What a whirlwind. Friends, it’s been too long. But I’ve been on a trip. Not the work trips I took to Europe this summer but the trip of watching something I made with my friends go around the world. Here’s a long story of how that happened……
Way back in March now (on International Woman’s Day, actually), some of my favourite ladies got together to make 40 Years of Goth Style. It’s a concept I came up with my long-time bestie, fellow Siouxsie lover and ace make-up artist Andrea Heldman. To take the fashion history timelapse video and give it an alternative make-over. Do our own version, celebrating the darker styles we’ve always loved: 40 Years of Goth Style in under four minutes.
I wanted to make this an all-woman production. And so I enlisted other talented colleagues, like my hairstylist Karen Wallington of Modlocks, to make authentic cyber dread falls; Ashley Davies and Mina Smart from House of Etiquette became my stylists and confidantes; pin-up model Kassandra Love, a not-so-secret goth and sweet gal. We hired Lisa Lightbourn-Lay as our Director of Photography. And several kind friends helped with all the little things that you can’t do without. I borrowed clothes from all over town — pulling vintage velvet dresses and corsets from the closets of my pals, extra grateful for those who have become designers, like Plastik Wrap and Totally Waisted, and who generously lent us things from their collections. Thrilled especially that these items were coming from local, independent, female designers who were actual members of the goth and alternative subculture. Purchased the rest from what my budget would allow. This was a completely independent production, funded by me, and even with all of the favours, it wasn’t cheap to make. I say all this only because some critics of the project have called us out for being too costumey, and of having no idea what goths actually dress like. They couldn’t be more wrong about me and this team.
We spent two full days crammed into a studio trying to make this all work in time—extensive make-ups that tested just how much a person can have intense black eyeliner applied and rubbed off over and over; a black light sequence that proved more difficult than it first seemed; discovering that I hadn’t accounted for adding platforms and giant hair when fixing the time-lapse frame, etc. In the end, the experiments all worked out. Not everything perfectly as in my dreams, but certainly something to be proud of. I secured music tracks from three great local independent bands — Johnny Hollow, Amy’s Arms, For Esme — and after many late nights with Mina and even more favours from several talented women I know who work in post-production, the edit was done.
June 21 I uploaded it to YouTube. We had already posted a teaser on Facebook, which attracted media attention. Kim Kelly at Vice offered to premiere the video on Noisey, so that was a really cool way to launch into the world — she called us “spookily perfect.” The Daily Mail did a feature. I was interviewed for the Washington Post. And we were profiled on Buzzfeed. (We were also pirated a lot; it’s infuriating how many people think they can just download shit from the internet and upload it to their own sites without credit. GRRR.) The views rocketed upwards — 400,000 in the first week. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time watching Google alerts and hitting the refresh button. It was super exciting.
Then came the critics. An avalanche of negative comments that basically boiled down to “This has nothing to do with goth!” To many, the video was a travesty, yet another clickbait made by people who know nothing at all. The Lolitas were particularly enraged — cultural appropriation, one Tweeted at me — that we misrepresented them. I tried to explain that this wasn’t a video about Lolita style history, but rather acknowledging that moment in time where Goths discovered Japanese street style and adopted it into their looks. It’s not actually supposed to be authentic or pure Lolita! Ditto Steampunk. But Goths of the Internet wouldn’t have it! No Death Rocker has blonde hair! Pastel Goth is a cancer to the culture! Nu Goth is offensive to pagans and real witches! For a few days, it really bummed me out, and I honestly tried to dialogue in YouTube comments. (Spoiler: it doesn’t work.) Even though I know very well that arguing about Goth is one of the core tenents of Gothdom. (I called the intro to my book — an actual encyclopedia of Goth! — “What is, ‘What is Goth?’”) I gave up after reading one too many comments from (presumably) kids so upset that we had a punk look — because punk and goth have nothing to do with each other, in their view. How can you care so much about Goth that you are freaking out about a video on the internet but not enough to know its basic history? Le sigh.
At the same time, I welcomed and relished the manyresponsevideospopping up. They too had critiques, but fair ones, I thought. I found it flattering actually to be acknowledged by my favourite Goth YouTube personalities and bloggers. There were blog posts from around the world. And many positive comments, which came more often as the weeks went on. Yeah, even from Pastel Goths. I adore hearing that people are falling in love with the songs we used, discovering new music. Almost every time I went out in Toronto, someone else told me they saw and liked the video. It started to feel good again.
