Archive for Siouxsie

Music for a Monday: Siouxsie and the Banshees

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by vprime

I’m back, but my writing willpower isn’t. I meant to get back into the routine of writing and posting last week, but that just didn’t happen. I couldn’t let another week begin without posting something, so today I’ve collected some Siouxsie performances. I can’t pretend to do Siouxsie’s work justice in a short blog post. Also, I get the feeling I gush over her enough already. So yes, this is a lazy post. If you want to read an in-depth academic consideration of Siouxsie’s aesthetic, I highly recommend The Music of the Goth Subculture: Postmodernism and Aesthetics by Charles Mueller. The chapter on Siouxsie is insightful and one of the better interpretations of her work that I’ve come across.

Now, the music.

Siouxsie has a particularly striking look and the visual performance is as much a part of her art as the music itself. Here she performs “Metal Postcard” in 1978.

“Melt”, performed in 1982. In this video, she looks like an Edward Gorey illustration come to life.

The silent-film vamp effect of her makeup is clearer in black and white. “Candyman,” 1987.

“Spellbound.” Siouxsie wears a yellow dress, still looks totally fierce.

“Into a Swan” recorded in 2007.

What’s your favorite Siouxsie song?

Music for a Monday: Venus in Furs

Posted in Books, Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2011 by vprime

I’m devoting this Monday’s music post to a song rather than a band in honor of my forthcoming review of the novel Venus in Furs. This song describes much of the thematic content of the novel. In the book, Severin, troubled by his desire to submit to a cold, unattainable woman, finds a willing accomplice in the headstrong widow Wanda. He persuades her to take him on as a servant and to wear furs in honor of a Titian painting that he believes expresses his ideal of womanhood. Wanda treats Severin as a slave, including meting out corporal punishment as part of their agreement. The book resulted in Sacher-Masoch’s name becoming forever associated with a desire for pain.

The Velvet Underground opened the door for much of the dark music that came to be known as Goth. In the book Goth Chic, Gavin Baddeley credits Nico with inspiring the cold, seductive persona refined by later Goth women. The slow, droning sound and taboo subject matter have made this song a favorite cover for Goth bands. If you have the opportunity to read Goth’s Dark Empire by Carol Shields, I highly recommend you do. In this book, Shields explores in detail Goth culture’s interest in masochism and submission. That I’ve heard this song covered at scores of Goth shows testifies to its influence on Goth culture.

I find it interesting that this song encompasses an ambiguous perspective. It’s Lou Reed who sings the original, and the song seems to slide in and out of the perspectives of Wanda and Severin. Reed describes the scenes from the book as an impartial observer, though the chorus beginning with “I am tired, I am weary . . .” appears to be from Severin’s perspective. It makes  no sense that an observer would express this ennui, though I don’t rule that possibility out entirely. The lyrics ” Taste the whip, in love not given lightly. /Taste the whip, now plead for me” seem to be Wanda’s words to Severin, though again, I think it’s possible that the entire song is from the perspective of a reader who identifies with both characters, whose emotional investment in the book provides a deep catharsis.

The original:

Christian Death (Rozz Williams):

Boring video, great cover by the sadly underexposed Rosetta Stone:

Her Majesty Siouxsie Sioux. If the “Wanda” portion of the song as done by Siouxsie here (especially her unheimlich wail on “plead for me.”) doesn’t give you goosebumps, check your pulse :

The Eden House is former Fields of the Nephilim members Tony Pettitt and Stephen Carey. I believe the vocals here are by Faith and the Muse’s (and formerly of Strange Boutique) Monica Richards:

Remember Gary Numan? He’s back, in pog form!:

And most bizarre of all, a commerical for tires (or, shall I say ‘tyres’?):

See you in a thousand years (after my nap).

Wait for the Blackout: Melancholy in Goth Culture

Posted in Books, Clothes, Culture, Fashion, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by vprime

Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided exposed a prevalent cultural practice in America: that of compulsory positivity. As a society, we expect negative emotions to be cured, suppressed and otherwise cleansed from our neat little psyches so we can continue to be the exceptional individuals it is our God-given right to be.  We believe in the pursuit of happiness as a duty. This manifests itself quite often in the platitudes that one can accomplish anything if only one remains positive and believes in oneself.

