second round game
(2) nine inch nails, “the perfect drug”
HELD OFF A SURGING
(7) tones on tail, “go!”
AND 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 12.
dave madden on “the perfect drug”
My perfect drug would turn everyone in the world, me first, then maybe your children, comfortably bisexual. Picture a pill. Not one that, should a person swallow it, would turn them bisexual. A pill that, once I swallowed it, would turn everyone in the world, me first, then your kids, comfortably bisexual.
In this way, drugs are genies.
The perfect drug isn’t the problem behind Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug”, it’s the wanting of the drug that brings trouble, the way money itself isn’t the root of all evil, according to Saint Paul, but rather the love of money. Money’s just a tool for us to do the Lord’s Work. Sheltering the homeless costs money. Feeding the hungry does, too. To love your money more than you do the homeless and the hungry is the evil that will send you right to hell.
I like money, but I love drugs. The speaker in Trent Reznor’s lyrics likes their body but loves the feeling of its destruction. What they want is a kind of dissolution, albeit a cheerier one than we’d expect from a goth hit: “My blood wants to say hello to you.” We can dismiss Reznor his misfire here (oh and Mark Romanek can dress Reznor up as Vlad the Impaler all he wants but it doesn’t change the fact that “The Perfect Drug” isn’t so much Goth as Industrial, not only for how Reznor’s mixed his drums—chugging and blasted—but also for how the song was on the Lost Highway soundtrack, and if you’ve seen any David Lynch movie you know the soundtrack’s gonna be like 90 percent machine drones), but we shouldn’t dismiss that yearning. Drugs are for people who don’t like themselves, or who don’t like the situations they’re in—which, if we’re being honest, is all of us.
For a long time my drug was TV. The gang at Bayside let me pretend high school could be pleasurable, and set in California, and that as a high-voiced nerd who dressed poorly I could fit in easily there. In college, I thought of the Friends as my friends. By then, I’d found alcohol, a better drug if not a perfect one, a drug I still use to turn off the sun and pull the stars from the sky often enough that I’m writing this during a self-assigned period of abstention.
I want a drink when I’ve folded my third load of laundry in one night, or when the man at the gym doesn’t return my gaze. Six sips in, a good drink can start shaving off the barbs of my reality and make it easier to pass through the world according to the map I’ve been drawing of it. Aren’t I smarter, stronger, and sexier than this man I’ve become?
“Yes, of course,” alcohol says, every time.
“Heavens! what a revulsion! what an upheaving, from its lowest depths, of the inner spirit! what an apocalypse of the world within me!” wrote De Quincey re opium, but he’s not my people. “The pleasure potential of a perversion (in this case, that of the two H’s: homosexuality and hashish) is always underestimated,” wrote Barthes, but that’s not my drug. Marijuana keeps pushing the moment I’m trying to enhance away from me, the party’s conversation running like a rabbit between my legs. Cocaine I only tried once after hours of drinking and it didn’t make me any happier. When I take drugs the government doesn’t regulate, I think about murder. Who got shot in the head so that I might snort this up my nose and keep this feeling going another thirty minutes?
Which brings us back to money, because drugs are expensive. They cost a lot.
I saw Lost Highway three times in the theater when it came out. I loved Bill Pullman’s notion that he wanted to remember a moment the way he remembered it, not exactly the way it happened. I never liked NIN, but I loved this song, chiefly for its rhythms, and in my blue Sunbird I wore out my tape of the soundtrack. For 21 years, when I’ve sung along, I’ve sung “You want the perfect drug the perfect drug the perfect drug” and it wasn’t until research for this essay that I discovered I’ve been singing it wrong.
You, in Reznor’s song, are the perfect drug.
Imagine it. I know he’s not singing about you, but imagine he is. That power to possess, in all senses of the word, the person who takes you in. To be, at the heart of you who are, something irresistibly consumptive. Drugs abound in the gothic imagination (witness Romanek’s use of absinthe to deliver the song’s break), and so do sex demons. Vampires. Succubi. We ask of them what we ask of any drug: Take this away from me.
Goths know that sometimes it’s as fun to be ravished as it is to ravish, to fuck you like an animal. This is why goth boys wear makeup and goth girls wear leather. This is why the neutral of black. Which is the darker part of this enterprise: admitting that we want our control taken over, or standing up to be the perfect drug for those desires?
