second round game
(1) bauhaus, “bela lugosi’s dead”
(9) the damned, “shadow of love”
and will play on in the sweet 16

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 14.

Which song best pleases your black heart? (Vote by 9am AZ time 3/14)
Bela Lugosi's Dead
Shadow of Love
Created with QuizMaker



We all know that beat… that bossa nova doppelganger beat, tick tick ticker of expectations hovering… A beat that does not falter or alter for the nine minute, thirty-six second Goth trance… a flapping beat tapped by Kevin Haskins like an uninvited bat trapped in a well-lit room… Then the echoes—something is not right with this—echoes like an empty catacomb plucking cobweb-lined chambers that we have agreed to dance along with then it slows, delays, and quickens as something shrieks from the black of an unknown space of an empty stone hall which we are only fifteen seconds into. Sounds crawl like insects in a spider’s web. Perhaps rats gnaw on drumsticks in slithering shadows… Then the THREE notes that hang in the air as if from a dark bell vibrating through cold stone. THREE monochromatic David J notes opening the threshold with sounds that claw and creep from the speakers inviting our blackest Goth enclave of deadite pageantry.
Then those guitar strings… Daniel Ash pick scratching like wooden stakes hammered by mallets or bats biting necks and flopping away, it doesn’t matter. We are entombed in Dub-Reggae subversion through re-imagined Carpathian forests—from every angle—bending open e-string evaporating into unearthly cacophony clearing in time for those open bar chords strumming along like the phantom carriage (we can’t help but think this is so vintage we start to see in black and white) leading us into the castle once decorated by Bram Stoker then Hammer Horror and now for an avant-garde funerary vampire’s ball… Then that voice, bouncing from the back of some cave, or above you, where Peter Murphy hangs from the rafters—“Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Three minutes in and six more left on the track but it doesn’t matter how long now for this is the Gothic Underworld (that all songs hereafter must journey to), Charon’s been usurped and we’re not leaving until it’s done (or drained of blood)…
At least that is what a close listen of Bauhaus’ immortal 1979 single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” can do to the newly initiated, or the long fervent acolyte. The song is one long continuous push at nerves, expectations, and anticipations, crafted so well it can knock anyone of us over with the buffet of a batwing. Lyrically there are utterances of possibility but no cohesion of any clear order:

Black capes on the rack

Bats leaving the bell tower

Victims bleed

Red velvet lined coffins announcing

Bela Lugosi is not just dead, but undead.

Virginal brides, tombs, dead flowers,

A dark room, and the count!

And we are left with that. Or, that maybe Bela Lugosi is (not) Dead, but HIS dead, undead, us—the Goths. Ambiguous horror but enough to imagine a whole new scene: you immediately sought a new hair style, new attire, new music, life in death. Darkness said it all, you were in, and it drove away those who weren’t in—on the joke. Ironically this was never the intent of the band or the song. As Ian Shirley records it in his seminal work on the band Dark Entries: Bauhaus and Beyond its genesis was more like a discussion of a scholarly article with Peter Murphy remarking, “We’d been talking about the erotic quality of vampire movies, even the Hammer type. There was this conversation about the sexuality and eroticism of Dracula. So we carried on that conversation and made it into a song.”
In many ways it bears remarkable similarity to the Gothic Novel literary movement nearly two-hundred years earlier. What lead Horace Walpole to write the novel The Castle of Otranto that initiated the literary Gothic scene was not any of the tropes that scene would embrace soon after but just an urge to break out of the predictable way of doing things, in particular writing a novel, held in fetters by rationalism and uninspired imagination. Walpole set in motion a fad that went back to an earlier time—the Medieval era—and used trappings that would surely chafe against the developing world of science and the rational: crumbling castles, skeletal remains, rattling chains, jump-scare ghosts and the like, not knowing his “Gothic” story would start a literary movement.
The scenario seems repeated when we get to Bauhaus and “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” In 1979 the music world was caught between dinosaur rock star bands, disco, and punk. To be different, to do things their own way, the band went back, not to the Middle-Ages, but just fifty years and resurrected the old and original count himself, Bela Lugosi, and his iconic portrayal of Prince Vlad in the 1931 Universal Film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s, Dracula. But twist this the band did. That same year Frank Langella acted out his colorful “romantic” version of the count in the Dracula remake (far from Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the count as a demonic blood-sucker), and Stephen King’s modernized Bram Stoker re-imagining, the novel Salem’s Lot (1975), was adapted into a television mini-series, with a Nosferatu-like master vampire. Somewhere between them, Count Chocula, the emerging “new wave”, and the rising Conservative movement, we get the great Goth anthem, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” refitting the whole monster mash.


