second round game
(3) ministry, “(every day is) halloween”
(6) fields of the nephilim, “preacher man”
AND WILL PLAY 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 15.
this is my body: dave griffith on “(every day is) halloween”
Well I let their teeny minds think
That they're dealing with someone who is over the brink
And I dress this way just to keep them at bay
'Cause Halloween is everyday
My daughter is one month shy of turning thirteen and is presently upstairs getting dressed for her first middle school dance. I have no idea what she intends to wear. I have not been consulted. My role is purely to chauffeur.
The first thing I see as she comes down the darkened stairway are the toes of her black boots. The light at the bottom of the stairs is off, so for a moment she is a shadow standing in the hallway. “I’m ready,” she says, and crosses the threshold into the light of the living room, where now it’s clear that it’s not just her boots that are black, but her dress, and her tights, and, to top it all off, a large black bow on top of her head. Her face, too, which is usually round and sweet and freckly, has taken on an ethereal darkness due to some subtle kohl shading around her eyes and a ruddy, dusty red lipstick. “Wow, you look amazing!” I say, but she does not want to hear it. “Come on, Dad, I’m going to be late.” “At least let me take a picture real quick.” She lets out a big sigh, her shoulders actually rise up above her ears and then fall again. “Ok, fine, but hurry.” “Smile!” I say, but she won’t. She just tilts her head to the side and narrows her gaze on me, brow furrowing beneath her red bangs. “Dad,” she whines, sing-songy, “I’m trying to be Goth.”
This is rural Indiana in early November, the week after Halloween, so when we get in the car it is already very dark and cold. There is a small sliver of moon low in the sky. I point it out to her as I have always done: “look at the moon,” I say and gesture with my head out her window. “It’s a finger nail pairing,” she says, then we have a brief debate about whether the moon is waxing or waning—I can never remember which is which.
As we drive further into the country, it is now so dark that I can see a worrisome number of stars. I see the Big Dipper splayed low in the sky. I know that Sagittarius, the sign we both share, is somewhere up there, but I keep my eyes on the road, watching for deer that sometimes bound across, running from distant wind break to distant wind break. I want to make small talk about what she thinks it means to be Goth. I want to pull up on my phone some Sioxusie and the Banshees, or Bauhaus, which I think she will find delightfully strange, but I don’t want to influence her at this moment. I want this moment to be hers. And so we drive on in silence, her face glowing in the light from the radio display.
I’m 43, and though I grew up listening to The Cure, Bauhaus, The Cult, and Ministry, I’ve never dyed my hair or even worn it past my collar. I’ve never pierced anything or had anything tattooed. I’ve never owned black jeans. Beyond a two-year period after grad school when I played in a band that liked to smoke weed before every rehearsal and gig, I’ve never had much of an appetite for drugs. I did do cocaine once, but all that happened was I talked a lot (and very fast) about Flannery O’Connor until everyone walked away. And now that I’m thinking about it I did try acid once at a New Year’s Eve party, but I experienced no hallucinations only a deep sense of dread and emptiness that led me to sob uncontrollably for several hours until the sun came up. And, ok, I did try ecstasy, but all that happened there was I sat in a hotel bar and sketched out a proof with accompanying diagrams for the existence of the Matrix on a series of small beverage napkins.
I tell you all this now because lately I’m feeling deeply anxious. My daughter is having a hard time at school, and in order to get some perspective, some kind of frame of reference for what she’s going through, she’s been asking me a lot of questions about my experiences as a teenager. About drugs and relationships, mostly, but also about God and her grandmother, my mom, who died seven years ago this past month. She’s trying to reconcile it all. Trying to understand why life is so hard. Why she can’t just stay home and draw and read and listen to music, and be spared the moronic girls who only care about being popular and the bone-headed bros who make fun of her for saying that she’s a feminist.
Like all parents, I want to save her, find a way for her to be spared any and all pain and suffering. But I know that this is impossible, and I know that some of what she’s going through is necessary, a process in which she will try on different identities in search of something that feels authentic and comfortable for her. There’s so much I want to tell her, so much I’m not sure she’s ready to hear, and so much I’m not sure I’m ready to tell her.
She’s a brilliant and fearless kid. She identifies strongly with Hobbits, especially when it comes to eating. Loves the Beatles (Ringo is her favorite, and is the name of her black kitten), fan-girls over Hamilton, and devours graphic novels--lately she’s been alternating back and forth between re-reading Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints and John Lewis’ March.
She’s working on a couple of her own graphic novel projects, one about the Founding Fathers in which they are cast as irritable and unpredictable teenagers, and one that she describes as a Steampunk teen dramedy. She plays clarinet with a tone and sensitivity beyond her years, and would like to learn to play guitar. In these, and many other ways, she’s a typical kid.
The thing that sets her apart is that at age seven she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurological condition that,, among other things, makes it hard for her to socially gel with kids her own age. It’s marked by obsessions, both with collecting things and with intellectual preoccupations, as well as a hypersensitivity to justice and fairness. Currently, thanks to Hamilton, she is obsessed with the drafting of the Constitution, but before that it was Sir Isaac Newton and his fierce rivalry with Robert Hooke. But her most enduring obsession, the thing that I hope she never loses, is a belief in the supernatural. This kid loves Halloween. This year she Wirt from Over the Garden Wall, the year before that George Harrison in full Sgt. Pepper’s regalia, before that Marie Antoinette, the before that Joan of Arc, and the year before that Amelia Earhart. (All of them her choice.)
Making friends is hard for her, but not because she chooses costumes that her peers don’t get, but that she inhabits these personas in great depth and detail, and will talk about them, like a historical re-enactor, with anyone who will listen, and she gets very irritated (to put it mildly) when those she’s talking to do not share her enthusiasm.
As we get closer to the school, I remind her that she can call me whenever she’s ready to go. “I know, I know…” she says. “I’ll be fine.” As the lights of the school come into view, she pulls down the passenger side visor and flips open the mirror to check her make-up and hair. “You look great,” I say. “Yeah, you kind of have to say that, Dad.”
I pull up near the main entrance of the school, though not too near. She leans over and kisses my cheek. “Love you, Dad.”
What is anxiety-inducing, is not so much her intensity, but that I’m starting to see myself in her, starting to reflect on my own obsessions, my own, old feelings of alienation and darkness. At her age, I would not have been able to walk into a dance on my own, like she just did. I needed the safety and anonymity of a pack. And though I had plenty of friends, I had my share of obsessions—I just didn’t tell anyone about them, and as a result I “passed”—I appeared like your normal, standard-issue, Midwestern white boy.
As I pull away, I pass the gym doors and can’t help but stop the car for a moment and peer in. Through the glass I can see dozens of dark silhouettes flailing in whorls of stroboscopic blue and orange before an altar of speakers and lights.
Confession: When I was thirteen I was obsessed with the body and blood of Jesus. I had just had my first communion. Thirteen is late to be celebrating first communion--usually it’s like seven or eight years old, but my parents, neither of them cradle Catholics, didn’t abide by all those prescribed timelines. And though I was older than all the other kids, I was scared: What would it taste like? What if I forget how to hold my hands?—right cupped under left, like begging for alms. What if I dropped the host on the floor? But within a few weeks the fear faded, and communion became something I looked forward to because 1.) I actually kind of liked the taste—an odd combination of stale bread and tinny wine and 2.) I was told that it would bring me eternal life.
