Music

Death and the Romantic Rock-n-Roller

A musician with whom I’m unfamiliar (Lana Del Rey)  had some romantic thoughts about the suicide and early deaths of Rock and Pop icons, like Kurt Cobain.  She said in the interview (though she says she was tricked into saying it by the interviewer) “I wish I was dead already.”  Since the comment was in part a response to questions about the suicide of Kurt Cobain, Frances Bean Cobain weighed in, saying there was nothing romantic about an early death and her growing up without her father.

I get Frances Bean’s point.  Kurt’s suicide in and of itself is tragic.  And yet, it’s hard to separate this final act from the music of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.  If Cobain hadn’t been tormented in the way he was and which lead to his suicide would Nirvana have been what it was?  It isn’t cause and effect but I also can’t completely disentangle all those threads from each other.

I have reflected on this in a reflection on how joy and suffering are interwoven in the work Ian Curtis of  Joy Division.

What ever lead Ian and Kurt to commit suicide was also woven in with their music.  For Kurt and Ian the beauty of their music, is bound up in their brief life and their death, it’s part of their genius.  Not to say that all great art or music must come out of that mental and spiritual place.  However, Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, Rozz Williams, all tormented, all committed suicide, all have music that speaks to me in away other music even in the same genre doesn’t.

Not sure what to make of that.  Yet, I can’t deny that my love for the music and their quality as artists and musicians, even my reverence for them is bound up in their early demise, and due to that they lived the line from that Neil Young song “… Better off to burn out then to fade away.”

Whether or not it is a “correct” or acceptable sentiment, I can understand how a musician (or any artist) may say “I wish I was dead already.”

Death brings about the moment when the artist is complete, summed up.   In the case of the likes of Cobain, Rozz Williams, and Ian Curtis the brief moment of their musical output continues to reverberate and have power, in part due to the brevity and thus the intensity of their output.  Part of that power and resonance is bound up in their early death and that they committed suicide.  It’s powerful, and there’s a simplicity to that artistic output.

Admittedly this is disturbing.  This is not something to be emulated (but are artists, particularly Rock musicians role models?) These are people carried along by something with in them that drives them to create.  There is a torment in this.

One might say that an artist longs for death, longs for that moment when they will have their body of work, complete and unchanging… finished.  That is an artist longs to “know” what one’s body of work is.  One is only known in this sense in death.

Certainly, this isn’t the only way of being known.  All the same none of us are complete or settled until we die.  So, it makes sense to say “I wish I was dead already.”  This expresses a desire to know and be known in completion and the fullness of the body of ones work.  To achieve greatness in a brief moment is an astounding achievement.  That a brief life has other more mundane and tragic ramifications is also true, but that truth doesn’t deny this other truth and its power.

So, yes, there is something romantic and powerful about artists who produce with such intensity and torment that they willfully burn out quickly, it’s also true that such brevity tragically tears at the human fabric of their lives.  

However, we are mistaken if we think the long lived musician or artist escapes death, or that prolonged life is a life without death.  There are ways to live towards death that are rich and aren’t also a death wish, but pretending their isn’t power and truth in the body of work defined by an artist’s brief and tormented life isn’t the way to find such a path.  Rather I’d say accepting the  death woven into their work already is a way to begin to find life that comes from death.

 I find Cobain, Curtis, and Williams to be romantic figures, and their suicides are part of that romance.  But it is because their death was already in their life, and because it is as much in their death as in their life that we know their beauty.

 

Gothic Sonic Identity: Revelations from 12 albums meme

Editorial note: In 2012 I wrote a post about “gothic sonic identity”, coming out of  conversation with Tripp Hudgins around his Ph.D. work in Music and Liturgy.  I had intended to write a whole series  of posts along these lines.  They never came about.  Here I might be resurrecting this thread we’ll see if any more comes toying with the idea of  “sonic identity”.  But there’s at least one more in this series- Priestly Goth.

Tripp recently tagged me in a Facebook meme asking to list the 12 albums that were significant for you and have remained with you through the years.  Not surprising Tripp’s list to my eyes was fairly eclectic and included some albums that indicated he has some goth sensibilities.  Others I noticed also had want seemed to me to be somewhat diverse list of albums and artists.  I on the other hand mostly ended up listing albums and artist that are more or less punk or goth.  The two exceptions were Petra and U2.

This surprised me.   In high school I listened mostly to Christian Rock , like Petra, Stryper, Steve Taylor, Lifesavers Underground (a goth iteration of the artist Mike Knott), The Choir, etc.   Well I suppose more accurately I should say I owned only albums from Christian Rock acts. I did,  however through radio and friends, listen much more broadly than the albums I owned.    By the end of high school beginning of college I began to purchase “secular” albums, as the CCM language put it.  However I didn’t purchase a “goth” album until Depech Mode”s Violator came out in 1990.  The second such album was Wish by the Cure (a more solidly goth band ).   What fascinates me is that neither of these albums made the list.