Last week, 40 Years of Goth Style reached 1 million views! That’s kind of crazy. It’s a pretty significant milestone, and I’m extremely proud of that. At the same time, it’s just the beginning. We are planning a Male Goth Style follow-up. (Yes, there will be Tripp pants.) And I have a “director’s commentary” type video almost ready to go up that explains more about our rationale and research into these different looks used. Because I genuinely do care about this subculture, and I want people to learn more about it, to appreciate this thing of beautiful subversion that captured my imagination all those years ago, and still does.
It’s Thanksgiving in Canada right now. As I type this, I am surrounded by the smell of sweet potatoes and roasted beets and a view of trees turning burnt orange and red. It’s a day to think about gratitude. Well, I’m thankful for a lot of things this year but none as much as the ladies who helped me make this video, as well as the people who helped me get the word out, and those who watched it, all 1, 114, 732 of you, and counting.
Thank you always for reading, for caring about what I do, for being you. Now it’s time to light a candle and get back to Work.
May 21, 2016
World Goth Night at the Movies presents
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
Join me as once again I host our the third annual World Goth Day movie night at the Royal Cinema in Toronto. In keeping with my love for vampires and gothic beauty in cinema we’ll be screening 1992’s classic Interview with the Vampire. The feature starts at 8 but come early: I’ve put together a pre-show reel of outrageous, hilarious archival videos and then we’ll be premiering my 40 Years of Goth Style short film. There will be prizes. And me. Come.
Friends….I’ve been working on something rather special. An art film project documenting the evolution of Goth fashion. Making it with some of my best and most talented friends, all ladies. I know you’re going to love it. All the details soon.
No Bowie, no Bauhaus. No Low, no Downward Spiral. No Ziggy, no Manson.
David Bowie wasn’t a Goth. It would be ridiculous to claim him in that way, like he belonged to any one scene. Hell, he barely belonged to any one planet. But without him, well, it’s hard to imagine what Goth/Industrial music and style would look and sound like, if it existed at all. That’s why, after so many words have already been spilled since the announcement of his death, [Seriously, everyone and theirdentist has weighed in already], and it’s taken me a while, I still wanted to write this. To remind myself, and those who share my love for the subculture, and perhaps some who don’t know the connections at all, why Bowie was so important to this dark corner of the world, too. It’s by no means exhaustive (how would one begin to track 100% of Bowie’s influences on any genre?) but I hope comprehensive enough.
We’ll get to The Hunger in a moment, naturally. But first, let’s start at the very beginning….
1972: Blowing minds on Top of the Pops
One could say, with all earnestness, that the seeds of the modern Goth subculture aren’t really Walpole’s gothic horror novel Castle of Otrano, as bookish types like to claim, but Bowie’s far out July 6, 1972 appearance as Ziggy Stardust on the British music show Top of the Pops. This is where one Daniel Ash, who would later co-found the world’s first proper gothic rock band, first glimpsed this strange creature. He was just shy of 15. Her would later tell Vice:
DANIEL ASH, BAUHAUS: “Morrissey and Marc Almond and Boy George and George Michael, they all talk about Bowie doing “Starman” on Top of the Pops where he puts his arm around Mick Ronson, and it’s looking like, ‘Is that a girl or a guy?’ You know, that whole magical thing. That changed everything for my generation. … I remember going into town in the back of my dad’s car, and I went into the store and bought “Starman” and before I bought this 7” vinyl a voice in my head said, ‘If you buy this record, your life is never going to be the same. Do you want to go down this road?’ Of course I bought it.”
Ash was hardly alone. The whole lot of future British Goth icons were watching that TV night. Robert Smith, Andrew Eldritch, Ian McCulloch, they’ve all spoken about being transfixed and transformed by that performance.
Susan Janet Ballion watched it from a hospital bed. The girl who would soon transform into a Bromley punk then Goth goddess Siouxsie Sioux told Bowie biographer Dylan Jones,
SIOUXSIE SIOUX: “It was the first time I felt that it was music made for me. … He was incredible. The skinniness, the alienation, the otherworldlinesss. …. It was definitely the man/woman of the future. It was a brave new world, a springboard to accentuate your own individuality. But I was never a Bowie lookalike. I found it odd that so many people were content to merely copy.”