There was a third thing, something that I never told anyone, because who would I tell?: I was obsessed with transubstantiation, that mystical process that theologians have argued over for hundreds of years, by which the bread and the wine are transformed—they did not elaborate on how exactly in my CCD classes—through the power of the Holy Spirit into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. This dark, death cult dimension of my faith thrilled me.
I began to so anticipate receiving the body and blood that on Sunday mornings, as Father John pressed the thin disc of bread into my palm, the hair would stand up on the back of my neck and all along my arms. The feeling was so dizzying that by the time I was being handed the chalice of wine I was unable to focus, unable to maintain the kind of consciousness I wanted so that I could really be aware as the wine, now blood, passed my lips. I wanted to capture that precise moment of exchange; to be present at my weekly salvation.
As I walked slowly back to my seat in the pews, I became ponderous. I kept my head bowed and reverently allowed the bread-made-flesh to dissolve on my tongue. Kneeling in the pew, waiting for the other parishioners to file to the front, I held two thoughts simultaneously in my head: Thank you, Jesus, and then, Jesus, what did I just do?
Methodists didn’t drink the blood of Jesus, they drink grape juice. I learned this when I joined the choir at Grace United Methodist Church. My best friend and neighbor, Chip, invited me to join. Chip was seventeen, and the coolest person I knew. He was a skater, published a skate and music zine that he made using the photocopier in the breakroom of the K-Mart his dad managed, and ran a fake radio station, WPIG, out of his basement.
By “fake radio station” I mean that no signal was being broadcast into the atmosphere; he would just make mixtapes in the format of a radio show, with lots of banter and guest appearances by other neighborhood kids. Somehow I convinced him to allow me to be part of his DJ crew, and so we would take turns selecting songs and introducing them into a plastic Radioshack brand mic.
Listening to the tapes now, I cringe hearing my high pubescent voice announcing songs whose messages and meanings were way beyond my years of experience, like The Cult’s “Black Angel” or Janes Addiction’s “Whores.” Just hearing my small voice enunciate the words “Angel” and “Whores” triggers a wave of panic, especially now that I have a teenage daughter. But listening to the tapes I am also remembering how formative making those tapes was for me--how agonizing over the playlists and obsessively recording and re-recording intros to the songs so that my voice sounded just right, was my way of avoiding becoming what I feared most: being like everyone else.
I think this why I joined the Grace United Methodist choir. Our Lady of Lourdes, apart from not having a choir, youth or otherwise, had the most awful music: a guitar-playing husband and wife duo that stood to the right of the altar and led us, like a Catholic Sonny and Cher, in the post-Vatican II hits like “On Eagle’s Wings” and “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness,” (whose time signature and melody bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”). It was not nearly dark and plaintive enough for me. If I was going to be Catholic, I wanted Latin. I wanted the Stabat Mater, to weep with Mary at the foot of the cross. I wanted a soft and humble kyrie eleison. I wanted the Lord to have mercy on my soul. And if I couldn’t have that then I would simply get my body and blood from the Methodists, who at least, from the way Chip described it, had fun. There were pizza parties and cute girls, and something called Choir Tour, which by the way Chip described it, was my ticket to getting a girlfriend.
The Grace choir repertoire contained exactly zero Latin, though we did sing a catchy song about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, the Hebrew men whose faith protected them from being consumed in a fiery furnace, which I liked to sing because while singing I imagined the opening hook from the Beastie Boy’s “Shadrach” playing in the background:
Riddle me this, brother can you handle it
Your style to my style, you can't hold a candle to it
Equinox symmetry and the balance is right
Smokin' and drinkin' on a Tuesday night
Eventually, I started attending Grace Methodist choir rehearsals, where I sat in the last row against the yellow painted cinder block wall with Chip and all the older boys. But rehearsal was not what I expected. It was mostly an excuse for Chip and his friends to flirt with the girls in the row ahead of us and alter the words of the hymns in explicit ways. During a song about Nicodemus, the Pharisee, who later helps Joseph of Arimethea prepare Jesus’ broken body for burial, instead of singing the refrain “Nico-DEE-mus, Nico-DEE-mus,” the boys in the back row would sing in a faux-operatic way “Lick-my-PEE-nis, Lick-my-PEE-nis.”
“Sacrilegious” is the word that comes to mind now, literally “the stealer of sacred things”—the removal of the sacred and insertion of the profane. My mom, not a Catholic but a Seventh Day Adventist, had taught it to me. She wasn’t a stickler when it came to matters of doctrine. She didn’t think church-going was compulsory; she didn’t think you had to confess your sins, or tithe 1/10th of your income, or volunteer at festivals held on the parish school playground blacktop, because she had a personal relationship with Jesus. He walks with me and talks with me, she would say.
Despite her anti-clerical views, she did not have a sense of humor when it came to making light of God, Jesus, or any other biblical personages. Though never stern about this, she made it clear that to make light of sacred things was indecent and disrespectful. “I don’t like that,” she would say, flatly, as though it made her physically uncomfortable.
This kind of two-mindedness dominated my thinking. Holding the sacred and the profane next to one another in the mind--the would-be martyrs proclaiming their love for God as they approached the furnace vs. the Beastie Boys’ funky dance party track; Nicodemus undergoing a conversion of faith vs. blowjobs—introduced me to irony in a way that no text book definition ever could.
But the ultimate lesson in irony came during the first communion service I attended at Grace. I knew that Methodists only receive communion once a month during a special service. This seemed sensible to me. Doing a thing less often made it more special, didn’t it? I was doing everything I could to rationalize skipping mass, but still I felt a twinge of guilt, like I was cheating on the Catholic Church. But on this special communion Sunday, I was free of that guilt, and I felt even freer as the service began, because it was, to my surprise, liturgically, in terms of the order of the ritual, and the actual words spoken, nearly identical what I heard every Sunday at Lourdes:
On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
And then the same with the cup filled with wine: “…take, drink; this is my blood…” I sat there in the choir loft watching the pastor lift up and present the bread to the congregation, and then the same with the cup of wine, and I felt the same thick anticipation I felt at Lourdes, the words “this is my body…this is my blood” triggering a sense of gratefulness and unworthiness in me, but then, just as suddenly as it had come, the feeling went out of me. At the end of the my row, a tray appeared filled with little clear medicine cups each containing a knuckle of bread, followed by the same clear cups filled with purple juice. It felt like snack time or the dispensation of meds on the ward. The bread was thick and chewy, the juice so sugary that it left the roof of my mouth slick. I sat there feeling vacant, rolling my tongue around the inside of my mouth.
Years later, as a freshman in college, I would be required to take a theology course at 8:15 am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In that course, during which I consumed heroic amounts of coffee to stay awake, I studied the theology of the Eucharist. I don’t remember much, but what I do remember was that transubstantiation is like no other process known to Man. It is a supernatural event in which one thing (bread) is converted into another (flesh), not in its appearance but in its substance. It still appears to be bread and wine, but the bread-ness and wine-ness depart and Jesus’s substance, his flesh and blood, take its place. The eminent British literary theorist Terry Eagleton has written an entire essay on this matter. In “Irony and the Eucharist” he claims that the bread and wine are not just signs but meta-signs, which signal “an absence of signification, rather as zero is.” But, he continues, they are “not only signs about signs, but signs of the ‘beyond-sign’,” and thus “…signify the future death of signification.”