The song Judas Kiss. on Petra’s More Power to Ya album, made a little fun of the whole backward masking controversy, because running records backwards will always sound creepy.  In some sense in that album was the deconstruction of the whole CCM scene or at least More Power To Ya gave me permission to love Rock-N-Roll and be a Christian.

However, I already loved Rock.  Around 1979 I was given my own stereo system to have in my room (radio, record player and cassette deck)  On that radio alone in my room between 1979 and 1982 I’d tune into an AM station that I’d at times pick up in the early evenings.  Thanks to that station I heard Punk Rock for the first time.  Though I wasn’t listening to Punk Rock at the appropriate decibels lest my parents would take interest in what I was listening.  On that station I first heard the Dead Kennedy’s and Black Flag, as well as others, but those two punk bands I continued to follow in High school.

I’ve never owned a Dead Kennedys Album, and yet I know all the songs from Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  I’m not sure exactly how.  My older half-brother, who lived with us between 1980 and 1982 may have had the album though he was not really Punk he was more hard rock/Heavy Metal fan.

Christian Death and Jesus and Mary Chain made the list, though I haven’t (oddly enough) ever owned their albums.  I account for this oddity because once I identified as goth, the identity was explicitly tied with the dance club, and not necessarily the music I listened to at home.  But I heard  Christian Death and Jesus and Mary chain before ever frequenting a goth club. I recall in college hanging out with friends and friends of friends and listening to these albums.  The first time I heard Christian Death Only Theater of Pain was in the gothed out room of someone I had just met who was a good friend of one  of my good friends.  I was at home, Christian Death spoke to me in ways I still can’t entirely account for.   I don’t have such a firm memory of when I first heard Jesus and Mary Chain, but I know every song on that album.

Lifesavers Underground I remember purchasing just before going to high school winter camp, for reasons I don’t recall I was miserable and wasn’t enjoying the company of my fellow Christians, my only other recollection from that camp was sitting and listening on my Walkman to Shaded Pain.  Listening to that album now, I have no idea why I didn’t make the connection with goth at that time.  While Mike Knott certainly transcends goth in his oeuvre as a musician, LSU and especially shaded pain to my mind are quintessentially goth/dark-wave

These anecdotes point out that what I discovered in the 12 albums meme:  that my goth/punk sonic identity runs deep, and that even at times when my tastes were supposed to be directed in other ways, I was drawn first to punk and then what would become known as goth.  From early on I’ve been at home in the sounds of punk and goth, they have deep resonance and albums I’ve never owned have continued to carry deep meaning and significance for me.

 

 

Suffering and Joy on the Dance Floor: or Dancing to Joy Division

My friend Tripp recently published a brief musing on suffering and death: it’s kind of goth. I’ve sat with the musing.  Part of what he’s wrestling with are the ways many Christians often make suffering trite by attempting to make God responsible for it ( in some way) or at least responsible for making it meaningful.  What stuck with me and what trips me up, is his having said God suffer’s and dies everyday.  I get it, but I can’t help but think this says too much, and is also a means to bring God too close, too understandable.

This was in the back of my mind as I headed out to the goth night Nocturna at the Metro, this past Saturday.  Shortly after arriving Scary Lady Sarah spun Joy Division‘s Love Will Tear us Apart.

It’s a great song, I love to dance to it.  As I was dancing to this haunting,melancholic, tortured song I was aware of the contrast between the  joy I was feeling as I danced and the pain of a failing relationship sung about in the song.  As I danced I also recalled the circumstances of Ian Curtis’ death and his own physical and mental health struggles and suffering.

Such an amazing song.  Such beauty that touches so many.  Love Will Tear Us Apart invariably fills the dance floor.

I feel there is something here.  I have great wonderment at how such beauty, joy ( even hope), come out of  expressions of pain and suffering.

As I danced I thought and prayed (for Ian Curtis, for others wrestling with their demons like he did, perhaps dancing next to me), and I observed in amazement how my awareness of  the pain of a failing relationship sung about in the song, didn’t diminish the joy in dancing to a haunting pain filled song of longing for something more.

Love Will Tear us Apart is larger than the pain of a failing relationship, Joy division and Ian Curtis’s songs inhabit a world that encompasses but is larger than Ian’s tragic story.  Even so without the pain, without Ian Curtis and his pain and suffering there wouldn’t be the music of Joy Division, nor the joy found in dancing to it, as we connect with a longing for something beyond pain and suffering.

“God suffers and dies. everyday”.

