second round game
(13) the cruxshadows, “marilyn my bitterness”
(5) mazzy star, “mary of silence”
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.
katie jean shinkle on “mary of silence”
I search the Internet for the following: “Do goths listen to Mazzy Star?” and “Is Mazzy Star considered goth?” and “Is Mazzy Star considered gothic music?” and the Internet booms a tomb of silent, deadly nothingness. The first and only search result attempting to ask and answer these questions comes from the bizarre Q & A site Quora, a question posed September 12, 2016: “Do Goths listen to Mazzy Star?” with a Youtube link underneath for “Fade Into You” and tags of “Mazzy Star (Band),” and “Goth Subculture.” The one answer states “Well, I’ve never heard of a such a name, so for goths like myself, the answer is no.”
In late 2001, when the lead singer of Mazzy Star Hope Sandoval’s band Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions released Bavarian Fruit Bread, my friend MJ was obsessed with both the new album and Hope Sandoval. This obsession reintroduced Mazzy Star back into my life. The music felt so different than the circular obsession of the Grateful Dead and Phish of my friend group at the time. There was a sea change happening in our small hamlet in West Michigan, a fade out and ushering in of the “new” (and we were teenagers, and teenagers should be allowed to reinvent and try on as many hats as possible, although so many are not allowed to at the hands of their peers, as we know, which is sad and hateful). And while our friend group wouldn’t move our interests outside of jambands for a few more years as we entered new phases of our lives, Hope Sandoval was a genesis. Beyond Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, I personally forgot about Mazzy Star and their sophomore album So Tonight That I Might See as a quintessential early ‘90’s album, the simplistic purple and gold cover a stand out in a time of album covers like the plastinated angel a la Body Worlds of Nirvana’s In Utero. Our friends would be hanging out and MJ would say, “I’m going to go home to be by myself and listen to Mazzy Star,” a very goth thing to say, as it were, and we teased him mercilessly about going home to be alone and sad with what we considered slow and sad music (which was partially the case, as we were teenagers and as such it was unfathomable both being alone and going home alone with the sole intention to listen to Mazzy Star).
So Tonight That I Might See is 25 years old, released October of 1993, and while I was barely nascent about how So Tonight That I Might See was a particularly distinctive album among the grunge and alternative rock that permeated the charts at the time, So Tonight That I Might See is an album that is frozen in memory—an album that houses the song “Fade Into You.” “Fade Into You” is one of those songs that brings you back to time and place as a deja vu. Where were you and what were you doing? Who broke your heart? Who did you kiss? “Fade Into You” is to date Mazzy Star’s biggest single. Today in 2019 the song continues to make me wildly uncomfortable, much as it did then.
Mazzy Star’s So Tonight That I Might See gets repeatedly compared to Jim Morrison and the Doors throughout the Internet—too many times to even list here. This comparison is confusing, except for the use of electric organ (arguably I am no Doors or Morrison aficionado—it was never my bag, musically), but when I conjure the music of Mazzy Star there is hardly a Venn Diagram in my mind between them. However, interestingly, the term “gothic” for the goth music genre was coined by John Stickney in the Williams College News in March, 1967 about The Doors and Jim Morrison specifically: “The Doors met New York for better or for worse at a press conference in the gloomy vaulted wine cellar of the Delmonico hotel, the perfect room to honor the Gothic rock of the Doors.” (Read the article yourself HERE on page 174).*
So, it is a sort of if-a-tree-falls-and-no-one-is-around-to-hear-it-does-it-make-a-sound scenario: Can any of Mazzy Star’s music be considered goth if goths don’t listen to Mazzy Star (huge generalization based on zero evidence except for one person on Quora, but go with me)? Therefore, can “Mary of Silence” be considered goth? It depends on your definition of goth. All the songs on So Tonight That I Might See range in criticism from pop to college alternative/indie to sadcore to shoegaze (which I would argue heavily against) to dreampop to folk to “doom-mongering psych-goth” (nme.com).
The last definition sounds about right to me as far as “Mary of Silence” is concerned. “Mary of Silence” is indeed Mazzy Star’s gothiest song, even if Mazzy Star themselves are not considered goth, and it is a far overlooked and underappreciated track.
“Mary of Silence” is heavy, languid, and more reminiscent of Bauhaus than Jim Morrison any day.
“Mary of Silence” has all the markings of any good goth song, tapping into a kind of darkness which is dreamscape, landscape, sometimes hellscape. It is by far the darkest song on the entire album of So Tonight That I Might See, housed between “Bells Ring” and “Five String Serenade” both light and airy songs comparatively, songs that could easily fit into the genre boxes otherwise given to the album in its entirety. “Mary of Silence” is the singular song from this album that bucks all boxes except goth—and does the goth genre justice, to be sure. While “Fade into You” reminds me of all those Where Were You When moments of life, “Mary of Silence,” in many ways is the exact opposite and bites those moments in the neck, vampire-style. It is a jarring song, almost deeply depressing, definitely coffin-shaped.