In other words, the bread and wine are Heaven. Not something like Heaven, but the thing itself. Eagleton concludes that Heaven is a place where the “body itself becomes our most eloquently expressive form of discourse. The ‘risen’ body is one with all the inexhaustible resources and fathomless creativity of language, the body as Word.”
I knew none of this theological and semiological business that sunny Sunday morning in 1989 sitting in the choir loft of Grace United Methodist, though I don’t know if it would have made a difference. The bread and wine tasted different, felt different, in my mouth, because they were different, in kind. If I were truly a person of conviction, I would also have to say that what I was experiencing was the lack of Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine. What I was experiencing was merely symbolic, a gesture toward the real thing, not the thing itself.
During those several months moonlighting as a Methodist and playing fake radio station in Chip’s basement, little by little, week by week, something in me was becoming alert to a general flimsiness, a lack of substance in my life. I was hungry for something that pushed past all the limits of what I knew, of what felt comfortable; something that went beyond the easy, irony of the Beastie Boys, white rappers ripping off Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, and other black musicians to shape their sound, and the Methodist bro’s Nicodemus.
I knew that it existed. I had heard and seen it late at night on MTV in the darkened downstairs living room on a show called 120 Minutes that played two straight hours of post-punk, new wave, and industrial music, like The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Love and Rockets, New Order, REM, The Smiths, and Depeche Mode. And yet even much of that music, which everyone was now calling alternative, failed to move me: The Smiths were too maudlin; Michael Stipe’s voice had begun to sound whiny, and The Cure just made me feel lethargic and sad.
Then, one night, as I sat bathed in the silvery lunar light of the TV, I heard Ministry’s “Stigmata,” the first track off of their new album The Land of Rape and Honey. It’s a frantic, nightmarish anthem about a relationship that ends because of lies and deception.
Stronger than reason
Stronger than lies
The only truth I know
Is the look in your eyes
The look in your eyes!
The lyrics, delivered by Jourgensen in a guttural, menacing, reptilian shout, are almost completely drowned out by the grinding synth guitars. But if you listen closely you can piece together something about his lovers’ eyes, eyes that ultimately are empty and hollowed-out, an oblique reference it would seem to incidents of stigmata where the person bleeds from the eyes instead of the hands and feet.
It was as though drafty secret passage had suddenly opened behind the livingroom bookcase revealing a long, vertiginous stairway down into the darkness, stairs from which I could safely take in a view of the void while still keeping the light at the entrance in sight.
The video begins with a man kneeling at the foot of a cross from an old storefront church, an electrified cross made up of those round bulbs from a green room mirror. Though some are burnt out, my mind completes the image, and sees this imperfect cross. Then the man is running down a dark urban street, chased by someone on a motorcycle. In between these chase scenes is stock footage of earth moving equipment, churning machinery, a professor working on a complicated equation on a chalk board—all the tell-tale signs of goth and Industrial music and its pre-occupation with the Italian Futurists nearly a century before; a preoccupation with force and inertia, with bodies in motion and their lust to stay in motion, and, of course, a preoccupation with grinding, mechanistic, disembodied noises that make our nerves jangle; that make us more aware of our bodies. Then this man again writhing on the ground. He is laying in a pile of rubble. Then we’re at a Ministry show in a dark, underground club. Silhouetted bodies thrash to the pummeling bass. Then we cut back to the writhing man. He has a tattoo of a black, daggery cross on his upper arm. He is howling and running his nails down a brick wall, and, then as the song ends, still laying in the pile of rubble, a skinny robotic arm reaches out to choke him.
As laughable and cliché as it seems now in the cool, po-mo, LED light of the 21st century, this song and video tapped into the viscera of what I was feeling. Here the sacred and the profane weren’t playing grab ass; here was an unapologetic—no nudge, nudge, wink, wink—clash of the holy and the unholy that sonically recreated what I was feeling in my soul.
Which is where I find myself once again, thirty years later. While waiting for my daughter to call, I lie on the couch staring at my phone nostalgically browsing YouTube for Ministry music videos. Though now my search is a vicarious one, it feels just as urgent. I can see that my daughter searching for that path, and I feel that maybe I can, somehow, through the right words of encouragement, or introducing her to the right album at the right time, spare her years of wandering.
And while I know that I can’t do this work for her, I can at least share my search with her, which has led me on this night to a Ministry track that I have never heard before: “(Every Day Is) Halloween.”
This is early, obscure, Ministry—no relentlessly pounding bass, chainsaw guitars or distorted screaming. We’re talking a synth-pop track on the B-side of a 1984 single.
Lyrically, it’s your typical teen angst anthem:
Well I live with snakes and lizards
And other things that go bump in the night
'Cause to me everyday is Halloween
I have given up hiding and started to fight
I have started to fight
Well any time, any place, anywhere that I go
All the people seem to stop and stare
They say "why are you dressed like it's Halloween?
You look so absurd, you look so obscene”
Musically, it sounds like your run-of-the-mill, 80s synth-pop song. At first listen the bass line bears an uncanny resemblance to Banarama’s 1988 hit “Venus.” There’s none of the crunching, distorted guitars, none of the menacing, reptilian yelling. It’s nothing like the later anarchic and anguished Ministry with samples of preachers yelling “Praise Jesus!” or George H.W. Bush calling for a “New world order.” But, according to Encyclopedia Gothica, it’s become the Goth anthem, right up there with Bauhaus’ “Bella Lugosi’s Dead.”
And so it’s not the music that grabs me, it’s the YouTube fan video (no official music video was ever made). It begins with clips from an old black and white cartoon set in what appears to be Hell. There’s the Devil, a spider swinging on a thread over a black pit, a tiny demon jazz band, bats, of course, and even three-headed Cerberus, but then, all of sudden, spliced in with the Devil and his minions, skeletons dancing in a grave yard, which I recognized immediately as a clip from a 1929 Disney cartoon “The Skeleton Dance.” For years “The Skeleton Dance” has been a Halloween tradition for us. It’s five and a half minutes of skeletons rise from their graves and performing a choreographed number to a vaguely Slavic sounding xylophone ditty. I don’t remember exactly when we started this ritual, but my daughter was maybe seven or eight. We would watch it on YouTube and she would jump around the house arms akimbo like the skeletons, playing air xylophone on the ribs of an invisible skeleton before her.
Ultimately, the video cinches the way I think of “(Every Day Is) Halloween”: on the one hand it’s a kitschy relic of the late 80s and early 90s when droves of teens powdered theirs faces, dyed their hair inky black, and squeezed into leather pants, but on the other hand, for someone in their early teens trying to find the strength to break the gravitational pull of all the bullshit and drama that comes with fitting in, or not, it is without a doubt an empowering anthem.
Oh, why can't I live a life for me?
Why should I take the abuse that's served?
Why can't they see they're just like me?
She emerges from the school alone and walks slowly toward the car with her head down. “What took you so long?” she asks, putting on her seat belt. Her face is red and sweaty. Her lipstick has been rubbed off.
I explain that I left right when she called. “How was it?” “Fine, except I didn’t win anything. It’s not fair.” There were prizes for best karaoke performance, but you had to compete as a team, and she couldn’t convince anyone to be on her team. And there were other games, too, but those were all won by the really athletic kids. And her crush went to the dance with someone else, and she’s just awful and fake and a cheerleader.
As we pull out of the parking lot and onto the dark county road we pass a subdivision of new homes that all look more or less the same. The trees in the large front yards are still barely saplings. “That’s where they all live,” she says. “Who?” I ask. “All the popular kids. They’re such jerks.”