Even more, if we compare the remarkably different angle the band approached in writing this innovative game-changing wonder it runs consistent with the Romantic movement that followed the Gothic and certain similar aims, namely 1) expression of extreme emotion unfettered by restraint or reason, 2) narrative (in Bauhaus’ case—song structure) fragmentation by abandoning unity or formalism, and 3) a general appeal to irrationalism. While these ideas might be lurking behind the stanzas of many a good Goth song, what we all really know to be the element that makes a great Goth song above all else is atmosphere. Atmosphere is what Bauhaus conjures up with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in ways that few of that era ever touch, and the band sustains that atmosphere from first snare hit to the last. What they give us is truly more in the realm of weird fiction made into music, yet labeled “Goth” so critics and the uninspired can understand it. I’m not sure that the band meant any of it to be understood, rather the atmosphere opens the door for the Gothic imagination if nothing else.
If John Lydon’s core thought about “punk” was to be one’s self (to thine own self be true), then Goth might be to one’s imaginative self be true, not imagined as in “not true” but true to the early imagination of life, one that centers on the dead, or the return of such, the undead. This intersection is where this song truly gets at something more transcendent than just an identity (that might just be a fad after all—following those silent hedges). We can go right to Sigmund Freud with this from his work The Uncanny:

We—or our primitive forefathers—once believed that these possibilities were realities, and were convinced that they actually happened. Nowadays we no longer believe in them, we have surmounted these modes of thought; but we do not feel quite sure of our new belief, and the old ones still exist within us ready to seize upon any confirmation. As soon as something actually happens in our lives which seems to confirm the old, discarded beliefs, we get a feeling of the uncanny; it is as though we were making a judgment something like this: “So the dead do live on and appear on the scene of their former activities!”


I would wager that almost every Goth song has a touch of that—if not every song on the March Vladness Tourney roster. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” hints at it but before going too far, the musical execution in the artistry of Bauhaus is unwittingly more along the lines of H. P. Lovecraft’s core idea about weird fiction from his work Supernatural Horror in Literature: “Atmosphere is the important thing.” In fact we can paraphrase his idea a bit further substituting “Goth” for “weird” like so:

The one test of the really weird [goth] is simply this—whether there be excited in the reader [listener] a profound sense of dread, and a subtle attitude of awed listening as if for the beating of black wings on the known universe’s rim.