There is talk on the Internet, although disappointingly scarce and elusive, that in certain lesbian circles of the mid-‘90’s that “Mary of Silence” was seen as a gloomy lesbian anthem of foregone love. The argument against this particular read of these lyrics are that A.) As far as the public knows, Hope Sandoval is straight—or at least there is nothing public to the contrary (not to say she can’t Write Gay, just to be the messenger of what the Internet says) and B.) She grew up in a strict Catholic home, and, therefore, these lyrics are clearly about Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, Catholic iconography, and the complex relationship to Religion. I have to say, the interpretation of lesbian love is my favorite interpretation of these lyrics, and makes this song all the more goth to me:
Oh Mary of silence
You pick my heart with a smile
Oh sweet Mary
Come inside for a while
Help me get a hold on you
Or I look in the night
I thought of myself beside you
Take me into your skin
Oh, sweet Mary of silence
Oh, sleeping Mary of silence
We have a steady confusion
You’re looking at fear
It doesn’t seem like the first time
You walked out in a hurry
Oh, sweet Mary of silence
Oh, sleeping Mary of silence
I look in, in your window
To check my head in your pane
My last thoughts, they come to me
I can’t take the pain
Oh, sweet Mary of silence
Oh, sweet Mary of silence
Help me walk with you, to the sky that we see
Shuddering in myself, in-my-self
Sweet Mary of silence (x3)
My friend MJ was on to something, I know this now: “Mary of Silence” is a song I have rushed home to listen to alone for months, saying to people “I need to go home to be by myself and listen to Mazzy Star.” While my teenage Grateful Dead loving-self would be horrified, my 30-something self is and was delighted by the gloomy solitude of Mazzy Star in my ears, especially as the days grew shorter and the darkness of the world began the fade from Fall to Deep Winter. Oh, sweet Mary of silence/Oh, sweet Mary of silence.
*Admittedly, this version of “Mary of Silence” does sound the Doors-esque:
Bonus: Hope Sandoval’s goth-y take on writer’s block, as interviewed in Consequence of Sound:
It’s possible. I mean, some people talk about songwriting like it’s a business. Others feel it’s much more muse-driven and more spontaneous. Isn’t writer’s block just the most archaic idea?
Sandoval: I didn’t even know what that was until the late ‘90s. Like, what the hell is that? People aren’t able to do something? That’s crazy. What does that mean, “writer’s block?” What the hell does that mean? You can’t write or play music or paint? That’s just crazy. It’s like a posh term. You’ve gotta be super rich to fucking have writer’s block, you know what I mean?
Because it’s not your full-time job and it’s just a hobby on the side, so you can take time to muse about writer’s block.
Sandoval: [Mocking] “I’ve got writer’s block, guys. I can’t work!” Honestly, writer’s block is baby crap. Get it together, people. Stop thinking about it and just do it. That’s just overthinking it. It’s not so precious; it’s just a song. It’s just art and art is nothing. Art is not precious, anybody can do it. A five-year-old can do it. It’s not a big deal.
Katie Jean Shinkle lives and writes in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
ABSORB THIS AGONY: JIM RULAND ON “MARILYN MY BITTERNESS”
You’re 15 or 18 or 21 and it’s your first time in the club.
It’s dark and loud and a lot more crowded than you’d imagined.
You’re with a friend or friends. No one goes to the club alone.
You stick close to one another until you find a spot where all this chaos won’t seem so confusing.
You’re not old enough to drink. Or you can’t afford to. Or it’s not really important to you. Or you got hammered in the parking lot before you came inside. Or the substance you got from a friend starts to kick in.
You’re 15 or 18 or 21 and you came here to cut loose.
A new song comes on. Maybe you’ve never heard it before. Maybe you listen to it every day. But you’ve never heard anything this loud before.
Hearing isn’t the right word for it. Hearing happens above the neck. This you can feel with your whole body, a feeling that sends you out onto the dance floor, into the loud shadows, and throbbing smoke, bodies seething all around you.
Do you remember that feeling?
Do you remember the first time you were summoned to the dance floor? Do you remember navigating that vertiginous strobing space? Do you remember the urgency of it all?
Of course you do.
You danced your fool ass off.
For me it happened at an all ages Goth club.
I was a sailor in the Navy and my ship was stationed in San Diego. One of my shipmates had found a flyer for the club. Although he was 21, I was not. I wasn’t old enough to get into bars and clubs, so he decided we should go.
This shipmate, let’s call him Neal, turned me on to a lot of great music from Bauhaus to Bad Religion, Tones on Tail to T.S.O.L.
These were songs that I wouldn’t have heard on the radio. Or, if they were on the radio, I wouldn’t have known where to look for them.
I was a teenager from Virginia. My childhood was 1% Ramones, 1% Devo, way too much MTV, and 10,000 hours of classic rock.
I wasn’t cool, not even close, but I was smart and hungry for new experiences. Neal obliged.
He made me tapes and gave me books. He encouraged me to buy a pair of Doc Martens and keep a journal.