It’s at moments like this that I struggle to be her father. I want to just to say, here, listen to this, and hand her my phone with “(Every Day Is) Halloween” already cued up, but I feel like it’s my job to point out the stereotype, warn her away from the generalization, help convince her that where a person lives has no bearing on their character, and that there is no conspiracy to defraud her of prizes at the middle school dance.
And yet, on this night, I am tired of keeping up this even-handed parental front. I know that she is bullied at school; I know that most days the beauty and genius of her mind goes unappreciated; that her attempts to make friends are misunderstood, and so I say to her, “You have a gift that they don’t have. You can see and feel things they can’t. And you should kind of feel sorry for them. They’re going to live their entire lives and never understand and never know what you do.”
This might be the worst possible thing I could have said. I might have just given her even more license to increase her already considerable intellectual arrogance, but you know, at this moment it seems better than the alternative, which is for her to go around believing that she in somehow not enough; that she needs to go the extra mile to make others feel comfortable, but dammit if this song isn’t true:
Oh, why can't I live a life for me?
Why should I take the abuse that's served?
Why can't they see they're just like me
It's the same, it's the same in the whole wide world
Back at the house she pounds, black boots still on, up the stairs and changes into pink, silky pajamas. She wants to snuggle on the couch and watch a movie, but her brother, eight years old and about as typical an eight year old boy as you can be, won’t cooperate—he’s watching YouTube videos of bros pranking one another. “You’re such a jerk, you know that?” “What did I do?” he yells back.
I re-direct her. “Come on,” I say, “let’s let him do his thing. We can watch something upstairs.” Upstairs, we sit on her bed and I pull out my phone and search Google for the “Skeleton Dance.” As soon as she hears the plucky xylophone, she brightens up, and as the skeleton emerge from their graves she is up on her feet and dancing. As she mimics the loose jointed skeletons, I am aware now more than ever of how she has changed/is changing. I remember when I could hold her in the crook of my arm, and now look at her: her arms and legs are impossibly long, her face is losing the baby fat, her feet are big, her steps are loud and sure.
I’m 43, and though I grew up listening to The Cure, Bauhaus, The Cult, and Ministry, I’ve never dyed my hair or even worn it past my collar. I’ve never pierced anything or had anything tattooed. I’ve never owned black jeans, and I’m just now realizing what a coward and a liar I’ve been all these years, pretending that I could keep the darkness at bay by just writing about it in a touristy way.
What I’ve neglected to be honest about, is that the darkness of the world is close at hand at all times. And until now, until my daughter, afraid, and yet braver than I’ll ever be, walked into that dance alone, I wasn’t able to see goth for what it is: a way of confronting the darkness by insinuating yourself into it and then dismantling it from the inside.
For most, Halloween is the one day out of the entire year when you indulge the darkness, this alterity you feel, we all feel, in a safe way, in a way that doesn’t make you seem weird or troubled or damaged. But to be goth is to say on a daily basis I’m not afraid to be seen for what I am and what I feel.
I don’t claim to have the answers. I just know that I wish I had been able to admit that darkness into my own life, be on speaking terms with it when I was her age, instead of allowing it to eat away at me all these years.
And yet, it’s not as easy as saying, just live every day as though it were Halloween. That’s a simile. What Ministry intends is metaphor. Every day is Halloween. Every day the darkness is close at hand. How will you ensure that it doesn’t take you down?
As she continues to laugh and stomp all jangly-armed around the room, I notice that she hasn’t quite removed all the dark make-up from around her eyes, and so now I’m imagining her at the dance, twirling and shimmying, eyes closed, black bow bouncing atop her head, in the blue and orange lights, all by herself. For a split second, despite the meanness and narrowness of the other kids pressing all around her in that dark gym, I feel a twinge of the joy and relief she feels moving her body.
I rise up from the bed and begin to dance with her.
Dave Griffith is the author of A Good War is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America. His essays and reviews have appeared in the Utne Reader, The Normal School, Image, and Creative Nonfiction, and on-line at Killing the Buddha, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Paris Review.
ROBBIE MAAKESTAD ON “PREACHER MAN”
“Some angels were cast out of the heavens, and they came down to the earth, and they bred with the women on the earth, and produced like this supernatural race of giants, and the giants sort’ve roamed the earth for a while and they were supposedly wiped out during the flood, but there was a few survivors, but no one really, really knows what happened to them. I mean, no one knows enough about the Nephilim anyways, it’s just like a legend, so we took the name on because it’s quite a mysterious thing, and we added ‘Fields’ as in like ‘magnetic fields,’ drawn in towards the Nephilim rather [than] like in green pastures.” —Carl McCoy, “Night Flight,” 1988
“I think Nephilim was originally a Hebrew word meaning ‘giant.’” —Tony Pettit, “Flour Power,” Sounds, 1988
“We just chose it ’cos we liked the story it was in and it’s quite mysterious. It doesn’t give too much away.” —Peter Yates, “Flour Power,” Sounds, 1988
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” —Genesis 6:4
It wasn’t until May 4, 1987, that British ears were first treated to the Fields of the Nephilim’s debut album, Dawnrazor: an eight track gothic rock oddity that critic Dan Dickson from the British music mag Kerrang! billed as having created a new goth rock subgenre: “Spaghetti-metal.” For indeed, the conceit of the goth rock album is Spaghetti-Western, from the twangy guitar riffs and sweeping background windscapes which evoke those of a barren American West landscape, to the intro track—“intro (The Harmonica Man)”—which, a month after the album release, was panned by the very same Dave Dickson, who noted that the band “plagiari[zed from] the master musician of Spaghetti Western, Ennio Morricone.” And it’s true: the track samples Morricone’s “Man with the Harmonica” from Sergio Leone’s 1968 epic, Once Upon a Time in the West, starring Henry Fonda. While Dickson rated the album 3.5/5 stars for the album’s plagiarism and “truck loads [sic] of effects” used to conjure a western soundscape, Dickson also gave the album a second rating—5/5 stars; for after all, Fields of the Nephilim had created their own cowboy goth rock subgenre.
Yet oddly, Dawnrazor’s UK release did not include “Preacher Man,” the album track that perhaps most embodies the Wild West. However, the U.S. release of Dawnrazor included “Preacher Man” as track six—a fortuitous decision by the band, as it still holds a venerated place in the Fields of the Nephilim discography. Though the song remains a Nephilim classic, surprisingly, it’s not the most popular Fields of the Nephilim song, slotting in at fifth-most-listened on Spotify. However, on YouTube, “Preacher Man” clearly holds the most-watched spot, beating out the next most-watched Fields of the Nephilim video by 65,000 views, largely, it would seem, because of its exquisite 1987 music video that the band recorded, a video that was re-released (and uploaded to YouTube) in 2002 as part of their “Revelations / Forever Remain / Visionary Heads” triple DVD release, which included live footage from 1988 and 1990 concerts, and seven music videos from their most recent album Revelations.
In the first twelve seconds of the “Preacher Man” music video, what sounds like an angelic chorus sings a single note that increases in volume while an electric guitar strums faster and faster, as if a small hammer had been dropped upon one guitar string, bouncing until coming to rest. The music video, (which has skewed timing from the song itself due to a kitschy amoeba-patterned title screen that silently takes up the first 17 seconds of the video), opens upon a yellow warning sign shrouded in roiling smoke that reads “Zone Perimeter: Radiation Contamination.” A quick cut takes us to a silhouette of front man Carl McCoy, flanked by the slightly more visible silhouettes of the four other band members. Though the 1987 video footage is grainy, the one thing that can be clearly made out is that four of the five men wear cowboy hats of varying brim depths and shapes, and that Carl McCoy’s eyes glow white like stars from an otherwise blackened visage.