Is that not really the best in Goth? Is that not why we “don the black” like the Night’s Watch along the icy borders of death? Is that not what “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” achieves and enshrines as unlimited Gothness? Play the track. You know it’s true. The song creates empty catacombs and cellars from ears to minds-eye, places Poe would get drunk in, all echo and delay, the ingredients for the most potent cauldron of Gothic alchemy, to alienate you if you easily falter but turns to paean if you listen long at their altar. Ultimately “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” suggests more than it resolves, which critics and haters never understood.
Bauhaus sought fit to press this in their own imagery, a texture of surrealism from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (as if he was the producer of the band) and all gothic culture emerged from this by fiat (and the press—the irony of the idea of Goth from the art and imagery not the music). The band used visual power in performance to great atmospheric effect. Tony Scott was quick to realize this (with David Bowie’s suggestion) that the band perform this song to open his vampire-art film adaptation of The Hunger. That scene alone is atmosphere incarnate thanks to Bauhaus’ live performance. “Bela” also undoubtedly won new converts to D. W. Griffiths The Sorrows of Satan gracing the cover of the Small Wonder Records single release. Last of the all, the reggae-dub as Goth music is not so far-fetched or discordant—the Caribbean after all, is home to undead of their own, legends of the zombie, and Bela Lugosi starred in one of Val Lewton’s films inspired by the subject, 1945’s The Body Snatcher. There’s even a slight futuristic tinge in the song, I could almost hear it rattling down the maze-like corridors of the Nostromo with a xenomorph lurking about. And so much more.
For me, 1979, was fourth grade, remembering to this day perusing classic horror monster books in our small town elementary school library on any given weekly reading day– books no other kids seemed to touch. Black and white photos of Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, the living dead. Bauhaus could have composed a Gothic anthem about anyone of them, ranking up with these Horror classics that never die—Peter Murphy’s vocals alone are as memorable and permanent to Bela Lugosi as Karloff’s are to Mr. Grinch! That Halloween I donned the black (and red) cape as Dracula for a school Halloween party, with Universal monster classics projected against the gymnasium wall as other costumed school mates bobbed for apples. Not until four years later, when HBO and MTV cable makes it to town, lucky to have a friend who could afford it, and encountered The Hunger, late one night and saw the whole monster legacy re-invented before my eyes. I didn’t know exactly what Goth was at that moment, but I felt it. Then a few years later, high-school, college, collecting the albums (“Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape” first), going from there to the Cure, Joy Division, The Birthday Party, Samhain (sure—Goth and should have made the tourney), the list goes on but you and I know where it all started—it was Bauhaus and Bela Lugosi.
When someone is at the top, there are always those who want to knock them down, but “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is no God in an alcove. This song comes at you from every angle, sinking its fangs into open necks, so off-balance that if music could cast a reflection, you know this song would never be caught in a mirror. Undead is Goth immortality and this song (and this band) forty years on will always exist with it. The consequence of Goth goes back to the uncanny. As a Medieval Studies minor during my college undergrad years something stuck out to me when going back to write about this song for March Vladness. The Anglo-Saxon word for “undead” is “undeadlic” which means something like “undeadness of God” or, in other words, eternal, defying time. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” does that without question.
When you think of it, how can a song referencing the original icon of the count himself not be the most Vlad? “The children of the night, what sweet music they make,” wallowing in the epiphany of eternal death… An imagined soundtrack for your own funeral… Electric auras clothed in black… For the Bauhaus fans celebrating 40 years of the band this 2019 (and 100 years of the actual Bauhaus 1919 school) with Peter Murphy and David J on tour as I type this, I double dare you in the flat field, beware the spy in the cab, dance the St. Vitus dance, feel the hair of the dog in the hollow hills kicking in the eye in fear of fear, from those silent hedges, swing the heartache burning inside and cut down those puppet strings.



Michael D. Miller is a disparate writer of disparate things. His work has appeared in Lovecraft Annual, Spectral Realms, Dead Reckonings, and the now defunct Crackpot Press. Currently eking out existence through optioning screenplays and teaching as adjunct faculty at GRCC, KCAD, and Aquinas College. Also wrote the Realms of Fantasy RPG for Mythopoeia Games Publications. He dedicates this essay to Leo the King of Cats who passed away just before it was completed.

The Vladness of Vanian/The Damned are Undead: lawrence lenhart on "shadow of love”