We went to see Hunter S. Thompson and Love and Rockets and Crash Worship and Peter Murphy and Lords of the New Church. I took LSD for the first time and Neal made sure to play “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” as the sun went down. (Years later, a friend in college described Daniel Ash’s guitar work on that song as “frozen bat wings,” which I think is a good description of the music, but even better when applied to the onset of an acid trip.)
I was 18 years old. I didn’t know anything about anything. So when Neal said, “Let’s go to the Goth club,” we went to the Goth club.
“What’s Goth?” I asked.
“Punk music you can dance to,” Neal replied.
I wasn’t much of a dancer—at least not anymore. For most of my childhood I was an Irish dancer. My brother, two sisters, and I took lessons every Monday night. In March, we performed all over Northern, Virginia, Southern Maryland, and Washington D.C., and marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. During the summer, we competed in dance competitions up and down the eastern seaboard. The older of my two sisters was really good and nearly won a championship one year, but by then my brother and my other sister had dropped out. I was a decent dancer, good but not great, but it didn’t translate into confidence in myself. This was way before Riverdance, and I had to wear a kilt, a fucking gold kilt, which I hated. Eventually the charm of being constantly teased and taunted wore off, and I hung up my dancing shoes for good.
Neal wore all black to the Goth club. He might have been wearing eyeliner but I was too weirded out to ask. I put on jeans, a sweater I’d picked up at Goodwill, and my new Docs. Neal’s hair was too long for Navy regs. Mine was too short. I looked like skinhead from the sticks. That was as Goth as I could get.
The club was packed with beautiful freaks. I felt awkward and nervous and super self-conscious, as I usually did around attractive women my own age. For the first time, I experienced the thrill of hearing “my” music at a gathering of strangers. I’d been to punk shows and rock concerts, but this felt different, more intimate.
Then it happened. The music overrode my inhibitions and I flung myself onto the dance floor. My crippling shyness slipped away. I stopped thinking about my body and its desirability or lack thereof. I ceased to be a person at all. I was just another body on the dance floor, a body orbiting other bodies that occasionally collided, each of us in our own cosmos, dancing, dancing, dancing by ourselves together.
This was years before “Marilyn, My Bitterness” by The Crüxshadows dominated Goth-industrial-fetish friendly dance clubs around the world.
Although “Marilyn, My Bitterness” came out in 1996 on the band’s second album, Telemetry of an Angel, it blended in seamlessly with songs from at least a decade older.
Its surging synthesizers, relentless beats, melodramatic lyrics, and hushed vocals owe something to New Order’s “True Faith.” The Crüxshadows weren’t a mega popular super group with major label backing, but a scrappy darkwave synthpop outfit out of Jacksonville, Florida, led by their charismatic front man Rogue who has kept the project going since 1992.
No consideration of The Crüxshadows is complete without discussing Rogue’s white boy dreads. Shaved on the sides and gathered at the top like a carrot, the strands shoot up and fall forward. The effect is part Perry Farrell, part Sideshow Bob. If Iggy Pop moved to Florida in the ‘90s to become an ecstasy dealer, he’d probably look a lot like Rogue.
“Marilyn, My Bitterness” sounds both soothingly familiar and eerily timeless. From its riveting syncopation to its vaguely English-sounding intonations, it’s one of those songs that seems as if it’s always been in the playlist of your imagination, those drum machines endlessly churning in the back of your mind.
More than anything, “Marilyn, My Bitterness” is exceptionally danceable. The beat beckons, the beat beguiles. It’s difficult to imagine listening to “Marilyn, My Bitterness” and not dancing.
Neal and I never went back to that Goth club but the genie had been let out of the bottle. Neal and I started hanging out at dance clubs in Tijuana. The liquor was cheaper and danger lurked around every corner. We got to know a pair of Goth girls who thoroughly took advantage of us. We paid their way in and bought them drinks but the only time they ever danced with us was when they were trying to get away from boys they were even less interested in than us.
We shipped out for a six-month cruise and sought out dance clubs all over the Western Pacific. Yokosuka, Hong Kong, Darwin. But the nights at California Jam on the infamous Magsaysay in Olongapo in the Philippine Islands were the best. The sound system was like nothing I’d never heard before and the cover band was truly spectacular. We combined San Miguel beer with Robitussin cough syrup and stayed up all night dancing at Cal Jam.
My Goth phase was short lived, but my affinity for the music endures. Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the Cure’s “A Forest,” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Wheel on Fire” still do it for me. The Crüxshadows are still making new music, and while I’m hard-pressed to call it Goth they are big in Germany and still have devoted fans.
I don’t go to dance clubs anymore because I’m not 15 or 18 or 21, and before too long I’ll be all of those numbers put together. I am an enthusiastic dancer at weddings, Quinceañera, and holiday parties. I don’t drink or do drugs anymore, but my feet still know what to do when the beat becomes impossible to resist. They know what my heart knows and my brain sometimes manages to forget: all music is dance music.
Jim Ruland lives in Southern California and is currently working on a book with the punk rock band Bad Religion. This photo was taken last year. He thought you should know.