Either part in me I’ve lived afraid of.
And I want you
And I want you
And I want you
And I’m not you
Another mishearing, this one willful. The story of my queerness has been an ongoing clash between desire and identity, the moment of my true becoming always in the future. “Don’t dream it, be it,” goth hero Dr. Frank N. Furter told me at age 13, and I went ahead and became a dreamer. Whence the drug of TV, and probably now the drug of liquor. I’ve long dreamt of the pedestal I’d finally get to stand on and know myself to be perfected. What I’ve failed to acknowledge is what I’d step up there with: my own feet.
1. My body is my best means of transport.
2. Drugs take me away from my body.
At 40, I can hear the end of this song as a triumph, or at least the promise of one. “Without you without you without you everything falls apart,” the speaker wails, but if your Everything is a dream, the chasing after ideals, isn’t that destruction a good thing?
The perfect drug might be just a slap in the face. We know it will hurt and feel very good. We know reality bites. What I want to learn is how to bite back.
Dave Madden is the author of If You Need Me I'll Be Over There and The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy. He directs the MFA program at the University of San Francisco.
YOUR WHOLE WORLD COULD CHANGE: RAQUEL GUTIÉRREZ TUMBLING THROUGH “GO!”
What’s going on here? Brandon asks after realizes he’s about to start dancing when he doesn’t normally dance.
You’re opening your doors of perception, Emily responds, a giddy Cheshire Cat for her straight-laced boy-toy who’s finally loosening up.
This is the episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where Brandon loses his wits when his rebel girl girlfriend Emily spikes his club soda with a drug called U4eA (say it aloud and you get Euphoria)—what you and me and my poor dopamine levels know as Ecstasy. What our kids know as Molly now.
No, no, no, Emily, I told you I didn’t want to do drugs.
There is a cultural dissonance at play as this scene features Brandon Walsh making out and losing his shit while the sounds of Tones On Tail’s “Go!” plays in the background of an underground drug den-cum-nightclub called Egg. There is something strange about the whole Beverly Hills high gang showing up in shades of black leather and light wash denim to a spot with no bouncer, an unwieldy yet democratized space where the password is to present an actual egg. But that egg earns you access into a dungeon of unruly appetites, unbridled sexualities—a formula for a night of dangerous conviviality.
Hey B, maybe we oughtta get those fishnet shirts, they seem pretty hot. Dylan McKay knows the score.
I’ve already got my eye on a rubber jumpsuit Brandon counters no homo.
This exchange helps me realize how hard it was for anyone trying to be goth in Southern California. It also helped me realize why I like dungeons as an adult.
But even darkness penetrates the hearts of those of us raised under the tyranny of near year-round 70-degree weather. Any given holiday season—the time of goth hibernation—in the early 1990s could have easily ebbed into the low 80s though. Our brown goth hearts beating in the barrios of Southeast Los Angeles burned with diabolical desires as we glided through the malls of nicer towns that put Christmas lights on palm trees. Still, all-black everything was de rigeur. We had K-ROQ which meant we had Love & Rockets and Peter Murphy at our aural disposal in the East Los hinterlands. At Saint Rose of Lima in Maywood for example we had a few of the cuter 8th grade boys who’d wear all black on our free dress days—Cure shirts and rosaries, Doc Martens and black jeans to chase the even blacker Catholic school blues away. They’d come back to tell the tale of being swept up in the downtown riot that was the Depeche Mode 101 record signing. Those boys—Frank Pacheco and Little Man Guzman—we called those boys death rockers.
In high school, once I could revel in the sheen of my own self-invention, I toggled between post-punk and goth, between Rick Deckard and Heathcliff. My Mercury is in Gemini and I was still coming of age into my genre promiscuity (gender promiscuity would come later). I wasn’t ready to choose normative self-costuming despite the Catholic school uniform but I certainly enjoyed dalliances with each cultural behemoth to be revered by my generation. This was before Riot Grrrl of course. It was Operation Ivy or Death In June depending on the context of the conversation. Or what boy did I need to best?
