second round game
(15) sex gang children, “dieche”
(7) type o negative, “black no. 1 (little miss scare-all)”
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 13.
eric scott fischl on “black no. 1 (little miss scare-all)”
July 29, 1885: Theodosia Burr Goodman (above) is born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a Polish Jewish tailor and his Swiss wife. She is likely named after the beloved daughter of former American Vice-President Aaron Burr; in 1812, Burr’s daughter disappeared at sea, possibly captured and killed by pirates. She is never heard from again, although rumors persist that she lived in hiding for some years after, until her natural death. It is unclear why Theodosia Burr Goodman is given her name.
August 17th, 1993: Type O Negative releases the album Bloody Kisses, featuring the sarcastic, eleven-minute epic Black No. 1, a satirical paean to a goth ex-girlfriend of frontman Peter Steele. The name of the song refers to a type of hair dye. Steele was born Petrus Thomas Ratajczyk on January 4, 1962, and chooses the porny stage name “Peter Steele” for reasons of his own. Steele stands 6’8” tall, and looks like this:
September 30th, 2018: I receive my March Vladness commission to essay upon the aforementioned song Black No. 1. I really know very little about goth music. In truth, Type O Negative was one of the few bands on the list whose music I recognized. Fortunately, my draft seeding is high and I get my pick. The song soon reaches the top of the charts in my house, played loudly and on heavy rotation – much to the consternation of my partner – while I begin planning my essay. “Are we going to have to listen to this shit for the next six months?” she says. “No, only for five months,” is my reply.
August 10, 2010: Peter Steele dies of an aortic aneurysm at the age of 48. Given his huge size, I wonder if perhaps he’d suffered from an undiagnosed case of acromegaly, a pituitary disorder. Cardiac issues are common with acromegaly. A Google search of “Peter Steele acromegaly” is inconclusive. I recall that Steele died on-stage. This is tragic, but is also extremely goth, and I think I can work this into my essay somehow. Then I realize I’ve been thinking of Mark Sandman, from the band Morphine; Sandman is another bass-playing, baritone-voiced frontman. On March 3, 1999, he dies onstage in Italy at the age of 46. Morphine is not a part of the March Vladness selection. As near as I can tell from Google, Sandman stood six feet tall, which is my own height. I’ll turn 46 in a few months, and have also been a musician. This all seems very ominous, but then I remind myself that I no longer play music. I’ve been listening to a lot of songs about death. A Google search for “musicians who died onstage” brings back a surprisingly large number of men and women who went to their final reward in that very public manner. Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele is not included in their number.
1908: Theodosia Goodman moves to New York City and makes her Broadway debut in “The Devil”.
1991: I’m in high school. I’m often gloomy, but I’m in no way a goth. I have long hair and wear tie-dyed shirts and play Hendrix tunes, badly, on the guitar. I’m co-captain of the football team and run track. But I have some goth friends and, as high school winds to a close, I begin spending more time with them. We often spend hours and hours, late into the night, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in a nearby Denny’s, talking about literature and art, because there isn’t anything else to do. I don’t smoke. Sometimes we use drugs. My goth friend Amanda weepily confides in me one night that her room at home is possessed, that she’s visited by a witch, an ancestor of hers who wants her soul, and that her (Amanda’s) parents had an exorcist come out to drive the evil influences from the house. I act like I believe her, because she’s a very good friend, even though what she says is clearly nonsense. I worry that she actually believes what she says. When we we were sophomores, Amanda, a natural brown-blonde – although, in truth, I’m unsure of this now – stripped and dyed her hair so much that it turned a dry, brittle, ashy gray, and then it somehow died and entirely stopped growing. I didn’t know that could even happen. For the years I knew her, her hair—which cycled through various colors – was always exactly the same length.
1917: Theodosia Goodman is now “Theda Bara”, one of the country’s biggest silent film stars, and has become enormously wealthy. She’s considered one of the first on-screen sex symbols, and is generally typecast as ‘the vamp’. ‘Vamp’ is short for ‘vampire’. The origins of her stage name are disputed. According to Wikipedia, to promote the movie Cleopatra, “Fox Studio publicists note that the name was an anagram of Arab death, and her press agents claimed inaccurately that she was ‘the daughter of an Arab sheik and a French woman, born in the Sahara’”. I choose to believe this. The prints of Cleopatra are lost in a vault fire in 1937 and only a few seconds of Bara, in her most famous role, now exist.
