Dissatisfaction and Longing : Gothic sonic identity part 1

This is a post in the series on my “sonic identity”  a project of reflecting on music and identity following on the path of the Anglobaptist who is exploring such things as part of his Ph.D in Liturgy and Music.  There were a number of posts around this topic earlier this year at Anglobaptist.org one can be found here, and my introduction to this series is here.

At a recent Goth club Back to the Grave, these two songs were played (among many others): Homosapien and Temple of Love. I like both songs though stylistically they are different. They are though both songs from important figures in the Goth scene, Sisters of Mercy (Andrew Eldritch) and Pete Shelly of the Buzzcocks.  I’ve been dancing to both of these songs at Goth clubs for a very long time.  Years ago a friend of mine put on  Temple of Love and said this is the quintessential goth song.  One could of course argue whether or not saying so was hyperbole, but Temple of Love still gets a large number of people out on the dance floor of any goth club. Pete Shelly’s Homosapien is less quintessentially goth in style, but was played in goth clubs.  Shelly’s solo work is synth pop and new wave, though often with a punk edge, as in this song.

But what do I mean by a “punk edge”.  By punk edge I’m touching upon (I think, Tripp correct me if I’m off base here) sonic identity.  One aspect of Punk is expression, often in anger, of dissatisfaction with the way things are.  This dissatisfaction is at times mistaken for winning, but this dissatisfaction is a desire for something different.  The goth aspect of this  includes a certain resignation that certain things simply will be the way they are, always with biting critique.  Goth dissatisfaction can also be expressed as an opting out of this status quo.

Take some time to listen to the sounds in each of these, The lyrics match but I think the lyrics conform themselves to the sounds of longing, dissatisfaction, rejection, and resignation:

Homosapien by Pete Shelly:

Temple of Love by Sisters of Mercy:

Both songs are about love but they aren’t simply love songs.  

Homosapien is a love song that is seeking something more in love than the systems of love and romance currently provide.  The song explores in the context of romance larger dysfunctional patterns in our culture that get in the way of the ideals of love and romance (BTW it is also a song about two men in love, and was banned initially by the BBC for this, I don’t want to get distracted here but it also calls into question  attempts to categorize our sexuality  this too is part of my sonic identity).  Homosapien expresses dissatisfaction but  longs for union beyond romance, longs for a truth and a label that unifies.

“I don’t wanna classify you like an animal in the zoo
But it seems good to me to know that you’re Homosapien too”
A love beyond the broken  patterns of the world just might be the way forward.

Temple of Love is angry and more resigned.  The powers of love and romance, the god(dess), aren’t kind but are capricious and promise one thing but in fact give us something else.   Temple of Love tells us it is better to give up on the promise of the goddess of love, and accept the capriciousness of this power.  Be ready to ended it all if needed and remember all romance has the power to give is a one night stand.  The gods of love and romance can’t keep their promises, and so even this ideal, these gods will fade away like all other powers.

“The Temple of love is falling down.”

Dissatisfaction, anger and deep longing walk hand in hand in this landscape.  There is also in these songs a piercing and critical insight into what is believed to be true and what actually works itself out in our daily lives.  Both songs step away from the ideal of romance. Temple of Love abdicates from the ideal entirely, and resigns itself to bleak but honest world without promises.  Homosapien seeks in love something beyond romance, it seeks a love that is transformative, though it seems a little bit like a pipe dream.

This resonates with me deeply.  The sort of Christian faith I was raised in taught me to distrust the powers and ideals of the world.  While there was nothing wrong with falling in love, romance and falling in love were simply shadows of a deeper truth about love.  If romance was the only story about love it was seen as idolatrous, a god(dess) in competition with the God who is Love beyond romance and sex, and “falling in Love.”  Such a temple would of course be doomed to fall from the perspective that makes relative all love in the face of the Other who is love.

The dissatisfaction and the longing in these songs, I hear (and have always heard) with a Christian heart: One should not be satisfied with the world and the powers as they are for what is, is off kilter and a distortion of what should be.  The world as we find it isn’t what God intends.  The longing is for the reign of God.  I hear in this longing a desire for God who is Love, a Love beyond any human love, a Love that keeps it’s promises, but always in unexpected and transforming ways.

“We’re (however we label ourselves or are labeled) homosapiens too”, made in the image of God, and the powers of this current system, the gods and goddesses we create and to whom we build temples, are all passing a way and their temples are falling down.