me, subtracting all over. When his eyes land on my black-painted fingernails, he asks, incredulously, “What are you, some kind of gawthic?” I laugh nervously: “Here’s you key. Let me know if you need anything.” Heavy hospitalities.
Two months later, I see from my window at the front desk a tornado strutting through parking lots and pines; I watch him hop over I-59. I watch his destruction, and I think of the baby water moccasins squirming around in his eye.
April is the cruellest month, breeding. Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing. Memory and desire, stirring. Christine, what are you stirring up now?
What does it mean
You never fail to make the right impression, Christine.
The maintenance man comes by once to fix the washing machine. He sees all the bones I keep on my bookshelves: fox skull, boar skull, racoon penis, impressions of my teeth, pinned insects. He observes the urns one of my students made for a creative project assigned in my Southern Gothic course. I had to have them, so I bought them for $66. He sees the 666: Mark of the Beast magnet on my fridge. He shakes his head. I never see him again.
Christine, is it god or is it God?
Now it's just a memory
A memory for you
I am always moved by how quickly you silence a room, Christine.
The first dead person I ever see is my grandfather—gray and cold and enormous—swollen and filling a whole hillside with his corpse. And here I am called by the preacher to sing for it. Little lamb bleating for tears: “Pap-Pap was good, Pap-Pap was nice, Pap-Pap, Pap-Pap!” I kill it. No one moves; it is so full of choking it like to have paralyzed them all.
After my glassy-eyed throating, mama sits me next to her, tugs down my dress, pulls up my socks (I was all knees) and tucks the stray white hairs behind my ears: “Evangelene Kori: sit like a lady!” Why cover anything in a naked room?
Mama tucks the blue tie all covered with lipstick and tears back into the suit jacket; she smooths down the stray, dead hairs with her spit-soaked thumb (my hair is also soaked with her spit). The labor of women, to arrange the bodies, our heaviest hospitalities.
Because I am hurting, I am goth.
The poisons of creation,
The poison being you, Christine
Jeannie Christine Jeannie Jeannie Christine Jeannie Christine Christine Christine. Jeannie.
Jeannie, Christine. Christine, Jeannie. Breathtakingly beautiful—starry raven hair, eyes of pitch, the softest cheeks I've ever known. I kiss them when I’ve had too much to drink. I can’t afford a prom dress; she lends me one of hers. We drink screwdrivers before taking our Alabama state high school assessments. It’s just Jeannie and me for almost a decade. We share everything: clothes, food, vehicles, perverse jokes—a house, two cats.
A whole ass decade passes. Things are suddenly rough between us—horrible, painful tension. Fights over a guy. My guy. A guy I no longer love. Fights over money—money I don’t have. Months go. I move out. I have to give my cat away. I never say to Jeannie, "Come back. I'm sorry. I need you."
Jeannie is killed at a UA party by some scumbags (including her crush) with a fentanyl patch. I am crushed.
From Jeannie, from before: i think i feel sad because everyone is going home for the summer, especially chase. oh bah! i love you. i'm going to see you while i'm in foley because you're the only good thing to look forward to when i'm done and my brother's graduation, but besides that everything else in that county sucks!
Because I am goth, I am hurting.
Christine, the air is buzzing.
Told tales of possession
Of death you never knew
A text from an MFAer in my cohort: I just had a tutorial with one of your students in which I suggested he focus his intro for his film review away from death themes and to signal more to the focus of his paper... He responds he had wanted to start that way because “Kori really likes death.”
What does it mean
Christine, what new losses will block out the sun?
Jess, Christine. Christine, Jess. November 2018 and Jess, too, is dead. That makes 3 out of 4 best friends smoked and/or dead. That makes 75% of my sisters gone. I’ve got one left; every day I whisper into bowls for her.
In 2003, Jess and I take a trip with her dad to Birmingham to see Blast!. If you don’t know what this is, just know it’s deep-cuts, band nerd shit. We prepare outfits and makeup for weeks to see this show. Jess and I are competing first chair trumpet players--she, absolutely brilliant on her Bach and me, gaining on her; I remember how utterly glee-smacked she was when she first got it. Like, stupid happy. 2001, she takes me into the marching band fold my first day at practice. I remember our red-stained mouths from chugging fruit punch Gatorade in the heat, like some kind of Jim Jones elegiac field orchestra. Her embouchure allows her an insane range that I deeply envy. I have to work twice as hard to reach octaves that she just skips her silly ass right up to. Jess has a scent to her that I can still specifically recall—it’s sweat and maple and powder foundation. Sweet and cloying.
When most people think about a southern kind of sweetness, it's really particular. That’s Jess—unavoidably sweet, an accent governed by sweetness. I think most people never took Jess very seriously; most of the time I felt she didn't take herself seriously enough. She'd always tell me I take myself too seriously. She’d say, “Kori, you don’t have to be so gothic all the time. Like Carrie White! JUST KIDDING!”
I see her a final time in summer 2017. We talk on the pier about everything. I smoke a cigarette. She pulls from it. Smoked. It’s pitch-black on the water, but there are stars. They don’t do much to illuminate, but they’re there, punctuating the pines that edge the bay. That starry raven hair.
One last image: two teenage girls, outside in a Gulf Shores hurricane, mooning drivers on the road.
From Jess, from before: yea and i want to see yOU NOW!!! your hair is black how are you what are you doing tell me about your life i freakin miss you and love you sorry i havent talked in a while i NEVER get online anymore cause we dont have internet right now...but yes i am engaged love you and miss you your CRAZY!!!
All these brutal storms.
Christine, how do you control the weather?
Well you look just like Cleopatra
Down on your knees, repeating your mantra
Christine, make me into something beautiful.
Nobody Is Ever Missing:
and only two things are certain:
her visit in the morning—
a capsule, a vow, a silken
filament slipped round a bow,
gently tugged by some large red fist
into the belly of the blown
sea glass, unfolds and somewhere
there is a silence without
which life might be useless—
six stilling sheets of snow collapse
translucent into a flutter of starlings
and in this singular slowness
fibers are lost between feather
and feathering frost like lips cracked
into two weak pairs of tumid mollusks,
and one salty fist pounds
in a breast, begs for exoskeleton, and folds.
So she folded.
Because I am hurting, I am goth, because I am hurting, because, because
Kori Hensell received her MFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she spent most of her time spinning records and hastily applying lipstick in the dark winter nights. Her favorite album of all time is Robbie Basho's Visions of the Country. Her work has appeared in Pleiades, Stirring: A Literary Journal, Big Lucks, TheRS500, and elsewhere. She currently lives in Chapel Hill, NC and is one half of Foxxxy Mulder.