Carl McCoy founded Fields of the Nephilim in 1984 in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England alongside guitarists Paul Wright and Peter Yates; bassist, Tony Pettitt; drummer, Nod Wright; and Gary Wisker on saxophone. Wisker is the only founding member not to appear in the video for “Preacher Man,” as he only lasted a year with the band, likely because no Fields of the Nephilim song features any discernable sax whatsoever. Musically, their sound depended on deep basslines, strong drumming, and spiraling guitar-work, underscoring McCoy’s guttural lyrics, which sound like they’re emanating from deep within a trash compactor.
The general confusion inherent to Nephilim scholarship is fairly evident if you pick up any sources on the topic. Within conservative Christian circles, the prevailing interpretative view of Genesis 6:4 is that when God expelled Satan from heaven with a cadre of demons, the demons fell to earth and impregnated human women, creating half-demon children: the Nephilim—the explanation I received from my elementary Sunday school teacher when I inquired—a nice way of saying that evil angelic beings raped human women. This then caused God to order a worldwide flood to wipe out the mutant offspring, and nearly all of humanity for good measure. Essentially, the few verses about the Nephilim serve as the lead-up to the Noah’s Ark story, which finishes out Genesis chapter 6. Come to think of it, Sunday school is actually pretty goth.
At 33 seconds into “Preacher Man,” an upbeat, twangy guitar lick kicks in as a sign with old west-style font fills the screen to introduce the song a second time: “FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM·PREACHER MAN·” An unseen angelic choir begins to pulse out a single vocalized note in time with the drum beat. The video cuts to a rifle-toting cowboy (perhaps one of the band members?) patrolling a line of hooded, gas-masked persons in sackcloth, pounding pitchforks and shaking a chainsaw in time with the twinging guitars. Then, a third introduction of the song title: “FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM·PREACHER MAN·” A series of quick-cut shots ensues: a close-up of a bearded man turning to look off-screen; an illuminated shot of McCoy—wearing a black leather bolero, what can only be described as black sungoggles, and a dark trench coat—standing behind a pulpit with the Bible on it. As “Preacher Man,” McCoy raises his leather-gloved fist, then spreads his fingers wide to reveal glove blades like Freddy Krueger (incidentally, A Nightmare on Elm Street debuted in ’84, the same year McCoy founded Fields of the Nephilim). A flame erupts on a black screen, just as an even heavier guitar riff takes off at second 47.
Without a label, Fields of the Nephilim put out two EPs on their own—one in ’85 and one in ’86—gigging as often as possible throughout England, winning any fans they could. Before Fields of the Nephilim signed with Indie record label Situation Two, British music critics compared their sound to Sisters of Mercy, who featured a drum machine named Doktor Avalanche, and after whom Fields of the Nephilim almost certainly modeled themselves—taking heat for obvious sonic overlaps. But when their first album, Dawnrazor, debuted in ’87, Fields of the Nephilim revealed themselves to be auditory giants.
At second 48, a mysterious cowboy in a bandana and a white trench coat rides a horse through a pasture. Clips of this shot alternate with clips of a camera moving at triple speed through a negative-filtered graveyard that looks like high-speed headstone x-rays. According to the highest-rated YouTube comment on the music video, a user named Rob Upson informs viewers that the horse in these shots was named “Corrieander,” and that the “beardy bloke” (the cowboy) was his father.
Rewinding to 1983, Richard Stanley, a South African film student, shot his first Super-8 film, Rites of Passage, in which a modern man finds himself remembering shards of his previous life as a caveman (here Stanley cast himself). In filming, Stanley found himself kicked out of the school due to scenes shot on a cliff face that the administration felt endangered the actors—yet Stanley claims that he hired professional climbers who looked so like the actors that “the faculty heads didn’t believe we didn’t use the actors.” When Rites of Passage won an international film contest, Stanley’s film career kicked off, and he moved to London, where he met Carl McCoy, who hired him to design the art for Dawnrazor, and to film the Super-8 music video for “Preacher Man.”
In the video, when Nod Wright smacks his cymbals, we see that they are shattered, a chunk of metal missing. A minute in, from behind his pulpit, Carl McCoy begins to sneer his first vocals: Well he talks in confusion. The camera zooms out to reveal a large radiation symbol plastered on the front of McCoy’s pulpit. And he faults your point of view. Beneath the pulpit, Wright and Yates jam on their guitars, dressed in cowboy leather trench coats. You talk about his apparition. / And he talks. / Hear him laughing at you. Perhaps the “he” is Rob Upson’s bearded father astride Corrieander, or perhaps “he” is McCoy, the Preacher? Zooming further out from the pulpit, hordes of post-apocalyptic pitchfork/gasmask/chainsaw peasant folk bow before the Preacher.
In a 2001 interview with Sex & Guts Magazine, Richard Stanley said about Fields of the Nephilim:
I was never wild about their music. They had a spaghetti western/post nuke image. Sort of a goth/horror thing. The first video we did, and then the first album cover, second album cover, second video. And then I had a chance to invent the look of the band which was very exciting. I met them before they were signed, and had a big influence on how they actually looked. I did the album covers, and influenced them across the board. Eventually the lead singer became a character called The Preacher Man, this frightening religious zealot in a post-holocaust world. I did a great promo.
A valid assertion, that. Oddly enough, in 1990, Stanley filmed a low budget sci-fi horror film, Hardware, and cast Carl McCoy as Nomad—a character who finds a robot buried in a radiation- contaminated desert—a character who McCoy acknowledged was “essentially the same character” as the Preacher Man in the Nephilim music video. “All that stuff from Hardware appeared in the Fields of the Nephilim videos first.”
Contamination and radiation. With this line, we realize that in actuality, the hordes are humanoid radiation mutants—the faces of whom look like Playdoh Quasimodo masks made by a four-year-old. And yet, somehow the masks are flexile enough for them to sing along with McCoy: Let it crawl while the city sleeps. / Your turn to lay bait for a while. Suddenly, Rob Upson’s bearded dad appears from a cloud of swirling smoke with a whip raised, bringing it down upon a mutant peasant in a top hat, who, incidentally, Rob Upson also claims was his brother: “Lee Upson (deceased).” Now you're melting through your burning fields. / And all my people say “oh!” At the “oh!”, all the mutant serfs raise their hands as a guitar shreds a repeated note, and a mysterious white trench coated figure whisks past the rifle-cowboy-patrolman.
In an effort to better understand the Nephilim, I reached out to a colleague in my university’s theology department. “Ah, the Nephilim,” she said. “That’s like the Old Testament of the Old Testament.”
At minute 1:47 of the “Preacher Man” music video, the white-coated mystery figure doffs their hat, and tosses long reddish-brown hair back to reveal a beautiful woman! Again, Rob Upson’s dad whips Rob Upson’s brother. The woman produces a sheriff’s badge, STOP!, as—in my second favorite music video moment—the five band members who are suddenly aligned in diagonal profile, turn in unison to look at the camera. All five now wear cowboy hats.