What a load of shite.

As Ehrenreich discovers, this cult of positivity leaves people feeling embittered and powerless, as though their losses are the result of insufficient self-esteem. The bind is that one cannot reject the exhortations to be positive without being seen as damaged somehow.  Your negative thoughts are “unhealthy,” “toxic;” you need to “heal.” The cult of positivity permeates our language until there seems to be no acceptable way to be unhappy.  What’s the naturally melancholy person to do with all this relentless cheer? Goth and other darkly-oriented cultures offer more than a language that allows the expression of negativity, they offer an alternate world in which the negative becomes valued. The ability to mine the hidden psychic corners of our society is part of what makes Goth appealing to people of a more thoughtful bent. But the focus on negative emotion is often mistaken for “depression” and misconstrued. My aim here is to explore, albeit perhaps more shallowly than I’d like, the difference between what we label “depression” and melancholy.

I admit this will be a shallow inquiry because I just recently acquired Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and have yet to read it. I am also looking into Emo music, as it gets lumped in with Goth so often when the subject of melancholy in popular culture arises. From what I’ve gleaned so far I’d hazard to say that there are some serious differences and the main thing both aesthetics have in common is that they descend from punk.  I’ll return to the issue of Emo later.

Melancholy Babies

Depression is an illness. It’s something that—we believe—can be treated and cured. In past times, perhaps, depression would have been taken to be the same thing as melancholy, but as our concept of the psyche has grown toward the empirical, we increasingly view depression as an affliction that can be alleviated. Melancholy is an artistic stance. By that I mean that melancholy encompasses a point of view that is primarily fueled by the subject’s penchant for introverted thought. Melancholy describes a personality—one who is introverted, tends toward self-scrutiny, prefers thought and silence to action.    The tendency to turn thoughts inward has yet to be (fully) pathologized. It is possible to be melancholy without being depressed. By that token, plenty of people outside of the melancholy personality may experience depression. One of the defining features of depression is a lack of desire—the desire to connect or engage with the world. If I may get Freudian, what’s being “depressed” is the libido in the sense of the will for life. Melancholy is not an undesiring void. It contains yearning and fascination. Consider Poe’s narrators and their dark obsessions. Pining over the dead Ligeia induces a desire for her return so powerful that the narrator wills her into the dead body of Lady Rowena. There is desire and will of supernatural strength. I might add that a story in which the narrator gives up all hope and passively detaches is not a recipe for narrative success (in most hands) so that may account for the ascendency of depictions of melancholy over true depression in art.

Here’s an example from masters of melancholy, The Cure.

I’m going to refer to the singer here as a “persona” because I want to separate the artist from the art. The situation in this song is that the persona is holding these objects (pictures) that serve as the last remaining connection to a lost other. It appears the other that the song is addressed to could be a former lover, but it’s left intentionally vague. The persona blames himself for driving the other away. In the persona’s memory, the other was “crying for the death of your heart.” Here is an example of the fear of loss of desire.  It’s the other’s lack of emotion that causes him/her to mourn here, and, as the song hints, ultimately drives the other from the persona. The photos have frozen the other in an idealized state. They allow the persona the luxury of “remembering you how you used to be,” instead of dealing with the reality of who the other becomes. The real object of mourning here is not the other him/herself. All we know about the current state of this other is that their relationship with the persona is severed. The song hints (“If only I’d thought of the right words”) that the split is due to the other’s rejection of the persona. The persona is not significant to the other anymore, he tells the other he could “never hold on to your heart.” The pictures fetishize the lost other and serve as the new focus for the persona’s fear of loss. The other has become the pictures. The true fear expressed in the song is that even the desire attached to the pictures will fade.

