For Your Pleasure 2023

Of archetypical power is the fantasy story where an age calls forth its hero. As when, high up in Nerd-Olympus, the spirits of Anne McCaffrey, Frank Frazetta & Gary Gygax drew forth & braided kaleidoscopic eldritch energies with a glowing lock of Lita Ford’s hair and conjured Barbara Blackthorne, obsidian goddess of Empress… emerging from lands around & about Philadelphia, bound together they drew Metal’s mighty sword from the Rock of Rock and set out to become nothing less than the mightiest female-led symphonic power metal band in the Universe. Onward mighty Empress! You have my blade.

NEXT: Your party enters a dark room, 12 cubits by 12 cubits. Various creatures are gathered together in an ecstatic frenzy – (if your party includes a magic-user they will recognize it as a Karaoke Ritual, Spell Level 2) Amidst the revels you notice a large book, or binder, surrounded by dripping wax candles. On page after page strange hieroglyphs are packed tightly into cascading lists, most of which elude comprehension… however some have been roughly translated… One phrase stands out, peculiarly… as you focus on it the letters themselves begin to glow. As you read them aloud they begin to burn & smoke: Crimson Glory Dragon Lady.

Back on earth, Madonnatron, not content with conjuring one of the all-time great band names, released an album uncannily worthy of it – a sweet, messy, gooey Roxy Music-y center with a hard-candy Material Girl shell. Yummo.

Sleaford Mods have been seeping into me for years now… slowly at first, a song here & there, Shakespearean swearing, John Lydon-esque bellows, yawps, and shouts. Bracing, like stinky cheese. Live — the two most slovenly men I’ve ever seen on stage, one of whom simply pressed a button and then jumped up & down for the duration of the song, the other strutting & stomping around like a preening rooster…. and went from ridiculous to riveting in a hot minute and stayed there for two straight hours – the Muse really alights on some strange perches. Brilliant.

I have been steadily drifting into goth’s glorious gloomth for years now. Seeing contemporary goth shows, in particular, remains exhilarating… She Past Away, mascara-ed gloomsters from Turkey, drew a gloriously diverse & freaky crowd, fused into a dark, intense, coiling mass of gyrating weirdetude – as an aging hipster, it’s a rejuvenating gift to be able to tap into those energies… to sink one’s teeth in, if you will – heh. (French dark-wave auteur Sydney Valette was also slated to play, but cancelled – grateful for the introduction to his intense & idiosyncratic tunes) Secret Shame was another striking discovery — icy, melodically harrowing goth from Appalachia, because of course Appalachian goth.

All this gothy-goth-ing was business as usual until the arrival, in early February of the book Phantoms: The Rise of Deathrock from the LA Punk Scene by Mikey Bean. Ordered, here, quite casually, I was stunned when it arrived. People make phone-book book jokes all the time but, legit literally, it’s the size of a phone book – an oral history of a single scene, a black Niagara of tightly packed type pouring forth in two relentless columns for 630 pages. Despairing slightly, I interred it on the shelf, where it sat. Waiting…

…for one bored rainy day, where I thought, hey if ever there was a day for a 630 page book about LA deathrock… and in I tumbled, for the next 8 months. Less a book than a portal to a lost world, it was nothing short of spellbinding. Its mass of detail utterly envelops, a hypnotic tractor beam of Knausgård-ian hyper-specificity… And what it reveals is just so fucking magical!: a charming, closely knit bohemian scene of wild, striving, broken & beautiful teenagers besotted and utterly devoted to their bat-shit art. Let 45 Grave or Red Wedding stand in for band after singular band, emerging, mating, molting, mutating. Nothing prepared me, however, for the books biggest shock – the titanic talent, ambitions, & ultimate tragedy of Rozz Williams & Christian Death.

He wasn’t necessarily obscure – Christian Death’s debut Only Theatre of Pain has long enjoyed cult status among goths and punkers alike. For many reasons too boring to recount the story gets very messy from there, serving largely to completely occlude, at least for me, the totally of William’s talent, which turns out to be totally total. Turns out, for instance, that Christian Death’s follow-up record Catastrophe Ballet is a complete & total masterpiece – without question, and by some distance, the finest American goth record of all time; genuinely approaching the summit of art rock, nudging shoulders with For Your Pleasure or Diamond Dogs. Astonishing and the tip of an iceberg.

Islands In The Sky was fully 100% channeled from my guides to remind me even when everything seems shitty in the world, and it doesn’t seem fair to be happy about anything, the Earth and the universe are still really amazing.” Bonnie Bloomgarden, Death Valley Girls. Thank you for the best song you will ever write, Bonnie Bloomgarden, and for hugging me when you sang it.

There is a wonderful category of bands that you come to realize will be with you your whole life; ebbing & flowing, sure — but in you, and of you, forever. When art fuses to your soul, or something. It’s a distinct exhilaration, then, when something recaptures that original white-hot ardor that made you fall for them in the first place. Lazy Jane might be Belle & Sebastian’s best song; this BBC radio performance I finally hunted down this year is, without a doubt, for me, their finest recorded moment… its absolutely astonishing rave-up/coda collapsing the span between ’93 and ’23 into a white-hot moment of timeless euphoria. Like a temporal whip-it, or something. Happy new year. Rock & Roll is magic.