Siouxsie hits on something here of great import to this story. Every generation has a new pop or rock star that blows the gates open for the kids, often through a TV appearance. That’s not news. Often they even inspire new fashion trends amongst fans. But this isn’t Beatles haircuts or a KISS make-up on Halloween. Bowie that night, in going beyond stage costuming into a fully formed alter ego, (in fact, several alter egos) inspired those who would most influence what the goth subculture would become to create personas for themselves.
In the essay “Playing Dress Up: David Bowie and the Roots of Goth,” authors David Shumway and Heather Arnet describe it thus: “Bowie’s theatricality freed punk rock performers to indulge their own impulses to dress up. Inspired by Bowie, they would create their own performance masks, costumes and stage personae. As a result, their fans, rather than merely imitating, would go on to create their own world of disguise—goth.”
Exactly. Goth has always been a culture of metamorphosis and masquerade. (Or, as Hebdige might say, style as subversion.) Not every goth puts on their boldest every time they leave the house but there’s a certain commitment on a daily basis to transforming yourself that is as intrinsic to the scene as the music and other culture consumed. Goth fashion traces itself way back past glam rock, of course, but there’s a good chance no teenagers would be walking around in Victorian funeral attire in 2015 if it wasn’t for Bowie, and his influence on the early Goth rockers — they gave us all permission to be strange in bold daylight, to re-imagine ourselves as scary monsters and super freaks.
Much has been written about the influence of Bowie’s gender bending style on all kinds of communities. But perhaps nowhere was it so impactful as goth, where boys in skirts continues to be de rigueur, where fishnets are considered unisex apparel. And consider that goth’s most famous face, Robert Smith of the Cure, is almost as well-known to the general public for the bright red lipstick smeared wildly across his face as for his music. And where did Robert get the idea? That same five minutes of TV.
ROBERT SMITH, THE CURE: “I saw Bowie on Top of the Pops and immediately put on some of my older sisters’ make-up. I loved how odd it made me look, and the fact that it upset people. You put on eyeliner and people started screaming at you. How strange, how marvelous!”
1977: Warszawa becomes Warsaw becomes Joy Division
Although it’s the Bauhaus/Bowie connection that’s the axis on which an entire universe would soon spin, one cannot overlook the Bowie influence on Joy Division, the first group that ever had “goth” tagged to their sound. Their first gig was May 29, 1977 under the name Warsaw, taken directly from “Warszawa,” a haunting track on Bowie’s 1977 moody masterpiece of post-punk, Low. The name was Ian Curtis’ idea. Curtis was an early fan of Bowie, and was particularly switched on after seeing the Ziggy Stardust tour in a club in Manchester, twice, at age 17. It’s easy to imagine him as he appears in the fictional biopic Control, striking his best rock star poses in his bedroom mirror to the sounds of Bowie’s “Jean Genie,” finding in that music, himself.
Curtis remained a fan his entire short life: the Iggy Pop record The Idiot, produced and co-written by Bowie, was famously found spinning on his turntable the day he hanged himself, May 18, 1980, at age 23.
It’s in Joy Division that you really hear the influence of Bowie’s lyrics on the early goth songwriters. Curtis took Bowie’s obsession with alienation to a new level of grimness, drilling deep into themes of paranoia, madness, and other psychological horrors. Forget the romanticized rock star from Mars—Curtis was much more interested in loving the alien within. And while you could say that came from Curtis’ own psyche as much as hearing “Space Oddity,” when you add in the sonic similarities between the Joy Division debut Unknown Pleasures and Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, well… Listen again to “I Remember Nothing” and tell me that wouldn’t fit just as well on Heroes?
1982: Bauhaus’ “Ziggy Stardust” cover hits the Top 20
Six years after buying “Starman,” Daniel Ash co-founded Bauhaus with his three school mates, including singer Peter Murphy. It doesn’t take much more than a glance to recognize how much Bowie (along with Iggy) influenced Murphy. He took Bowie’s androgynous alien make-up, drag-like costuming and mime-inspired dance moves and meshed them with his love for German expressionism and horror—like colourization in reverse, Murphy pared Ziggy down to stark, black-and-white, becoming a thin white duke for for the death chic set.* It’s right here, in Peter Murphy’s hollowed out cheekbones—glam becomes Goth.