2003: Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele states in an interview that he suffers from bipolar disorder. In a 2007 interview, he says “I’ve always been a very depressed person, but that's only one side of me, you know. It makes me feel better when I can express my depression, my anger, my frustration through music ... sonic therapy.” For an alternate form of therapy, he does massive amounts of cocaine. Both of these facts are also from Wikipedia.
October, 2018: I’m beginning to worry about my essay. I have no idea what to write about. I know that I have time yet but, so far, all I’ve done is look things up on Wikipedia. When I start, I have the idea that I’ll write something about Peter Steele’s goth maneuver of dying on-stage and then I have the idea that I’ll link it back to the tragic life of Theda Bara, who perhaps could be called the first goth of the modern era and act as a suitable referent for the woman in Black No. 1. But then I figure out the truth about Steele’s death, and discover that Theda Bara had a really good life, all in, from the little that I learn about it. I’m almost sure I’d read somewhere that, like many of the early Hollywood film stars, she’d descended into vice-ridden depravity and then died at a young age. This proves not to be the case, and I begin to question just where I get all my information. I give up on researching Theda Bara. I drink a lot of alcohol. For inspiration, I decide to list the various goth elements of the song Black No. 1, thinking that I can change my essay into making a case for Black No. 1 being the most goth song of all time, even as a satire. Again, the song is named after a type of black hair dye, after all. Here’s that list, which I annotate after I’ve been drinking:
A “Devil’s mark” on a milk-white neck (what exactly is this, is it a nipple or a mole or that 666 sign from The Omen or what)
A full moon on All Hallow’s Eve
A date at midnight with Nosferatu (Denny’s: open 24 hours)
Lily Munster (would have preferred seeing Morticia Addams here)
Wolf-skin boots (PETA)
An “erotic funeral” (Not sure just what this entails, but I know little about funerals. When I was young, I went to Catholic schools and was an altar boy. From time to time I’d be able to leave school so I could serve at some stranger’s funeral mass. Because I was trustworthy, the priest would let me lock up the church when we were done. After he’d left, I’d glug down Gallo communion wine from the jug, as much as I could stomach, and go back to class. Someone told me that if you breathed on a mirror and your breath evaporated quickly, it meant you were drunk. After the funeral I’d drink a pint or two of bad wine, and then breathe on a mirror to make sure I was all right before I went back to my sixth grade class, drunk as a lord but with normal mirror-breath. In hindsight, this seems fairly goth, or simply troubling.)
Perfume that smells like burning leaves
A harpsichord (sampled, most likely)
1917 - 1930: Polish-Swiss Ohioan Jew Theda Bara is now known as “The Serpent of the Nile.” In interviews, she discusses mysticism and the occult. She’s known for her revealing, erotic costumes which, in 1930, are banned by the moral strictures of the Hays Code, limiting her available roles per her vampiric typecasting. All of this according to Wikipedia.
