Music I Love: Dead Letters, by The Rasmus

Album: Dead Letters
Artist: The Rasmus
Year: 2003

Track Listing:

  1. In the Shadows
  2. Guilty
  3. First Day of My Life
  4. Still Standing
  5. In My Life
  6. Time to Burn
  7. Not Like the Other Girls
  8. The One I Love
  9. Back in the Picture
  10. Funeral Song

I discovered The Rasmus relatively late in life, having already lived through the angst of my teens and matured from adolescent depression into the full-blown mental illness of bipolar disorder, and I remember thinking to myself, damn – I wish I’d known about them when I was fifteen.

Despite getting their start in the mid-nineties, the Finnish rock group came to worldwide attention in 2003 with the release of their fifth album, Dead Letters. From a pop-rock beginning, Dead Letters takes a turn firmly into goth-rock territory, with dark and miserable lyrics reminiscent of their home-grown contemporaries, HIM.

Yet unlike HIM, whose music tends to drip melancholy and sadness, The Rasmus maintain a dark yet upbeat bounce throughout their work, whether on the syncopated beats of In the Shadows, the epic chorus of Guilty, or the metal-tinged riffs of First Day of My Life.

Above their previous – and some of their later – albums, though, the overall flow of Dead Letters is impeccable, with mid- to fast-paced songs taking over the first side, while the more mellow back half – with ballads like Not Like the Other Girls – leads into the raucous Back in the Picture, before petering out dramatically with Funeral Song.

This is an album that would have made a huge difference to me in my teen years, and even since then I’ve played it over a hundred times with relish, because its anthemic goth-pop tracks are everything I wanted to hear but didn’t know existed.

The Rasmus have continued to release excellent albums, from their excellent follow-up, Hide From the Sun to their U2-inspired eponymous release in 2012, but Dead Letters remains their defining album to this day, and will live on for me as an epitome of fun goth rock.

Music I Love: “Bloody Kisses”, Type O Negative (1993)

I spent most of my youth as a Goth (with a capital G), and for those of you who remember that time (or those of you who are still there), the music you listened to more or less defined who you were. In many of my hopeless and black moods, of course, there was nowhere to turn to than the wonderful misery of My Dying Bride, or the gloom-laden ballads of Sentenced. For the anger and fury, there was nothing else but Metallica and Slayer. When it was time to absolutely, once and for all I’m-really-doing-it-this-time slit my wrists, it could only be Marilyn Manson.

But, among all of these, there was one band that defined Goth more than any other I could think of, and this was the music I turned to when I simply wanted to dress in black, don the crosses and the black eyeliner, and sit moping in the back of a pub, pitying the fools who thought they were having a good time. That band was, of course, Type O Negative.

Type O Negative had a long and painful birth. As far back as 1976, four kids from Brooklyn were already gathering together in basements and garages, throwing together punk covers and goth rock. Like any young band, they went through endless lineup changes, finishing off in the eights with basically the same members as they had started out with. However, it took until nearly 1990 for their subversive music to be noticed, and their debut, Slow Deep and Hard to be released.

Ever mocking in their misery, Slow Deep and Hard featured extremely long, totally un-radio-friendly heavy metal doom, with bizarre (yet ultimately comprehensible) titles such as Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infidelity, a rather graphic song about being cheated on, to Gravitational Constant: G = 6.67 × 10^8 cm^-3 gm^-1 sec^-2, about suicide. While popular, it wasn’t until 1993 that the band truly broke through with Bloody Kisses.

A gothic masterpiece, Bloody Kisses is ultimately most famous for the title song, and the miserably humorous Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All). The album extends for a full 73 minutes, passing from dark religious cynicism on Christian Woman to the bizarrely drudging cover of Seals and Crofts’ Summer Breeze, to genuine, suicidal misery on Bloody Kisses (A Death in the Family).