Like Joy Division, Bauhaus borrowed its sound in part from the darkest corners of Bowie’s early catalogue. And they’ll admit it. Peter Murphy once declared, “The Man Who Sold the World was the first true goth record.” I double dare you to listen to that 1971 album’s “After All,” a sombre, minor-chord whisper that references occultist Aleister Crowley, or its “All the Monsters,” and not hear the influence all over Bauhaus’ 1980’s debut In the Flat Field, or “All We Every Wanted Was Everything,” from 1981’s Mask.
It all became so bleeding obvious when Bauhaus released their version of “Ziggy Stardust.” Originally a throwaway recorded for BBC Radio, a bit of a poke back at those calling the new band Bowie rip-offs. The 1982 single became Bauhaus’ first hit, and the only time they would hit the British Top 20 charts, even getting their own Top of the Pops appearance out of it. This, and a music video, helped bring Bauhaus, and the world of Goth, to the masses.
For me personally, it was several years later that I first caught the “Ziggy Stardust” clip, on TV in my small town. Being an ‘80s kid, for me Bowie was the “Let’s Dance” guy. Supremely cool, yes. Punk rock? Goth? I had no idea. I’d never seen the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell to Earth, Ziggy Stardust. Which means I’d also never seen anything like Peter Murphy in this video. Slithering, shimmying, shirtless, across the stage striking his Jesus Christ Pose. Not so much singing to his audience as attacking them. This video also took me inside some low-ceiling, sweaty brick basement filled with glassy-eyed post-punk kids in leather jackets and eyeliner, it showed me Daniel Ash wearing fishnets for a shirt and Murphy singing from within a dog cage. I was already falling in love with the Cult and the Cure and Love and Rockets, all on heavy rotation on MuchMusic back then. But this was my first visit to an underground goth bar. I imagine I’m not alone in deciding that day I was going all-black and never back. It was only later that I discovered this was a cover, and that this Ziggy fellow was in fact David Bowie, he of the sharp suits. Mind blown twice.
1983: Bowie Becomes a Vampire
David Bowie’s portrayal of the immortal John Blaylock remains one of the best vampire portrayals in modern cinema, in one of my Top 5 vampire flicks of all time. (Surely, I can’t be the only goth girl who shows The Hunger to new dates as a matter of ritual?) It would be uber Goth even if it didn’t start in a goth bar. But it does: Peter Murphy’s spikey silhouette emerging from the shadows, staring down viewers through a metal cage, the haunting rhythms of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” ticking a death march as Bowie, as a slick, sunglass-wearing Blaylock, and his vampire lover Miriam stalk the dance floor, coolly hunting the club-goers for prey. It’s possibly the gothiest 5 minutes ever put to film. By all accounts, the band had a passing run-in with Bowie while shooting the scene, possibly their only real life encounter.
The Hunger closed the Bowie-Bauhaus loop (the band would break up shortly after its release) but it was hardly the final chapter in the man’s sphere of influence.
1994: Hey Trent Reznor, how Low can you go?
Since Bowie’s death, few have been posting “’The Hearts Filthy Lesson’ changed my life!” or mentioning Earthling in their obituaries. Fair enough, it’s hard to compete with “Rebel, Rebel.” But it was in the ‘90s that Bowie made his greatest contribution to gothdom— as a direct influence on the two artists that would take this scrappy scene for weirdoes and blow it wide open to the mainstream.
Trent Reznor, industrial music’s most recognizable icon, has gone on record many times about how David Bowie was the most important creative influence in his life, citing Scary Monsters and Hunky Dory amongst his all-time fave albums, and Bowie’s general freakishness as key to his artistic development.
TRENT REZNOR, NIN:“To a kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania, out of reach of college radio and on the wrong side of the Internet – in isolation – to see this alien creep in, this larger-than-life character who was smart… he’s been a consistent reference point as somebody who is uncompromising.”