November 2018: I’m now thinking I might write about my goth friend Amanda for this essay. It makes sense, given the context. But I haven’t seen or heard from her in over twenty years. How does that happen? We were once such good friends. In thinking about this, I’m tempted to find her, to see how she’s doing. But I’m not sure I want to know. I want her to have turned out just fine, but I’m fairly certain she was at least somewhat mentally ill. She was also so goth, though, for that time in the late eighties and early nineties, before she evolved into something else. Our friendship was always entirely platonic. Amanda had tattoos before it was cool, and she once dragged me into a closet to show me her new clitoral piercing. It fascinated me. Everything she did was so full of intensity. She’d blithely, apropos of nothing, tell me how she’d recently pleasured herself with a candle and got herself all waxy on the inside. Again, ours was a platonic friendship, but somehow these conversations were never odd. After the tattoos, she wanted to have some decorative, ritual scars made, like she’d seen in the book Modern Primitives, published by RE/Search in 1989. At this time, decorative scarring was a very edgy, mostly homebrewed thing, and I was there, then, to hold her hand for support while her boyfriend did the cutting. A triangle on her shoulder, to start, perhaps three inches on a side; the plan was that this start would later be expanded to include more elaborate tribal designs. When the boyfriend got dizzy before the first incision was even made, I cheerfully took up the knife and did the cutting on his behalf, as one does, in that position. I endeavored to be a gentleman, and she was my crazy, good friend. I’m not a squeamish sort. When is the next time someone will ask me to carve designs on their skin, I thought. I’ve always believed that one should embrace new experiences. I’m proud to say that I did a precise, steady job, but it was incredibly painful for her. Making scars usually is. After the cutting was done, ash was rubbed in to darken and raise the tissue when it began to heal over. Here, at least, the boyfriend was able to contribute. Everything was done in an extraordinarily unsanitary manner, but we were young. So far as I ever learned, the tribal designs were never added. She did too many drugs, Amanda, and I worried about her. And then we lost touch and I never saw her again.
So maybe I’ll write about that, I think. She was the epitome of goth, for that short time. She has my scar on her shoulder. Maybe she’s a better Black No. 1 than Theda Bara. Now, I want to know that Amanda is OK. But I won’t try to find out. Sometimes it’s better not to know.
2005: Peter Steele disappears without explanation for an extended period of time. Later, it’s revealed that he’d spent time in Riker’s Island for assault, and in a mental institution. He has problems with substance abuse, and cocaine-fueled paranoia. His family stages an intervention.
1994: I’m in college, studying music, and an orchestration professor tells us that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. I can’t remember to whom the quote is attributed.
December 2018: I begin to worry that I’m just dancing about architecture in this essay. I’m not going to write about Amanda. I’m not. It’s too personal. Plus, it seems trite, like I’m making her out to be something she never was. Maybe listening to Black No. 1 over and over has convinced me that she was the same sort of person that Steele was writing about. It seems too easy, though; I don’t trust myself. I worry that I’m just trying to fold another persona around her, trim off and tuck it in where it doesn’t fit. She was just a girl I knew. She was just my friend. Maybe she wasn’t mentally ill at all, but was just a young girl struggling with life. Everyone struggles at times. Maybe she just wanted attention. And maybe she got help, or maybe her supposed problems weren’t really problems at all. She could be a real estate agent now, or an accountant. I haven’t thought about her for twenty years, mostly, but now this fucking song, over and over, and I can’t help but to. I miss her. I miss the intensity of those kinds of friendships, even though I’m happier now than I ever was then. I don’t have any friends from high school left. They haven’t died, I’ve just forgotten about them. I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know where this essay is going to go, either. I regret taking it on, now. I remember once, in a low period, sitting in my house, alone, drinking a bunch of airline bottles of vodka that a former girlfriend had left in my freezer, and then smoking a couple cigarettes from a pack she’d forgotten. I don’t even remember what I was depressed about, exactly, but I was very drunk and tried to work myself up into a dramatic, performative act of some kind, so I wound up yelling and throwing a tiny vodka bottle at the wall. It didn’t break, just landed on the futon after making a pitiful little plinking sound. I felt foolish, and then I laughed at the spectacle of myself, and felt better. I was sick from the cigarettes, though, because I don’t smoke, and in the morning I had a terrible hangover. What the fuck ever happened with Theda Bara? I need to look the rest of that up. How did she turn out? I worry that I drink too much. Again I question why I took on this essay.
1921: Theda Bara marries film director Charles Brabin. They’re together until her death in 1955. They live in a villa-style home in an affluent area of Cincinnati, with a summer place in Nova Scotia, on 990 acres. She retires from the movies in the 1930’s, never once appearing in a movie with sound.