I couldn’t wear any of my hard-earned goth accoutrements to school though. Every morning I commuted twenty minutes from Bell Gardens to attend a one-gender Catholic high school in Lakewood, California. I could only wear this at home because my parents were already concerned by the collection of Levi’s Sta-prest jeans I’d amassed at the thrift stores near our Southeast Los Angeles home. Mami was stoked when I asked to go to the thrift store—it meant I’d never burden her asking for Esprit or United Colors of Benetton sweaters unlike my sister. I wasn’t sure who I was trying to impress except for the chorus of disapproval that paid no rent in my mind. The girls at school would hardly notice. But you still knew who the goth babes were. And there were three of us at Saint Joseph’s (sometimes four and sometimes five until something cooler came along to tickle their fickleness). Goth was more powerful than any scratchy herringbone skirt or navy blue culotte that tried to contain our dark yet discerning souls.
And sure we wore it but no one ever uttered the phrase “pass me the pancake make-up” en route to Gene Loves Jezebel concerts, Scream nightclub in Hollywood or Studio K, the dance club for the over-16 set at Knott’s Berry Farm. I didn’t wear it to school. When I did I would sweat and I would just let that shit run all over my face. I realized later in life what that meant—white mask, brown face. Can I get an amen, Fanon?
I never admitted to anyone it was hard though. But isn’t all of it hard? Choosing what armor to put on was everyone’s burden. How to dress up my child of immigrant sadness into something more recognizable to the kids at shows I’d see throughout the Southland of California. To disguise all the ways I hiccuped into the American culture that lived in my friends’ homes who ate white bread at dinner. How wrapping myself in the gothy gauze made me visible to my idols as it helped me stay invisible to myself. How to appeal those close, especially the girls around me. But I wasn’t tough enough for Aquanet and tulle, rayon blouses and short skirts. I preferred to hide behind the confessional booth of my trench coat. I was lucky though. I could march myself into Retail Slut while Mami waited in the mini-van to spend my allowance on fishnets and green-and-black striped tights and sucked it up. I dyed my hair black, I thrifted long threadbare black jersey t-shirts. And I had a goth lunchbox with every expression of love for Siouxsie Sioux.
Was this assimilation?
Punk rock legend Alice Bag screamed We don’t need the English! on a song once, decrying this reliance on bands from the world power across the pond to demonstrate our righteous anger and pain. We could do it ourselves. But white make-up on brown faces made for a type of invincibility I didn’t know I needed until I was tested one October night at Knott’s “Scary” Farm where my friend Bianca Blanco, a high school junior, my 8th grader sister, and I, a high school sophomore, dressed in my Goth best got chased out of the amusement park for freaking out in the haunted house.
Hey B! Shit, this little Mexican girl just hit me.
Knott’s had an aggressive team of employees dressed up as zombies and psycho killers that in one turn through a dizzying maze my sister got so spooked she screamed and automatically flung her pre-teen arms out smacking the chest of the werewolf gaining on us. But my sister’s instinctive move to protect herself was nothing when I saw werewolf guy break character and grab my sister by the arm. I had to use this costume of good breeding and demure femininity to my advantage somehow to deescalate a situation that brought my sister’s and my brownness into dangerous relief.
I'm sorry, sir, but you really did scare her I said feeling the adrenaline coursing through my brown blood as my voice ached with a cloying sweetness trying to hit all of my consonants, accent-free. We promise we didn’t mean to hurt anyone. We’re so sorry. So, so sorry.
He let my sister go but what was the point of continuing being there? My fun had been shredded by the exposure of our difference. I remember needing to shake it off because I didn’t want to call Mami to come pick us up earlier than we had negotiated the way American kids did with their exhausted immigrant parents.
Damn, could you have kissed his ass any harder. Bianca was right. But Bianca was also white passing and didn’t say a damn thing and it’s not like any one of us was swimming in privilege that night except for our ability to thread please and sorry together, like our freedom depended on it, or at least our mobility to get to the next place unencumbered.
Your whole world could change
if only you just broke through
Through the fears inside your head
'Cause your fears are doing nothing for you
Raquel Gutiérrez is an essayist and poet and had every Siouxsie and the Banshees album on vinyl once upon a time. An adult child of Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants, Raquel runs the tiny press, Econo Textual Objects (est. 2014), which publishes intimate works by QTPOC poets. www.raquelgutierrez.net for more, more, more.