If any one thing can be thanked/blamed for goth turning up at every mall near you in 1994, it’s Nine Inch Nails’s record The Downward Spiral. Multiplatinum. Top 5. Grammy nominations. Heavy rotation on MTV. For a noisy concept record about nihilism, addition and self-destruction. And it wouldn’t have happened (or not in the same way) had Reznor not heard David Bowie’s 1977 album Low, a benchmark in Bowie’s own creative evolution and the key to Trent unleashing his most experimental side.
TRENT REZNOR, NIN: “David Bowie‘s ‘Low’ was probably the single greatest influence on ‘The Downward Spiral‘ for me. … I instantly fell for it. I related to it on a song-writing level, a mood level, and on a song-structure level…I like working within the framework of accessibility, and songs of course, but I also like things that are more experimental and instrumental, maybe.”
I’m not suggesting that industrial music started with DWS, or that many goths hadn’t already discovered Bowie’s Berlin triology, Krautraut, ambient and other electronic oddities long before it hit the charts. But this album was a juggernaut, that rare beast that changes the game. It transformed Nine Inch Nails from a synthpop club act to stadium rock stars. And the Bowie connection couldn’t be more clear. Aside from the Low factor, Adrian Belew (who’d played on Lodger, another Bowie album from the Berlin Trilogy) played guitar. And the big hit single, “Closer” rips its opening drum beat from “Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop — a song written by …. David Bowie.
1995: Bowie the Industrialist
Bowie, being the observant culture vulture, didn’t let this go unnoticed. His 1995 release Outside, subtitled “A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle,” was a dystopian concept record with multiple voices and enough dark electronic beats to be embraced by goth/industrial clubs, even before Bowie tapped Trent for a remix of the single “The Hearts Filthy Lesson.”He then invited Nine Inch Nails to open on the tour.
It wasn’t a typical opening slot: they designed the Dissonance tour to have a seque between their sets, where they would perform together. Bowie sang on “Reptile”; Trent on “Scary Monsters.” It was an experiment that met with lukewarm to bad reviews. And when you watch it today, it doesn’t really click (the way, say, Peter Murphy of Bauhaus singing “Reptile” with NIN does.) But it presented Bowie to a whole new generation. And more importantly, it gave the Bowie stamp of approval to this music, a great validation for us at a time when NIN copycats and bros screaming “I want to fuck you like an animal!” at sports bars, Bowie’s seal of approval reminded us everything was cool, and elevated NIN and industrial music to the place in the history of rock music that it deserves.
[Fun aside: of all people, Andrew Eldritch of the Sisters of Mercy interviewed Bowie around this time, for Rolling Stone Germany. He referred, in typical Eldritch fashion, to NIN’s muddy performance at Woodstock as “an ephemeral eighties band of the most despicable kind.”
Bowie replied: “Those people would be wrong. I think it was the emergent voice of a new direction.”
And then, more from Andrew: “Now, I hold myself personally responsible for Nine Inch Nails (among others), but not for the fact that they look like Alien Sex Fiend. This makes Mr Bowie laugh some more. ‘I liked Alien Sex Fiend. It’s a fucking great t-shirt.’”]
1997: I’m Afraid of Americans
Straight up: “I’m Afraid of Americans” is the Bowie track most often heard at goth bars, because it’s essentially Bowie’s version of a NIN song. He again tapped Trent for a remix, and to co-star in the video. In the clip, a paranoid Bowie— complete with hoop earing and ‘90s era goatee—is running through the streets of NYC, chased by an apparition of Reznor. A comment by an aging rock star seeing young ‘uns biting at his creative heels, as well as a pointed critique of American gun culture? Seems like it.
1998: Manson — the Mechanical Ziggy
While Reznor was enjoying his bromance with Bowie, conducting audio/video experiments that were very of the moment, his protégée Marilyn Manson was about to indulge his own obsession with Bowie’s glam rock past. The rock star born Brian Warner first got turned on to Bowie when he saw the video for “Ashes to Ashes” (a clip that starred, not co-incidentially, Steve Strange of Visage, one of the earliest figures on the new romantic club scene). He’d name-dropped the Thin White Duke often, and in 1997, released a cover of Bowie’s 1974 funk-soul hit “Golden Years.” But it was 1998’s Mechanical Animals that he let his Bowie fixation fly.