Preacher McCoy pounds the Bible against his radioactive pulpit. When he talks / connected scars reopen. / A thousand fingers / Reach out for you. The “he” is now almost certainly referring to the virulent sermonizing spewing forth from behind the radiation pulpit, and not from Rob Upson’s bearded padre. Preacher McCoy waggles his blade fingers and points one directly at the sheriff, who whirls away from him in a cloud of auburn hair as the deformed throngs slowly advance upon her.
We don't feel no contamination
We don't feel no contamination
We don't feel no contamination
We don't feel no contamination
The motley peasant ensemble stumbles forward toward the sheriff. In these group-mutant shots we first see the “dreadlocked mutant” who Rob Upson also claims is his “bro Darren Upson.” Staring at their approach, the sheriff holds her ground.
Here, it should be noted that all efforts to identify the sheriff in real life on the part of the author have proven unsuccessful. That said, on an obscure page of a Fields of the Nephilim Discussion Forum, on July 3, 2010, a user named “almagest” wrote:
there are two things i don't understand about [the “Preacher Man”] video :
1. can anyone explain the "story" to a poor newbie like me?
2. the blonde person with a sherif [sic] badge : is a girl or a boy? does anyone know who is he/she?
One day later, in response, a user named “Pale Rider” responded with equally distinct colon spacing:
Answer number two : I think the lovely lady (Clare) was Tony's girlfriend at the time.
Five days later, in regard to this intriguing possibility, a user named Mark Anthony Quested chimes in:
2. It is a girl.
On the entirety of the World Wide Web, it seems this exchange is as far as anyone gets in identifying the sheriff.
The repeated guitar shredding returns as the malformed masses enclose around the sheriff and raise their hands above their heads—oh!—but still she stands firm. In my absolute favorite moment of the video (minute 2:21), the three guitarists and Carl McCoy march forward in tight formation while playing the repeated lick, (McCoy holds a double-barreled rifle instead of a guitar), but while they advance, Paul Wright does the goofiest little shimmy-shake with an immense grin spread across his face. This is the only moment of levity in the entire video—a moment that kicks off precisely one full minute of absolute guitar shredding sans McCoy’s vocals.
Though the “demons fall from the sky and rape women” reading of Genesis 6 is common—and clearly it was held by my elementary Sunday school teacher—this reads into the Bible much of the extra-Biblical Book of Enoch: an Aramaic document that surfaced around 300 BCE which ludicrously self-attributes its authorship to Enoch from the Bible, Noah’s great-great grandfather. The Book of Enoch details the fall of angels from heaven, as well as sexual violence on the part of demons necessitating the Noahic flood. This book is not considered canon by Christians or Jews, but has found much acceptance as a contextual expansion upon the Nephilim verses in Genesis.
The hordes reach their outstretched arms towards the sheriff’s throat, which she opens to them, leaning her head back and looking at the sky. A mutant rev-starts a chainsaw in time with the pulsing guitars. As one, the hordes lift the sheriff up—her arms spread like a crucifix—and spin her upside down—a post-apocalyptic Petrine apostle; the camera spins with her, as if the mutant world has been upended by her stoic self-sacrifice. The guitar lick ceases, replaced by the progressively louder roaring of the mutant’s chainsaw, which says “Guard Tip” on the tip, yet there is no guard tip. We have reached the halfway point of the music video.
Of the music video, Carl McCoy:
Those early videos were very tongue in cheek. Neither of them had a big budget—“Preacher Man,” for instance, was £500—so we were limited by what we could do. Therefore the finished product had to be primarily for entertainment value.
How true this insight.
Nod Wright smacks his broken cymbal. Paul Wright picks his electric guitar. Peter Yates twangs his guitar. Tony Pettitt keeps the baseline pumping while pointing his headstock toward the camera. Somewhere, Gary Wisker wishes that he’d found a way to work a saxophone into this track. Carl McCoy stares straight into the camera from beneath the brim of his bolero—deep hazel eyes that, compared to all the hardened occult-cowboy dramatization, seem somehow soft and inviting. The angel chorus again belts out their harmonic repeated background note. Leather cowboy boots stride across muddy grass. McCoy’s disembodied hat flies through the air, emitting a cloud of dust.
At this point, it’s probably worth mentioning that throughout the music video, band members emit clouds of dust with every movement, and atmospheric clouds swirl in the background of nearly every shot, giving the video a gritty, grainy vibe that goes beyond the Super-8 film. And this dustiness is something that the Fields of the Nephilim are known for, even in live shows, which are nearly always performed at night to add to the ambience. As a pillar of their post-apocalyptic oeuvre, band members dress in black cowboy leather and torn black jeans; in an interview with Metal Hammer, McCoy once described their outfits as “Victorian clobber that we tended to pick up from charity shops… with some sort of Spanish/Mexican spaghetti western vibe.” Atop this, the Fields of the Nephilim always look dusted in a layer of radioactive ash. And that description is not far off: Carl McCoy has never been one to hide the fact that before each performance, the Fields of the Nephilim sifted their coats and hats with baking flour. Asked the reason for using flour, McCoy said: “We had to develop something because we were such an odd-looking bunch…. [we] basically covered [ourselves] in a load of shit, so we at least looked like we belonged together…. We didn’t really think about the flour that much. It just happened.”
And this flour is featured directly in the very next shot of the “Preacher Man” video, with Preacher McCoy raising the open Bible from the radioactive lectern, leaning in close, and blowing an immense pile of flour from page to air. Cowboy boots stride across muddy grass. McCoy glances over the Biblical page—presumably opened to Genesis 6:4—and it’s not until this moment that a pencil-thin mustache can be seen gracing McCoy’s upper lip. Boots stride across muddy grass. McCoy, the Bible now resting on his radiation dais, raises both blade gloves in the air above his head, and the mutant masses bow before him in unison as an upbeat guitar pulsation replaces the repeated angel chorus, raising the tension and speed of the track.
But the band’s proclivity for flour wasn’t without its problems. Carl McCoy:
A lot of our fans used to get involved with the ritual of it all and they’d bring flour to the gigs in plastic bags to chuck up in the air when we came on stage. Well, some of them came back to the hotel after [a show] and a cleaner found one of these bags. She called the police and the next thing we knew we were being hauled out of bed in the middle of the night and marched off to the nick in handcuffs! They searched our tour bus and found 13 lbs. of what they thought was cocaine, but of course it turned out to be flour! They couldn’t work us out at all. They must have thought we were heavily into our baking!
A photo from a show in 1990 captures the band lined up to go onstage. Bassist, Tony Pettit, mock-snorts a spoonful of flour as Carl McCoy hides a smile.
With this critical uptick in the song’s speed—a musical segue before McCoy’s vocals once again grace us with their guttural snarl—the music video shifts into a bizarre back and forth between cowboy boots striding across muddy grass and more grainy triple-speed black-and-white cemetery footage. We see boots, headstones, boots, camera racing this way and that through cemetery as if in a graveyard maze, boots, headstones, boots, headstones, boots, more frantic x-ray racing—a full 14 seconds of negative filter chaos alternating in time to the beat.
In 1991, Carl McCoy broke away from Fields of the Nephilim, saying:
The split-up was inevitable, and I can't pretend it's been amicable. It hasn't. I just decided I couldn't work with these people or the management. We'd done the complete cycle in what we were representing, and musically I felt it was time to change. The only way to progress, to try to develop, is to kill what was before, sacrifice it. Annihilate it, break it down. I'm now in the process of burning the fields so as to develop what I set out to do in the first place.
