Monday, October 24, 2005

I could dress in black and read Camus

Chickfactor: Are you a participant in the goth scene of New York?
Merritt: So much so that I wrote the book on it.

I can imagine Merritt delivering that line with a sly smirk, but indeed, Merritt is a goth at heart. In a Chickfactor interview with Claudia Gonson, when asked if Merritt and she were new wavers together back when they were teens, Gonson responded, "Yeah, we were goths." Browse through Merritt's songbook and you'll find lots of over-the-top, depressing lyrics with plentiful references to suicide, vampires, and death. And, he has an entire band, the Gothic Archies, devoted to mixing gloom and doom with bubblegum pop. Their official site states: What makes this band different from The Magnetic Fields is that any glimmer of hope is absolutely extinguished.

When assembling the goth canon, several bands quickly come to mind: Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, the Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, and the quintessential goth band, Bauhaus. Formed in 1978, Bauhaus made a sinister, sometimes terrifying kind of post-punk rock, marked with Peter Murphy's harrowing vocals, Daniel Ash's fuzzed-out, dagger-sharp guitar licks, and the nimble yet menacing rhythm section of David J on bass and Kevin Haskins on drums. The band's appearance (black clothes, make-up) and record artwork (for example, grainy stills from silent films) helped define the goth aesthetic, but their own music was influenced by glam/art rockers like T. Rex, David Bowie, and Brian Eno.

"Bela Lugosi's Dead" is the mother of all goth songs, clocking in at nearly ten minutes, with a bassline so simple it's brilliant, creepy guitar noodlings, and Murphy unnervingly chanting "UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEAD!" It's a song that the Magnetic Fields performed as a encore at an Atlanta show in 1997. "Dark Entries" was one of the earliest singles on 4AD Records (actually, it was called "Axis Records" at the time), a label that was home to other bands beloved by goths, like Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and the Birthday Party. Back one evening in 1998 while on tour in the Pacific Northwest, Merritt commented that instead of performing that night, he'd rather be attending the Bauhaus reunion show that was happening that night in that same town. Well, Bauhaus are back on tour, so pull out your deteriorating Bauhaus shirt, Stephin.

Bauhaus - "Bela Lugosi's Dead"
Bauhaus - "Dark Entries"


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