Ian Curtis’s suffering and troubled mental life wasn’t for the purpose of  my enjoyment in dancing to one of his songs more than 30 years after his death.  Even so, out of who he was and the circumstances of his life and mental state he created some amazing music, in which there is great longing and joy.  There wasn’t purpose to his suffering, but for a time at least he reached beyond pain and suffering and wove that pain into great music.  What I find in Joy Divisions songs and lyrics is longing and beauty in the midst of pain, frustration, and depression.

Things to contemplate, something contemplated in the movement of bodies on a dance floor some 30 years after the song was recorded.

“God does not give us suffering. God does not give us death.

God suffers and dies. Every day. “


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.

 

The Circus Is Eternal: Fashion Liturgy

Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s  fashion Show “The Circus is Eternal” Friday night (March 2) at Nocturna was a great time.  Kate’s garments looked amazing on each of the models (who weren’t professional models, but various people for the goth scene).   The preparation was a little halting as neither Kate nor I had produced a fashion show before.  Things though all went relatively smoothly.

In the midst of the show as I was running the projections and directing the models out on stage (so that they came out with the appropriate projected title), the thought came to me that Kate had created a liturgy of the Circus.  The combined elements of the show – the garments were  inspired by the Circus, and our instructions to the models that they should be aware of themselves and their bodies in their garments, which were not circus costumes, were evocative of the circus.  The models were performing and making present the Circus without re-enacting a particular circus(real or imaginary).

Kate designed each garment for particular people she knew of differing body types and designing each “type” of circus performer based on her acquaintance with each model.   In part it was here conception of who fit what role that evoked and invoked the presence of the circus.  Each model and the models together (Kate had them remain on stage or in front of the stage but visible to the audience) embodied  these “types” of the circus. In this way she presented what endures through time or transcends time and place and particularity of the circus.    Her title then stated truly she was articulating what is enduring  and human about the circus, as well as do so in a way consistent with the archetypes of the Goth scene.   In other words “The Circus is Eternal” was a Goth liturgy of the circus.

The liturgies both of the ancient pagan world and of the Christian Church, were spectacles intended to draw people into a particular reality that transcended time and place and yet also would connect with the people and their archetypes.  These liturgies represented the eternal and transcendent types and realities, in ways also recognizable to a particular place and time, but not to articulate the values of the place and time, but to draw those in a particular place and time into something beyond a moment.  These spectacles initiate us into a transcendent moment and its archetypes, and it makes these moments and archetypes present for us.  Or it brings us into the presence of these things that are beyond and yet infuse our daily life.

“The Circus  is Eternal” did this as each model in Kate’s designs invoked and presented to us the various archetypes of the Circus: Janitor, Lion and Lion Tamer, Tightrope Walker, Fire Dancer, Ringmaster, and Dervish.   The show built as each model came out showcasing their garment and in keeping all the models on stage it created the fullness of the circus and its spectacle and controlled chaos as all the models joined in the Dervish’s dance.   We found ourselves in the presence of the Circus, without a circus being present, but its eternal moment its archetypes drew us into the reality and archetypes of the circus, as the music (archetypal yet industrial circus music) also drew us into the world of the circus through sound.  All the elements came together so that we were all, for 6 minutes, at the circus, through this fashion liturgy.

(You may find images here at Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s website.)

 

 

Eros, Goth, God, and Desire – Intro

Tripp the Anglobaptist is pushing me in good ways. He is pushing me to consider what is the relationship between my sonic urban sub cultural identity and my sonic theological and religious identity. Well he isn’t doing it directly necessarily, but in talking to him about his course work in Liturgy and Music and in our conversation bout praise bands and if there is an appropriate music for Christian worship, he has raised some questions for me about how my views on Christian Worship may or may not link up with my sonic subculture, that is that I identify as Goth and have a taste for that music.

I have written about this in the past, or at least why the various styles and bands that can fit under the label “Goth” appeal to me and what I find in them. But it generally has been for the purpose of explaining to those outside the subculture. It’s been an apologetic in a sense, that is a defense of Goth and my involvement in it.

But what about for me, for other Goth’s: What desires are expressed in our music, in our dance. Why do we listen to what we listen to? What if anything might it connect up to spirituality and God’s desire, or of desiring God?

So this is where I think this blog thread on Priestly Goth is going, for at least awhile. And I think a couple of reviews of recent albums and bands under the umbrella of Goth may find their way to the light of day contextualize in this question.

Not a defense, nor even a simply an explanation, but exploring our sonic identity and spirituality. Perhaps my reader you will want to explore this with me. Let’s discuss, I’d love to hear from others about thier “sonic identities’ or “sonic theology”: why do you listent to and /or identify with a group that listens to a certain style of music? These are tricky things, better to not have only ones own voice.