Guitarist, Peter Yates:
Carl rang us up and said he had no choice but to leave the band. It wasn’t that he suddenly turned ’round and made the decision. There were things happening, a bit of an uneasy atmosphere, while we were recording… We were expecting it. It reached the point where someone was going to say it, either us or him.
The rest of the band brought in Andy Delaney to replace McCoy, rebilling themselves as Rubicon—a band that found little critical success. McCoy reappeared on the music scene a year later in 1992 as lead vocalist for The Nefilim [sic], a death metal band he formed with John “Capachino” Carter, which only released one album in 1996.
At minute 3:19, Preacher McCoy grabs his irradiated rostrum with both hands and spits out the words: Oh keep talking / You're a hunter… Interspersed with two quick shots of x-ray cemetery, McCoy’s lip-syncing doesn’t come close to aligning with the words, but with each lippy snarl, a burst of flour emanates into the air. …I'm a wolf. As McCoy utters this line, the sheriff has somehow escaped the clutches of the polluted multitudes, and sits cross-legged among them, glaring toward the Preacher while displaying an enormous golden bowie knife. An odd miss-cut of the film makes McCoy repeat a glance sideways like a tic: Yeah. Despite the bowie knife, McCoy continues his evangelization. Keep talking. The masses once again enclose around the sheriff, reaching their hands to grab her shoulders. The bowie knife glints. McCoy points his finger blades towards his heart: I'm the preacher… Then straight at the camera: you're a fool. Again, the “Zone Perimeter: Radiation Contamination” sign appears.
Regarding his personal use of the name Nephilim/Nefilim [sic] apart from the other band members, McCoy said, “As far as I'm concerned, I am The Nephilim and all it stands for, and I feel I should use it, even though the others don't approve.” It is unclear what it means to personally embody “The Nephilim.”
Aside from reading Genesis 6 through the lens of the Book of Enoch, there exist numerous other interpretations concerning the Nephilim espoused by a heavenly host of scholars. Perhaps more plausible than demon spawn—albeit, less gothic—is the theory that the Nephilim were giants: legendary warriors that dwarfed the rest of humanity with their prodigious height. Largely, this view is held because of a second Biblical passage, Numbers 13, in which the Israelites sent spies to scope out modern day Palestine long after the Noahic Flood would have eliminated any demonic offspring, and the spies reported:
The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.
An intriguing angle to this reading of the text is that these large warrior folk eventually offsprung their way through the centuries to their progeny, Goliath, the giant slain by King David—a sort of symbolic triumph by the greatest of Israel’s kings over a mythic, prehistorical enemy.
At minute 3:34, a shrouded mutant in a gas mask crouches in some reeds in front of another gas mask peasant standing next to what looks to be a bombed-out Wood and Pickett Mini Margrave fitted out with auxiliary searchlights. The croucher turns to the camera—Contamination and radiation / Let it crawl while the city sleeps—while the shot zooms close to the standing mutant, revealing an absolutely hideous straw blonde wig atop its head, which one has to imagine conceals yet another as yet unidentified Rob Upson relative.
In 2012, McCoy was asked to reflect on the band’s breakup. His response: “I didn’t want the group to be really big. I liked the idea of being a culty act. Huge commercial success didn’t interest me at all and I had a fear that things were going that way… so I split the band up.”
Atop a close-up shot of the sheriff’s face in profile, the Preacher continues his solo: Your turn to lay for bait for a while. The sheriff’s face suddenly burns a bright yellow—as if reflecting an explosive glow—and she turns to look, just as a cloud of yellow dust erupts around a pair of cowboy boots. Now you're melting through your burning fields. Preacher McCoy spreads his arms out wide, That's when my people say… and the peasant masses lift their arms as one along with the sheriff: Oh! The chainsaw mutant advances through a cloud of flour air, and the sheriff again wields her golden bowie, as if protecting the mutants around her. We flash back and forth between the two, and the twangy guitar lick returns, amping the song’s intensity up once more. Preacher McCoy leans over his fallout lectern and lifts his black, sungoggles up to get a better view.
The Fields of the Nephilim remained disbanded until, on August 15, 1998, Carl McCoy and Tony Pettitt held a presser in Germany at Zillo Festival after playing several classic Fields of the Nephilim songs together. McCoy announced:
We've decided to reform Fields of the Nephilim in its traditional way, with the original line-up, but we will still continue with our experimental projects under some kind of Nephilim title, which will be immediately happening with me and Tony. We're doing a new Nephilim album, which will be followed by a Fields of the Nephilim album, and they will be quite different.
Tony Pettit followed this announcement with his own explainer:
The new Nephilim stuff me and Carl are doing separate to Fields of the Nephilim is more of a studio-based, experimental side of what we do, as opposed to the Fields of the Nephilim stuff, which will be the classic Fields of the Nephilim sound—we just need to have both outlets to do what we want to do.
And yet, this Fields of the Nephilim Fields of the Nephilim reunion never solidified for the Fields of the Nephilim. Nor for the Nephilim.
In an unexpected twist, the sheriff shrugs her shoulders, and sets her golden bowie down on the ground—will she sacrifice herself a second time? The mutant freak swings the chainsaw around and around in a threatening manner, as a chainsaw scream replaces the twangy electric guitar once more—a screaming dissonance within the track that makes the listener feel adrift, somehow scattered. A close up of the mutant’s face reveals one eye scarred over and deformed, and then the chainsaw is raised as if to deal a death blow. Preacher McCoy shifts backward with an arm outstretched as if to beg the mutant for mercy, but it’s too late—the mutant rushes forward, and now we see the mutant has been threatening the band, not the sheriff. We follow the silhouette of the sprinting chainsaw mutant toward Paul Wright and Peter Yates on their guitars and they spread just in time so that the mutant brings the chainsaw down directly slashing into the Bible and the podium in the rough, jumpy cut of a dull chainsaw blade with no guard tip. Preacher McCoy has fled his pedestal.
In 2000, Fields of the Nephilim released a retooled version of the first track, “Trees Come Down,” from their first EP (’85), and played four European music festivals, but Carl McCoy was the only founding member in this iteration of the band. Two years later, in 2002, Jungle Records released Fallen, a Fields of the Nephilim album—their first in eleven years—which consisted of tracks recorded between 1997-2001, as well as a 1988 demo track. Carl McCoy immediately decried the release, claiming the band had not authorized the album, and that none of the tracks had ever been finished. Fields of the Nephilim has only performed one song from that album live in concert. In 2005, Carl McCoy put out Mourning Sun, the first official Fields of the Nephilim album in 14 years.
The lyrics pick up again—We don't feel no contamination—as Paul Wright takes off his guitar, leans it up against an immense bass speaker, and picks up a double-barreled rifle. We don't feel no contamination. The mutated multitudes stumble forward as one, and the band gathers in tight formation. We don't feel no contamination. Carl McCoy, Nod Wright, and Tony Pettit wield rifles from the hip, while Paul Wright and Peter Yates keep the music rolling from their guitars. We don't feel no contamination. McCoy fires two shots off in time with the beat, but the throngs don’t react in the slightest. We don't feel no contamination. In a final cameo, the top-hat mutant—“Lee Upson (deceased)”—tears pages from the Bible, scattering them across the hay-strewn ground. We don't feel no contamination, McCoy’s upside-down face sings the lyrics as the camera spins until he’s right-side up. We don't feel no contamination. Then we see that the malformed have lifted Preacher McCoy up like he’s moshing, carrying him forward while still he sings: We don't feel no contamination. Lee Upson (deceased) tears more Bible pages, and then in a shot that pans quickly to the right, we see the dreadlocked mutant—Darren Upson one last time—bobbing to the beat and singing.