The record is widely acknowledged as Manson’s take on Diamond Dogs, the follow-up to Ziggy Stardust. Thematically, Manson plays two characters who will be quite familiar to Bowie fans: a doped up glam rocker, and an androgynous alien who falls to earth and joins a band. The single and video for “The Dope Show” makes an overt nod to Bowie’s performance in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth (and much more). Already a star on the American pop culture scene, this was Manson’s highest charting period—the song earned several MTV and Billboard Music awards, and a Grammy nomination, and it was his most commercially successful record. For a whole new generation of spooky kids, Manson—with his crazy coloured eyes, prosthetic boobs and asexual genitals—became a gateway to the weird world of music and art and David Bowie. With the internet fully exploded by then, it was easier than ever to follow the clues he left, to travel down the rabbit holes of the songs, the personas, the art and the artifice.
2016: Ashes to Ashes
When David Bowie died, on January 10, 2016, there were many expressions of grief posted by the music artists who adored him, tiny flakes in the avalanche of tributes worldwide. One that circulated widely was a letter by Marilyn Manson, printed in Rolling Stone, titled “David Bowie Changed My Life Forever.” An excerpt:
MARILYN MANSON: “Every song of his was a way for me to communicate to others. It was a sedative. An arousal. A love letter I could never have written. It has become and remains a soundtrack to a movie he painted with his voice and guitar. He sang, “Hope, it’s a cheap thing.”
I don’t need hope to know that he has found his way to the place that equals his untouchable, chameleon-genius beauty. The black star in space, that only HE belongs. This crushing moment of fear and loss can only be treated the way his music has affected everyone who was fortunate enough to hear and love it. Let’s NEVER let go of what he gave us.”
More than one fan of this music has wondered wherefore art thou Trent Reznor? He’s been notably silent. I like to think he’ll respond with art, with music. I like to think he’s in a studio somewhere, doing the things that Bowie always inspired him to do. And that he’ll drop his response in his own time.
For me, what lingers in the days and weeks now since that shocking news in the middle of the night, is just how Bowie orchestrated his own end. He wrote his own obituary with his final album, Blackstar— from the lyrics to the videos to the artwork, all clues to be interpreted. Articles like this andthiswill continue to be written for years to come, analyzing the clues he left in that last work, revering him for dying the way he lived, artfully. Some will believe that he faked his death, others that he’s responsible for that new planet out there. It’s all possible though, isn’t it?
What do I think? That his influence, on goths and other darkly inclined individuals and artists will only grow after death. The man who fell to earth is now myth, one who left us in a cloud of stardust, of ashes, with a requiem to soothe that loneliness. There will never be another David Bowie. But there is sure to be an infinite number of people who, because of him, continue to turn and face the strange. Bowie is dead. Long live Blackstar.
Do you believe in the Devil? I ask this in all seriousness. Because if you think about it for a minute, you probably do. Most people do. This is what I found out when I started research and writing on a documentary about Satan. This week, after years of work, the film has been unleashed into the world. It’s called Satan Lives.
This documentary has been years in the making, and I’m so thrilled it’s finally come out. It’s the first time I have a writing credit on a feature doc, and I’m really proud of all the work of everyone involved. This is the first non-music film for Banger, a company I’ve done a lot of cool work for over the years. During the production, I had an opportunity to speak with many super smart and fascinating characters – from Zeena Schreck (née Lavey, former High Priestess-turned-Buddhist) to professor Elaine Pagels to Arthur “God of Hellfire” Brown to a pastor who runs a HellHouse in the U.S. It was sometimes fun, but it was always a difficult and challenging assignment, a complicated story to tell. Satan also remains a deeply controversial figure, and I was shocked at how many people —including actual Satanists and artists who make dark, Satan-themed work—refused to be involved. Over and over again, I was told, “I just can’t be associated with a film about the Devil.” When you see the doc, and how some many people’s lives have been ruined by association and (unfounded) accusations, you will understand why. But that’s part of what the title represents: you can’t argue that Satan doesn’t continue to live, to work His power, on the public consciousness.
My own feelings on Satan never wavered. Which is that we, as humans, are afraid of the wrong things. We demonize, we scapegoat, we target and we hunt the wrong enemies. I was never afraid of what might happen to me working on this film, if I would get possessed or worse. Because what I believe in is the shadow side that we all have, and that by acknowledging that, and the evil that men and women can do all on our own, that is the best protection against the dark forces of this mysterious universe.