Mourning the Living

I began to conceive of this separation between melancholy and depression when reading Slavoj Zizek’s The Puppet and the Dwarf, in which he describes the melancholic as one who refuses to complete the process of mourning and reach closure. He writes:  “mourning is a kind of betrayal, the second killing of the (lost) object, while the melancholic subject remains faithful to the lost object, refusing to renounce his or her attachment to it.” In keeping the desire for that which is lost, the melancholic refuses healing. But as Zizek notes, the melancholic is often in mourning for objects which are not yet lost. The melancholic anticipates a state beyond that in which the object is lost to one in which the very desire for the object is gone, and it is the fear that the melancholic will lose all sense of attachment that causes the subject to peremptorily mourn that loss. In other words, melancholy is prompted by a fear of losing desire rather than a fear of losing the object.  Zizek explains: “Therein resides the melancholic’s stratagem: the only way to possess an object which we never had, which was from the very outset lost, is to treat an object that we still fully possess as if this object is already lost. The melancholic’s refusal to accomplish the work of mourning thus takes the form of its very opposite, of a faked spectacle of the excessive, superfluous, mourning for an object even before this object is lost” [italics mine]. In the book, Zizek gives an illustrative example: assume he moves from one city to another. Some time passes and he begins to feel melancholic about his old home, not because he misses that place, but because he finds himself beginning to no longer care about the old city. The knowledge that he will wake up one day with no yearning to return home is what triggers the melancholy mood. The Gothic aesthetic often falls into what Zizek calls “a faked spectacle of the excessive.”  The overwrought and over-serious nature of Goth can look to outsiders like a celebration of depression, but exists to stave off the demands of a world in which negativity itself is a lost object. The Goth mourns for a world of enforced cheer and dead senses, in which art exists only to sell you something and beauty is a cheap, shiny facsimile.

The label “depressed” as attached to the Gothic aesthetic has been one I’ve always rejected, in part, because “depressed” is our way of reducing negativity to a more pedestrian scale.  Gothic music expresses sadness and loss in a manner that seeks artistic merit in negativity. The idea of “depressing” music is also one that puzzles me. I’d consider pop pabulum depressing because it has no redeeming quality. Perky songs on the radio are depressing. Most of what’s on TV is depressing—it saps me of enjoyment and the will to live. Dark music is not depressing, no matter how bleak the subject matter, as long as it attempts to reveal the beauty in negativity.

Cheer Up, Emo Boy.

I said I’d return to emo and I suspect I’ve gone on too long already, so I’ll be brief. Emo and Goth are like chimps and gorillas. They share a common ancestor, but have totally different ways of relating. What I’ve seen of emo tends to focus on the concerns of white male adolescents and their frustrated sense of entitlement. Emo angst is the cry of the unpopular kid who still has some desire to fit in. Emo also seems to be concerned, as most pop music is, with the concept of “authenticity,” as reflected in confessional lyrics and the use of relationship woes as subject matter. These subjects are awarded greater meaning because they originate in the personal lives of the performers. Goth is more theatrical and artificial, often employing ironic distance to hold the listener back from emotional connection with the performer. Siouxsie is an excellent example of this. Her performance of icy seduction is designed to create a cinematic remove from her subject matter. Her emotional expressions are performance. Consider “The Killing Jar” in which she sings in a sighing parody of sensuality while describing sexual molestation. Even though this song is inspired by a true sexual assault, she never loses control of the narrative or expresses helplessness. How many times have you danced to this song describing the assault of a young Susan Ballion? I can see why bands like The Cure and Joy Division have some influence on Emo as their treatment of emotional subject matter appears sincere and authentic. [I have my doubts, but then, I also think Moz does about 90% of his shtick as arch irony.] Goth celebrates femininity, while Emo’s another sausage fest following in Punk’s footsteps. Emo’s adoption of Gothic signifiers such as black eyeliner, androgyny and black clothing may just be due to the perceived greater sensitivity and emotionality of Goths. I admit I need to learn more about Emo to truly flesh out these distinctions. The music is hard for me to take, though. I find it a bit dull.

That’s all the melancholy misanthropy I can muster.

See you on the darkside.