On May 24th of 2007, two years after their most-recent album release, Fields of the Nephilim performed live in London, featuring a newly added guitarist named Gizz Butt—their first concert in seven years. McCoy invited Richard Stanley—who filmed the “Preacher Man” music video so many years earlier—to film the concert for a DVD release, yet Stanley’s audio and video from the night proved spotty, and Carl McCoy “took the reins” of the project, which never saw light of day.
After panning past Darren Upson and his mutant bro-tastic dreadlocks, we see the sheriff’s face, now wearing Preacher McCoy’s sungoggles; she whirls, and the camera cuts far as she walks down the middle of two rows of mutants toward two large boxcar doors that she spreads apart in the gentlest of motions, revealing a bright light that overpowers everything and coincides with the introduction of McCoy’s concluding refrain: Radiation. Contamination. For one, brief half-second the sheriff’s white overcoat gleams with her arms spread wide: a triumphant Christ figure in a cowboy hat, backed by a flock of chainsaw mutants.
Biblical Nephilim scholarship is in itself inherently unclear because the Bible verses that precipitate the field are unspecific, ancient, and mythic. Should the Genesis 6 Nephilim legend be read through the lens of the Book of Enoch? Or were the Nephilim merely a mythic race of giants? Either option reads as fairly gothic. Or, as Annette Yoshiko Reed asks in her definitive text on the Nephilim, Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature: were the Nephilim merely a group of legendary warriors renowned from of old?
For in a close reading of Genesis 6:4, it’s a logical jump to read the Nephilim as the fallen angels who “came in to the daughters of men,” when the verse itself says that “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days… when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men.” This seems to indicate a clear distinction between Nephilim and the sons of God (fallen angels). The conclusion of the passage reads, “[The Nephilim] were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown,” which sounds less like demonic spawn or race of giants, and more humans who maintained legendary warrior standing in the ur-passages of early human oral tradition. Perhaps, then, the Nephilim were not so dissimilar from mythic, cloaked, bowie-knife-wielding, apocalyptic sheriffs.
In 2013, original bassist Tony Pettit rejoined The Fields of the Nephilim and has performed with the band ever since. From that year until present, McCoy and Pettit have made a routine of playing an average of 4.6 shows a year in England, Spain, and Germany, most recently rolling out four Fields of the Nephilim shows in England during fall of 2018—a band that shows no signs of stopping.
In the next shot of the music video, a thin rope dangles and the camera pans down, revealing a thick noose knot pulled tight around the neck of a de-hatted Preacher McCoy, hair wild, and singing—Radiation. Contamination—while glowering Satan’s stare into the camera. His face is half lit a golden yellow; the other half, a rich orange-red; his eyes a sharp, inky black, no longer warm. Three quick cut shots rotate between the deformed collective shuffling closer, and Preacher McCoy singing: Radiation. Contamination. A mutant reaches out a leathery, desiccated hand, and the Preacher sings his last lyric: Radiation. Leather sheriff boots kick a stool out from under Preacher McCoy’s feet. In the fractional frame of his face at the moment he falls, the Preacher’s left eye looks left, away from the sheriff—the only detail that can be noted before the blur of his fall.
We hear Nod Wright smack his cymbals twice, and then the guitars dissolve in one final dissonant scream. The rope vibrates wildly under the Preacher’s weight. His boots shake as the noose catches. The rope lets off a final puff of flour dust that gently sifts through the air as the rope goes still. The guitars conclude their ragged note and all is silent. As if from somewhere far away, a weird auditory crunch lets loose as the Preacher Man’s boots give one final, violent twitch.
“Fields of the Nephilim - Preacher Man.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsSFR43Z6000
Fields of the Nephilim Official Website. https://www.fields-of-the-nephilim.com/2011NEWS3 .html
“Fields of the Nephilim.” Bandsintown. https://www.bandsintown.com/en/a/31493-fields-of-the-nephilim
“Fields of the Nephilim: Revelations / Forever Remain / Visionary Heads DVD.” The Arkive. https://archive.beggars.com/fields-of-the-nephilim-dvd/
“Flour Power.” Sounds, 1988. http://sumerland.devin.com/articles/nephilim-sounds-1988.shtml
Genesis. The ESV Study Bible.
Graham, Ben. “Into the Subconscious: Fields of the Nephilim Interviewed.” The Quietus, 2012. https://thequietus.com/articles/08546-fields-of-the-nephilim-interview
Hansen, Skaht. “Fields of the Nephilim: Dawnrazor Review.” Pitchfork Media, 1999. https://archive.vn/20090205151812/http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/article/record_review/17710-dawnrazor
Johnson, Howard. “How the Fields of the Nephilim had the Last Laugh.” The Hammer, 2012. https://www.loudersound.com/features/how-the-fields-of-the-nephilim-had-the-last-laugh
“Music Videos.” Between Death and the Devil—The Unofficial Richard Stanley Website. http://www.everythingisundercontrol.org/nagtloper/other/music.php
Nickelsburg, George W. E., and James C. VanderKam. 1 Enoch: A New Translation. 2004.
Numbers. The ESV Study Bible.
Olson, Daniel. Enoch: A New Translation: The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, or 1 Enoch, Translated with Annotations and Cross-References. 2004.
“Preacher Man Video.” Fields of the Nephilim Discussion Forum. http://dawnrazor.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2958&sid=a0f06a026b04346bec7f0e99d52927f0
Reed, Annette Yoshiko. Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
“Rites of Passage.” Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0392717/
“Rites of Passage (Rel. 1983).” Between Death and the Devil—The Unofficial Richard Stanley Website. http://www.everythingisundercontrol.org/nagtloper/other/short.php
Ross, Hugh. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis. 1998.
“Nephs Split!” Melody Maker, 1991. http://sumerland.net/articles/nephilim-melodymaker-2-1991.shtml
O’Keefe, Paula. “Gehenna to Elizium – Fields of the Nephilim 1985-1991.” KIA #1, 1991. http://www.spookhouse.net/angelynx/nephilim/nephlore.html
“Press Conference Announcing Fields of the Nephilim Reunion.” Zillo Festival, 1998. http://sumerland.net/articles/zillo-press-conference.shtml
Ramsey, Chris. “Fields of the Nephilim Interview.” Cornerstone, Vol. 19.18, 1989. http://sumerland.devin.com/articles/cornerstone.shtml
“Total Abuse: Richard Stanely and the Devil.” Sex & Guts Magazine. Vol. 3, 2001.
Thomas, Bryan. “Fire & Brimstone Tirades: “Video Flash Tracks” featuring UK Goth-Rockers Fields of the Nephilim.” Night Flight, 2017. http://nightflight.com/fire-brimstone-tirades-video-flash-tracks-featuring-uk-goth-rockers-fields-of-the-nephilim/
Robbie Maakestad is a Senior Features Editor for The Rumpus and an Assistant Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. He is writing a biography of place about Jerusalem’s City of David archaeological site. He has been published or has forthcoming work in Boulevard, The Normal School, Essay Daily, Wigleaf, and Bad Pony, among others. Follow him @RobbieMaakestad.