Satan Lives is available to rent/buy in Canada right now, on iTunes and various Video on Demand services. Coming to the rest of the world in 2016. Watch an excerpt here.
Is it Fan Expotime already? Yup! This year’s convention will not have the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear, unfortunately. But I will be attending as part of the horror programming, selling and signing books, plus hosting a special spooky reading event.
Boo! Scary Stories Read Aloud. Friday, September 4 at 11:45am in Room 705 of the North Building, I’ll be reading one of my fave scary folk tales, from my own hometown. Plus, I’ve assembled a fantastic crew of fellow readers and invite you to join us for an hour of good ole fashion scary storytelling. Shopping and autograph hunting is fun but I always appreciate when there is culture to discover at a fan con so am trying to bring some to others. Friday is much less bananas in terms of line-ups and crowds than the weekend, so it’s a great time to visit. I will also be selling and signing my books in the horror vendors section, at booth #5431. I’m only there for the Friday, So if you’re planning to get your geek on this long weekend, make sure to come that day and come find me!
We are all going to die. So, what do we do about that?
I want to talk about these things. So I started a new blog. It’s called, simply, The Death Talks.
It’s for long conversations with interesting people with something to say about death and dying, the afterlife, spirituality, grief, and more. They will often be artists, whose work touches on these themes. They will all be humans, who have agreed to share their thoughts with me. I hope you will follow me over there as we face these big questions together.
The first post is an interview with Sarah Legault. I don’t really want to explain it away too much. Except to say I’m really excited about this new project, and that there is much more to come…
Proud to be a part of this new anthology by Spectacular Optical press: Satanic Panic: Pop Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s. It comes comes out in August but your can pre-order it right now!
I’ve had the devil on the brain for quite a while now, working as a researcher/writer on an upcoming documentary about Satan. The stories about the 1980s panic were both absurd and fascinating and so when I saw the call for submissions for this book I knew I wanted to contribute. I ended up writing an essay about the PMRC and heavy metal, called The Filthy 15: When Venom and King Diamond Met the Washington Wives. When I saw the list of other contributors and their topics I was quite excited, as the book will touch on so many interesting aspects of the era – music, film, games, cartoons, TV, etc., both within America and beyond. I can’t wait to read them all.
I was recently interviewed about the project for Kim Kelly at Noisey and you can read her article here.
The day Action Bronson’s headlining performance at Yonge and Dundas Square was cancelled by the organizers of NXNE, bowing to the pressure of a petition claiming the New York rapper’s music “glorifies gang-raping and murdering women,” which attracted 40 thousand signatures, I went on the news to talk about it. It’s a privilege I have as a music journalist who is not camera-shy, and something I personally enjoy, sharing my views with the masses, helping to provide context to the headlines of the day. On this day though, it kind of sucked. Because it meant I actually had to listen to Action Bronson. In advance of the taping I reviewed the song cited in the petition, “Consensual Rape” (highlights: “Your life is cheap like a hooker in the Philippines”; “Don’t get me pissed off, fuck around rip your tits off”) along with the video for “Brunch,” which shows him angrily, repeatedly spitting “fucking bitch, fucking bitch… you scumbag bitch” while stabbing the corpse of a dead women rolled up in a carpet and stuffed in his trunk. Brutal. And so when the host at CP24 asked if I thought this whole thing was unfair, I had a difficult time keeping my answers clean enough for live TV. And since there’s never enough time to express everything in those short bits, I wanted to write about it all here.
This is a story about 40 thousand people saying no to misogyny, and winning.
It takes a lot for me to cheer for someone’s gig getting the axe because they offended someone. Like most people, I abhor censorship, which is usually propagated by uninformed folks who put the “jerk” in knee-jerk, and scapegoats certain genres unfairly. My personal tastes in music and art run towards some pretty dark stuff, and even if they didn’t I’d still think it was fundamentally wrong to decide what others should enjoy. But I do make a distinction between art that is simply violent or explicit and art that is filled with hate. (It’s why I love gory, disturbing horror films but not exploitation films.) And after thinking about this situation for a few days, I have concluded this is not about censorship at all. It’s definitely not about rap music. Or policing art. It’s bigger than that. This is a story about 40 thousand people saying no to misogyny, and winning. And what a great victory that is.