2007: In an interview, Peter Steele admits he identifies as a Roman Catholic, and is no longer an atheist, even though he still looks much like a huge, scary vampire. When he passes away, three years later, he has been sober and drug-free for some time. He’s put his life in better order, but then he dies, and that seems cruel. Presumably, though, he goes to his reward within the offices of the Church, and is given a funeral mass. I hope the altar boys drink from the jug of communion wine while the priest is away. I also wonder if Steele’s goth ex-girlfriend, the subject of Black No. 1, attends the mass, and I’d like to know how her own life turned out.
April 7, 1955: Theda Bara dies at the age of 70. Her husband, Charles Brabin, dies two years later at the age of 75. They have no children. In 1994, Theda Bara’s image is on a US Postal stamp. In 2011, her large Cincinnati villa is demolished.
December 2018: I’ve entirely stopped listening to Black No. 1. I love it, but I’ve sucked the joy out of it. I find that odd: that an eleven minute, slow, dark, dirge-y goth song can be considered joyful. But it is. It makes you feel better, if you let it, like throwing a tiny vodka bottle at a wall. We need that kind of thing. Because sometimes you drink too much, or do too many drugs, or wind up in Riker’s Island or in a mental institution. You can be a big, broken guy, with a conceited ex-girlfriend who dyes her hair black and flounces around like Morticia Addams, and you can write a song about it. You can be an upstart girl from Ohio who becomes an anagram for Arab death, and then retire, happy, to a villa in Cincinnati. Sometimes your films are lost in a fire. Sometimes you clean up, become a Catholic and then die. Sometimes it’s less than this, it’s just getting through your days until you straighten out your life. Sometimes people just aren’t there anymore, and that’s just the way it is. I wonder if Amanda ever thinks about me. I think I’ll listen to Black No. 1 again, after all.
Eric Scott Fischl is the author of DR. POTTER’S MEDICINE SHOW, THE TRIALS OF SOLOMON PARKER, and the upcoming IN MEMORY OF THE GIRL IN GREEN. He lives a non-goth life in Montana’s Bitterroot mountains.
BRIAN OLIU ON “DIECHE”
I could never pull off goth.
I tried. I painted my fingernails black. I created a Vampire: The Masquerade character. I stood in line and waited for The Fragile to be released on double CD. My friend Amy made me a Type O Negative mixtape compilation.
Anyone who knows me now finds this all hilarious. I wear exceptionally bright clothing. I look like a giant panda bear stuffed animal that has somehow become human. I am annoyingly optimistic. Nine times out of ten I am listening to the newest diva starlet to grace the top of the Spotify United States 100. I smile, like, always.
And yet I was young once—so overly important in my existence and my dismay of the world. So, I did what any good-natured teenager would do and has done since the beginning of time: I rejected everything that I considered to be “part of the mainstream” in order to find my way into some semblance of counter-culture, despite finding that none of the niches fit me enough. A large general obliteration of all things popular seemed to do the trick where other things did not—instead of gravitating toward things that I loved, I found joy in scowling at things that other people loved. There is no larger pariah in the world than a sixteen-year-old white kid from the suburbs of New Jersey who decides that the world is not enough. Baggy cargo pants were something that my mother could buy me off the rack at Macy’s. Chuck Taylors were in abundance at a strip mall across the Delaware River. It did not matter that Chucks are cut extremely thin and made my extra wide feet hurt. It didn’t matter that the screeching of hardcore bands sounded incredibly derivative to me and were absent of melody. It didn’t matter that, in fact, I really loved the taste of cheeseburgers and General Tso’s chicken, but being a vegetarian was what was expected of me to fulfill my persona non grata status. The majority of my time was upholding a beautiful illusion of pretending not to care, yet it was so perfectly cultivated because suffering was part of the whole endeavor to begin with—I was supposed to be in pain. I was supposed to be making uncomfortable choices because this is what society has forced me to conform to: this life of non-conformity.
I’ve never been that person, however. I found myself gravitating to the most basic melodies. My favorite Minor Threat song is their cover of the Monkees “Stepping Stone”. But hating one’s self is part of the game when you are younger—to defy exactly who you are in hopes of finding out who you truly are. There is no joy in being basic—when we attempt to find ourselves, there’s always this belief that who we are currently is not who we actually are deep down inside. That there must be something more to liking Chinese takeout and comfortable clothing that gets you compliments. My punk friends who rejected all corporations allowed for Coca-Cola because they had an endless supply of it at the Dischord House. Another one of my vegetarian friends ate pepperoni because he thought it was mostly made up of spices anyway. We make exceptions to our badassery: it’s why we find joy in pictures of spiked necklaces eating frozen yogurt. The basicness is always lurking, no matter how much we wish to snuff it out.