In hindsight (hind-hearing?), every song on this album is excellent, including the disturbing interludes such as Fay Wray Come Out and Play and Dark Side of the Womb, but at the time, the songs that truly spoke to me were those drenched in gloom and blackness. Black No. 1, so titled after the popular hair dye, references everything stereotypically goth from vampires to Halloween to the Munsters, and even a nod to Ministry‘s 1984 hit, Every Day is HalloweenChristian Woman, with its rather explicit lyrics of religious control and sexual repression, spoke deeply to the sexually-desperate teenage boy in me.

The one song, however, that truly got to me, that empathized with my own misery and formed the soundtrack for the trips to the darkest places in my mind, was the title track, Bloody Kisses. A depressingly morose song about a girlfriend who had committed suicide, it speaks of the strength it takes to kill oneself, the misery of being left behind, and challenges the dogma regarding suicide as a cry for help, or for attention. Surrounded by darkness, hopelessly depressed, and hopelessly attracted to a girl who was just as hopelessly depressed as I was, the lyrics spoke my own thoughts through the song.

A pair of souls become undone

Where were two now one

Divided by this wall of death

I soon will join you yet

With my blood I’ll find your love

You found the strength to end you life

As you did so shall I

 Bloody Kisses – Type O Negative, 1993

Though my mind is (sometimes) in a better place now, this song continues to hold a special place in my heart, as a reminder of just how dark the world can be. Type O Negative continue to be a favorite band of mine, and their music of darkness and depression are all the more poignant now – Peter Steele, founding member and singer, died in 2010 from heart failure, at the peak of his abilities. He was only forty-eight years old. Needless to say, there will be no further Type O Negative, but the seven albums they left us are a memory unto themselves – a biography of the misery, depression and black humor of the man who created them.

R.I.P. Peter Steele

1962 – 2010

On the Nature of the Gothic

First of all, my appreciation goes out to tablite for the inspiration tonight; your recent post sharing an old poem of yours prompted me to delve (deep) into the writings of my own past. I have long been out of touch with the nature of the darkness from which my love of the bleak and macabre stems, and it was quite a trip back in time! If you’re lucky (or maybe not), I’ll share one when I’m done.

In my youth, I was a goth. It’s curious to me to find myself speaking in the past tense, because, of course, the sensibilities and mindset of this term is something I carry to this day. There was much debate, even then, about exactly what a ‘goth’ was; we were the true goths, of course, reveling in depression and despair, while the fake goths got off on dressing in black and listening to Madonna. Or something. They weren’t sad, so of course they couldn’t be goth. It was a mindset, a statement, and way of life, heralded by the oh-so-familiar aphorism, “goth isn’t just a fashion statement.” I realize now, of course, that I was actually just severely depressed, but the very word “gothic” was an outlet, a culture of other people who were in one way or another just as messed up as I was, and were, of course, the only ones who could truly understand. Much of what I wrote at the time was steeped in this mentality, and reading over some of my old stuff reminded me of that old word, and I started wondering what it meant – what it really meant.

So tonight, I – astonishingly – did a little research, and I actually discovered some things that I did not know, and make a huge amount of sense. The word ‘gothic’ does not, of course, mean what it did originally, and yet, somehow it does. The history of this little word is kind of neat.

First, we had the Goths. They were kind of cool; they were tough and violent, came from Scandinavia, and helped bring about the fall of the Roman Empire. They were brutal and devious; one sect (the Ostrogoths) joined the Huns and later revolted against them, while another (the Visigoths) became subjects of the Roman empire before revolting against them and sacking Rome. Eventually, though, even they fell – the Ostrogoths to another clan from Scandinavia, and the Visigoths to the Moors.

Then came the medieval times, and everything was pretty dismal and depressing for a very long time. Though in many ways the middle ages are responsible for much of the culture we take for granted today, most people during this period spent their time thinking about god, or painting god, or killing other people in the name of god. In fact, god was pretty important to these people, and the stuff they built – like cathedrals – started to become pretty impressive, with lots and lots of arches and spires and things that sort of pointed up at god.

