Friday, March 13, 2015

Meditations on Goth Benedictions

Call the curtain! Raise the roof! Spirits on tonight!
Boy, I'm glad I didn't own a record store in the 80s, because when Bauhaus went on tour, David J Haskins said in his memoir Who Killed Mister Moonlight?: Bauhaus, Black Magick, and Benediction that he'd shoplift at lots of the records stores they went into. There's some compelling stuff in the book about his time in Bauhaus and Love and Rockets. I enjoyed his occult adventures and a tasteful amount of juice about band members (a Bauhaus reunion almost ended in tears over an argument about pants. Yes, pants.).

Reading about his days in Bauhaus appealed to the fourteen year old goth in me wearing a Bela Lugosi's Dead t-shirt. I liked learning about how things like reggae dub influenced them (which I never really noticed but listening back now I can totally hear it) and how certain songs came to be. My co-workers at the bookstore were subjected to an eight-hour Bauhaus/L&R jag every day for weeks after I finished this book as I reaquainted myself with all the music he writes about, but listening to it with a different ear and certainly a different mindset.

I liked hearing about his black magick adventures with everyone's favorite occulty magician Alan Moore, and weird shit about phases he went through. He got obsessed with animal skulls, and he'd have visions about where to find a buried animal skull, and then he'd go digging where his dreams told him to go and then he'd actually find one. NOT CREEPY OR ANYTHING. That kind of stuff always pulls me in.

Also, I enjoyed the fact that he actually addressed the whole thing about the required goth uniform being the color black, in a nice "It makes sense because I lived through it"-art-school kind of a way that I can appreciate:
"Black was of course the only way to go: the colour of night and death, and always the distinguishing mark of those who wished to stand outside the norm, from existentialists to beatniks to goths. It is the flag of morbidity under which the anarchic troops of apolitical revolt rally before storming the barricades of convention. The nineteenth-century decadents believed that it required a highly refined sensibility to truly appreciate and savour the delights of sensual sadness and the beautiful phosphorescence of decay. The goths would no doubt agree. In their disdain for the vulgar and their celebration of all that is wan, delicate, and slowly dying, they were and still are the true descendants of those poets of exquisite unease." 
If only I had this quote on a card to hand to my parents when I was fourteen to explain my wardrobe choices. Hilariously, my wiseass husband told me he once went to a Bauhaus reunion show with his friend, both of them dressed in Hawaiian flower shirts just to be ridiculous. He said that some guy standing next to them said, "Funny! I thought of doing the same thing but decided not to." They had a good laugh with whoever this guy was and said, "What? Are the goths gonna beat us up? Hahahaha."

In no way related to the quote above, and in fact, on quite a different topic altogether in the book, David J writes a really excellent description of why a lot of popular music in the 80s was so high in treble, namely, because of all the cocaine everybody was consuming. This following quote is perfect in talking about 80s dance music but it also serves as a good description of the experience of doing coke:

When I hear a lot of popular music from the 80s now, 2 things often strike me:

1. How super high the treble is.
2. How fucking long top 40 songs were. They're upwards of 5, or 6 or 7 or 8 minutes long, and half of that is the outro. Is Everyone Wants to Rule the World a 27,000 minute song? And how much of it is that long boring ass fade-out that no one cares about? Oh you care about it?  Well fuck you, you're boring, you were born in a barn.

Anyway, David J. talking about 80s music reads like some distant cousin of the Patrick Bateman American Psycho monologue about Huey Lewis. I find this ticklingly humorous in a meta-kind of a way, since the music of Huey Lewis has always seemed extra treble-y to me, with so little bass emphasized in the mix that it was like the music had no soul. (In this case I'm thinking of bass as being equated with soul in various meanings of the word: soul as in the music genre of soul but also soul as in that which we associate with the vivacity of life.) Huey Lewis and the News are a sort of appropriated "soul without any soul" band in the vein of Hall and Oates, or as Ian Svenonius writes in a more articulate way in Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock'n'Roll Group regarding Huey Lewis and the News, he says that they are "a succinct manifestation of the breezy middle-class post-collegiate jock archetype of the 1980s." You know, like, all conformed white person high treble/low bass music with no soul.

I know, I know, I'm not covering new territory when I say the music of Huey Lewis is boring; I'm coming off like a "Fuck you jocks, punk rock! Goth! Down with THE MAN!" and I sound like I'm still fourteen. I'm not so unaware that the immature ridiculousness of doing that hasn't dawned on me, but I can't say I really care.

The irony of the whole thing is that actually, I'm not really big on music where the bass is high in the mix. Honestly, I tend to hear stuff better when the treble is a little higher, and when the bass is too high it sounds like someone taking a dump, which is why I think that the term "bass drop" that's popular right now is extra hilarious, and makes me giggle. Probably I imagine most people would agree with me that it's just a matter of equaling out all the sounds in the mix in a way where one of them isn't favored over the other. Or when I say "most people" I mean "people who have exactly my sensibilities and interest in music and very specific set of qualifications for enjoyment."

The real interesting stuff in Who Killed Mister Moonlight? isn't David J talking about treble and bass. Somehow that got me on a real tangent. What I'd really wanted to talk about was the real News-of-the-Weird-section-of-the-alternative-weekly-newspaper vibe to the book, but somehow it wasn't what I ended up meditating on. I mean, how much can you say about enjoying someone else's spiritual experiences, other than "that's really cool dude"? Well, I guess maybe I'll go dress in black and dig up animal skulls. Then I'll go relax with some absinthe and find some artists with which to play exquisite corpse.

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