“Dieche” was recorded in December of 1983 at the Danceteria Club in New York City. The Danceteria is most famous for being a massive part of Madonna’s origin story—of how she performed her debut single “Everybody” at the club—with the DJ spinning her early demos before she ever had a record deal. The Danceteria was a hodgepodge of a place, with multiple levels, each housing different DJs, live bands, and video art and musical performances. Madonna herself famously performed on the rooftop.
It is in my nature to turn everything into pop. I search for familiar patterns in things that I find difficult to process, or things that I find unfamiliar. I try to find the grandiose in everything—in the same way I constantly search for the “most basic” in the complex. It is a strange dichotomy to pine for, and yet I pine for it nonetheless.
It is no surprise that I love the song “Dieche” because it is very poppy. It is a bop. It slaps. It could find its way onto any dance floor and people would vibe with it—the driving bass line pressing us forward with every circuit. A goddamn xylophone! A band could waltz into any Irish pub at 11pm on a Friday night and play a cover of this sandwiched in between terrible renditions of “Wagon Wheel” and extended jam interpolations of “Come Together”. Andi Sex Gang, the lead singer of Sex Gang Children, I’d imagine, absolutely hates this idea—frat brothers in ill-fitting polos bobbing their head as the drums continue to escalate. I’d hate that scene too: despite my complete high school 180 and love of all things pop and popular, I find comfort in compartmentalization—while I don’t deny that music is for everybody, there is something about goth and post-punk music that makes me wish for it to stay in its secret places: converted warehouse spaces, back room banquet halls, dance clubs with two flights of stairs and no elevator.
“Dieche” is a great song in the way that many people would hate the fact that it is a great song.
Perhaps this is why I love this song so much: it reminds me of days where I couldn’t help myself from being myself, despite all of my best interests and intuitions telling everything to just stay underneath the surface. There are loud moments of abrasion in “Dieche,” with cackling vocals and Andi Sex Gang announcing over and over “My body begins to burn.”
In that sense, it seems to be a personification of my past self in an odd way: a song that presents itself as intimidating and difficult—the title is in German! That is spooky! The band’s name “Sex Gang Children” illustrates something beautiful and taboo—something mysterious; one can imagine parents becoming quite concerned when seeing this album cover, or seeing the band’s name on a Christmas list. The vocals sound as if they are being screamed in a wet catacomb, with the words echoing off of walls of stone. But at its heart, it is weirdly baroque—there is excess. There is repetition in its driving force—there is room to dance! It brings real joy!
Perhaps this is me refusing to conform: you might listen to this song & notice the post-punk influence of the drums. You might resonate with the lyrics: the demand to cut up your bones.
The Danceteria Club was meant to be an anti-Studio 54; it was a place where you could ignore the glamor of disco in hopes of finding something a bit more grimy; a small bit more real. LL Cool J was an elevator attendant. The Beastie Boys worked as busboys. But what inevitably happened is that it became so cutting edge that it inevitably became the norm; the iconic place where partiers of all types came together in hopes of chasing something real, or at the very least, something that spoke to them on its most earnest level. There is something in “Dieche” that speaks to me in the same way that the newest Ariana Grande album hits me in my heart in the weirdest ways. While a place like the Danceteria seemed like a spot where you would be amazed that it birthed the seemingly varying styles of Madonna, Nick Cave, and Rob Zombie, it is a place where we all make exceptions to our own rules: where we expand the lists of what hits home.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives and teaches in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and four full-length collections, most recently the lyric-memoir i/o, and Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping, a collection of essays on NBA Jam. Recent essays on topics ranging from long distance running to professional wrestling appear in The Collagist, Catapult, The Rumpus, Runner's World, Unruly Bodies, and elsewhere.