But then, something happened. This thing called the Renaissance (re-birth) happened, and all of a sudden people realized that they could actually write books and paint pictures and build buildings that weren’t about god, and when no one got struck down by lightning, they realized this was a good thing. In fact, they got a little bit embarrassed of how silly they had been for the last thousand years, and started calling all those tall, pointy cathedrals gothic, because it seems they remembered the goths as being pretty rude, and these structures – which fortunately they couldn’t get rid of – seemed pretty rude as well.

So by the 1600’s, gothic was a bad thing, being associated with all those nasty medieval cathedrals people had built before they realized god didn’t really care how big their steeple was. Instead, baroque was the latest craze, and art started being created to evoke tension, and drama, and great big emotional responses. Eventually, though, all the little frilly bits on buildings started to tick people off, and they thought, hang on a minute – the romans never had this problem; let’s build stuff like they used to. So we got the neoclassical (new classical), and all these roman columns started cropping up. Now here’s where it gets kind of funny, because eventually this style started to get annoying, and people said, hey, I know – let’s build stuff like they did in the middle ages! You know, that style we thought was barbaric and crude and nasty.

Guess what they called it? Yep – neogothic. Of course, it reminded people that these big, huge spires and arches were pretty awe-inspiring, but since god didn’t really matter that much anymore (it is 1750, after all), and this thing called romanticism was on the rise, it became a natural fit for the drama, tragedy and heaving bosoms of the romantic era. People who had been always so prim and proper up until that point began to get a bit of a thrill out of hearing – and reading – about men that cried and women that cried even more, and literature became the horror movies of the 19th century. It seems it all started when a guy called Walpole wrote a story that was all love and death and drama, set in a gothic castle (it kind of helped that he called it A Gothic Story).

You started to get these tales like Faust and The Pit and the Pendulum, as well as Varney the Vampire, and the gothic/horror novel was born. Frankenstein was pretty cool, too. Fast-forward to the early twentieth century and, while the term ‘gothic’ fell out of usage, the spirit of it was alive and well in horror and romance.

Then, it all came back again in the 80’s when some guy at the BBC called Joy Division ‘gothic’. Funny, really – he meant it as dramatic and theatrical, which is exactly how it all started out way back in the 16th century. Anyway, it kind of caught on, and all these cool bands like Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim started getting labelled as ‘gothic’. It sort of started to just mean dark, miserable and depressed, and hey – no one was arguing. Novelists got in the act too, and Ann Rice put out a whole bunch of stuff about sad vampires, and the whole thing just kind of got out of hand.

And that’s pretty much where I came in. I was a teenager, I hated my life, I was depressed and I wanted to die, and suddenly there were all these other people who hated their lives and wanted to die and they were the goths. It was all pretty cool, because we could all say together how much we hated life, and how neat it would be to be a vampire and be sad for ever and ever, and how no one understood tragedy like we did, and so on and so forth.

So what’s the point of all this? To me, gothic simply had connotations of darkness, despair, sadness, loneliness, and all the imagery and art that conjured up. I had never, until now, bothered to look deeper into it, and what I found was a bit of an epiphany; without ever realizing it, I was living the very definition of gothic: I was romantic, dramatic, tragic, and completely full of myself. This, in turn, seemed crude and and nasty to everyone around me who saw my black eyeliner and inverted crosses, and I was of course proud to piss them all off. In effect, if Giorgio Vasari, inventor of the word ‘gothic’ back in 1530, could see me, I’d fit the bill perfectly.

As it happens, I may possibly have some Scandinavian blood, so that helps too.

So to all you goths out there, enjoy the misery and the despair and the tragedy, and feel safe knowing you are legitimate in calling yourself a goth! Unless you just do it for the fashion, in which case you can  drop dead.

And finally, here is one of my favorite poems I wrote back when I was a goth:

 

Elegy

I am sitting by your side

Around us, sickening branches claw the sky

The tower is shrouded

In her thick, grey shawl

Light is fading slowly

And I perceive new shadows amidst the fog

Our silence is broken

By nothing at all

The path leads beckoningly

Onward toward the gate

The bell tolls for you or me

Time has come to leave here

Rest a hand against the cool stone for just a moment longer

Before looking to myself—

I am sitting by your side

And you are not moving