The first track on Phantasmagoria ends with a trumpet whinnying like a spooked horse. The anthemic pipe organ sustains over rebounding snare flams. The song fades, fades some more. Queue track two. From that silence, there’s a belch of reverb. Something wicked is shoveled into a furnace. There’s some up-down picking along an A-minor chord, but then, the goth overtones are tucked under a suspiciously groovy bass line and up-tempo drums. Dave Vanian’s first lyrics are oddly meta, like he’s settling some score among his bandmates: “I’m calling the track / I’m calling the track / don’t be afraid to stand in the shadow of love.” It is a christening. One wonders what drummer Rat Scabies [1] would have called this one.” [2] Vanian gets his way. This song, his song, is “The Shadow of Love.”
In retrospect, high school was a waste of energy. 1. I’d mow the extra-large suburban lawn, whack its weeds along the perimeter, yank out the thorny bull thistle, all for a glass of pink lemonade and a twenty-dollar bill. 2. Mom would drive me to the mall. I’d buy a CD or a shirt, begging for a little extra because Westmoreland County’s taxes were higher—and I wanted a button or patch. Yes, at Hot Topic, where else? I already told you: these were the suburbs, 2003. 3. I’d wear the shirt—Operation Ivy, Misfits, Descendents, NOFX, Pennywise, and The Casualties were all in rotation freshman year—and while my friends knew (and often taught me) the difference between ska and skate, horror and hardcore, pop and oi—at least once a week, someone would study me head to toe and label me “goth” with derision, dismissal, even the occasional drubbing. [3] I only made the mistake of clarifying once: “I’m not goth, I’m punk.” I said it like some kind of clique taxonomist. I spent too much time waiting for the grass to grow back.
While Dylan going electric may have riled my parents, another generation’s subculture groaned at The Damned going goth. An essential punk band, maybe the first punk band [4], The Damned’s Damned Damned Damned lays the groundwork for all the angst, sadism, and rabble-rousing that punk is now known for. London Calling, Rocket to Russia, Nevermind the Bollocks? Been there, done that. For one of these tees, I’ll meet you in the fitting room of the local Kohl’s. Even your parents, who were bumping and hustling through the seventies, will obnoxiously drum on the dashboard when they hear “Blitzkrieg Bop” like it’s the B-side for the Happy Days theme song. The Damned stayed under the radar, even in their native UK. Guitarist Captain Sensible puts it like this: “[Our single] ‘New Rose’ [5] beat the others by six months… possibly because while the other bands were waiting for big money labels, we signed with a tiny indie called Stiff, doing it the ‘punk’ way.” Add a few personnel changes, including the loss of principal songwriter Brian James, and a shift to an even obscurer genre in the eighties, and The Damned were doomed to never know the fluorescence of Kohl’s, the leather of your parents’ Camry, the “big money.”
To be fair, my MySpace avatar was a photograph of me in a casket (2003-2006):


And Gianni tried her best to style my hair like goth royalty Robert Smith.

gianni's doing.jpg

And I was in a band called Dead Within. Our only album (self-titled, but mysteriously in Italian) was Morte Dentro:

dead within 2.jpg

And we looked like this, sometimes worse.