Since the petition to remove the concert from a free public space was started, by Toronto’s Erica Shiner, there has been plenty of outcry from fans of Action Bronson and others, shouting about the right to free speech. Which means they have no clue what freedom of speech actually means.
Freedom of speech is the right to say what you want and not get arrested by the state for it. And even then, it’s not absolute. In Canada, we have a Broadcast Standards Council to regulate what can be said over the public airwaves. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, subject to “reasonable limits.” The hate propaganda section of our criminal code(319) makes illegal the public incitement or willful promotion of hatred against “any identifable group” and is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years. It’s mostly used to shut down racist propaganda but also protects against intimidation, harrassment, physical force or threats of physical force motivated by hate against race, religion, ethnic origins, age, sexual orientation, disability and sex. Women have been protected by this law since October of 2014, when Bill C-13 was passed to amend the code, a very important step to recognize that hate can be gendered. Note that gender is not on that list. Because we as a society have yet to recognize that half of the population is often a target of abuse. This is partly why, in 2000, attemps to ban Eminem entry to Canada to perform at Skydome on the grounds that his music promoted violence against women failed, because that’s not at that time it was not actually a crime.) And if you still don’t believe that’s true, or a problem, This doesn’t eliminate the problem, of course. Take a look at the kind of Tweets that were lobbed at Shiner when her petition started to take off. (Warning: vile language and crimes against grammar ahead)
Reading these made me furious. More furious than watching “Brunch.” It made me realize that I dislike Action Bronson’s supporters more than the rapper himself. They have no art to hide behind. This might be an unfair assumption but I’d bet they’re not activists working to free Pussy Riot or Iranian bloggers or stop Bill C-51. They are simply filled with hate. And they have no shame in saying these things publicly. Because they live in a world where women are objects to be talked about, to be talked at, any way they choose. And when you are angry with something a woman says or does, the appropriate and perfectly acceptable response is to call her a cunt who should get beat up. I know. It’s not my first day on the internet. Don’t read the comments and all that. But why should we let this go simply because everyone does it?
This isn’t about the lyrics of any one performer. It’s about how violently some react when women dare to present an opposing viewpoint that might mess with the fun they are having at our expense.
A lot of fans protesting the petition point to the fact that the song “Consensual Rape” is four years-old. This reminds me of when I tell my mother I don’t want to visit the friend of hers I know used to beat his wife when I was a kid and she says “Oh, he’s not like that anymore.” Like that makes it OK. They say there’s no way he was even going to play it at this concert. But from what little I know of Action Bronson (whose response to the petition was “FUCK ALL YALL HATERS BLOW DICK”), seems pretty likely he would have pulled that track out to play here just to piss off his detrators, to show who is boss.
That’s what this is about. Not about the lyrics of any one performer, however offensive they may be to some. It’s about how violently some men (and some women) react when women dare to present an opposing viewpoint that might mess with the fun they are having at our expense. Because: How. Dare. We.
This is about a sea change in the public’s acceptance of garbage being thrown at women, in the name of “boys will be boys” entertainment. It has has everything to do with Gamergate, and FHRITP, and female comedians speaking out against sexist hecklers. It’s about saying enough with this shit.
Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. Go ahead, Action Bronson, put your art out into the world. I’m not going to stop you, or tell you your records should be burned or your lyrics blacked out, or kept out of stores or off the air. I’m not even going to sign a petition trying to ban you from playing in my city’s town square. Just know that you don’t get to say whatever you want about women anymore and expect them not to talk back. We are not props in the back of your trunk. We have freedom of speech too.
Note: Updated to reflect amendments to the Criminal Code made in October 20, 2014 which added gender to the list of identifiable groups protected by hate propaganda laws.
Do you need to hear some new music? Or some old music? Forever, I’ve loved sharing songs with other people. And for the past while I’ve been able to to that on a mass scale as a guest curator for Songza – the best service for streaming music based on your mood or activity. To see all my playlists, go here. And may I recommend my two favourites: Goths Just Wanna Have Fun andMoonlight Swim in Canada. Thanks for listening!