dead within.jpg

The Damned was never purely punk. A former gravedigger, Vanian played shows in a vampiric getup from the start—white-powdered face with black lipstick, [6] slicked-back hair, often wearing gloves and a leather jacket, an Edwardian tuxedo and sunglasses. It was like when he learned that Bela Lugosi had died à la Bauhaus, [7] he began auditioning for the role of Count Dracula. To get a sense of how visually anomalous The Damned were, Brian James said, “Other groups had safety pins and the spitting and bondage trousers, but you went to a Damned show, and half the local cemetery would be propped up against the stage.” With its ambient arpeggios and “Bro Hymn”-like chants, “The Shadow of Love” is the most straight-faced goth song on Phantasmagoria (and in the entire Damned catalog). So many of the other tracks are delivered with a wink. Take the other single, “Grimly Fiendish,” for example. Its harpsichord is gothic caricature, the stuff of vaudeville and dark cabaret. As music critic Stephen Toman puts it, the song is “a cartoonish, twisted take on the theatrical mini-operas of The Kinks, with the music dominated by [Vanian’s] deep crooning voice.” [8] Elsewhere on the album, soprano quavers over an organ in fugue. Without Vanian’s vocal gravitas and Scabies’ unstoppable percussion, the whole endeavor would register as campy goth. Think Jason Segel singing his Dracula musical in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
There were goths in my hometown, the most prominent being those who belonged to the gothic shock rock collective Womb Raider.[9] Their leader, let’s call him Pushnik [10], was a mortician’s apprentice. Just a couple years out of high school, he had done the unthinkable: let his recreational fascination with the macabre evolve into a profession. It seemed more imprudent than the belief that any one of us would make an actual career out of music. It was like he wanted to prove to us that death really was his idea of fun. I wanted to say, We believe you, man. Now cut it out. It was probably impossible for me to believe at the time that he could have meant it. He would show us the embalming solution in his trunk, talk romantically about rigor mortis and draining the body’s fluids, tell us necrophilic stories that smacked of creepypasta, but had a conspicuous note of the personal. On stage, he was a maniac, victimizing the front row, swinging the neck of his bass toward temples and breasts, occasionally charging the crowd with his instrument like it was a battering ram. He spat on our faces, sometimes stubbed cigarettes on our backs. Another bandmate, who served only as a conductor, wore a black tutu and gestured his baton at Pushnik, affecting the melodic curve and tempo. Pushnik would launch into a dismal crooning. If the conductor pantomimed the slitting of his own neck, Pushnik would hoist a plaster statue of the Virgin Mary above his head (they seemed to have an endless supply, rumored to be lifted from local gravesites) and spike it against the venue’s floor, turning the mother of Jesus into shards. The last time I saw Womb Raider, Pushnik assaulted the conductor. He snatched the baton and switched his bandmate with it. Through all the theatrics, we had forgotten it was just misanthropic improv. We detained Pushnik as the wandless conductor writhed in pain.
This kind of violence is reminiscent of the time Vanian chased Captain Sensible with a shotgun through a studio all because the latter had laid down some irreverent backing vocals. Vanian, upset Sensible hadn’t yielded to his creative vision—indeed, Sensible was mocking it—even fired a few rounds into the sky. I’m calling the track… I’m calling the track… There’s something undemocratic about gothic music. Like, when one finds themselves constantly inhabiting the midnight shadows and fiendish dreamscapes, hollow homes and gloomy streets (just to call out a few of the uncanny locales from Phantasmagoria), all this fantastical isolation makes them comfortable acting out of radical self-interest. This is why punk appealed to me instead; it was insular too, but also idealistic, cooperative, humane.  
Punk has always been an existential genre.[11] Its aggressive genesis seemed to coincide with its evaporation into post-punk. Sid Vicious died. The Clash confounded us with their reggae. The Ramones ill-advisedly bought an acoustic guitar. And The Damned, they did their goth thing for a little while. For most acts, punk was certifiably dead; for The Damned, though, it was only undead.

[1] Imagine typing “Rat Scabies” into a search engine, and all results lead to the image of your face.

[2] On the expanded version of Phantasmagoria, there is a Sandy-Nelson-inspired drum solo track called “Let There Be Rats.” Indeed!

[3] It didn’t help this was the same year South Park debuted its goth coterie, Cthulhu cultist caricatures who wore heavy makeup, fingerless gloves, and ruffled tuxedo shirts.

[4] When a genre’s starting point is in contention, one must be decisive: As punk’s firstborn, The Damned is where early punk meets ur punk.

[5] Critic Ned Raggett (what a name!) called “New Rose” a “deathless anthem of nuclear-strength romantic angst.”

[6] … a Cotard’s Delusion

[7] One thing that’s always bothered me about the Bauhaus song: It’s a hella belated death notice. Lugosi died a quarter-century before the track was released.

[8] One can hear the moody echoes of Vanian in Glenn Danzig’s Misfits and Davey Havok’s AFI.

[9] …also the name of a pornographic adventure film

[10] After a quick search, he’s still an active mortician at a Southwestern Pennsylvania funeral home, balder and smilier than I remember.

[11] I mean, Crass released “Punk is Dead” just two years after the movement took off. 

AZCA Headshot - Lenhart-min.jpg

Lawrence Lenhart studied writing at the University of Pittsburgh and holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. His essay collections are The Well-Stocked and Gilded Cage (Outpost19) and Of No Ground (forthcoming from West Virginia University Press). His prose appears in Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Gulf Coast, Passages North, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is an assistant professor of fiction, nonfiction, and climate science writing at Northern Arizona University, and editor at DIAGRAM.

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