Monday, February 07, 2005

A Good Goth Song? No!

Those of you who know of Voltaire, an unabashed but satirical member of the Goth movement, may be surprised that I like him quite a bit. Yet this is the case. While I despise angst and moping as much as the next guy, Voltaire has a dark sensibility that is nonetheless deeply infectious and hilarious. Simply look at the cover of Almost Human: It shows Voltaire as a white-winged Lucifer with black arrows in his sides, evoking angst and/or pathos... but he holds a I Heart NY cup, suddenly making him innocuous. The juxtaposition made me openly laugh for a good thirty seconds, and it also is the proper literary choice. Voltaire mounts a broadside on the Goths who mope and whine; his dark humor evokes the best of punk like the Misfits.

The album is actually not one of Voltaire's funny albums; it is a piece from Lucifer's perspective. Now, one could say that this is simply a transparent attempt to shock and annoy, a snide attempt at literary condescenscion. One who argues this would then have to say that Milton's portrayal of an honorable yet corrupt Lucifer is a similar attempt to make a good Christian bristle; yet Milton's work is emblematic of a very deep faith. In the same vein, I thought the hilarious Dogma was not insulting to faith, but deeply respectful of it.

The portrait Voltaire portrays is one filled with pathos, not angst. It is a Lucifer who silently weeps and who continues to ask why questioning the all-powerful Father figure is deserving of being cast to the pits. It is a Lucifer who is unapologetic yet questioning, silently dreaming of Heaven while happily ruling over Hell. His attitude towards mankind is a very mixed one. He seems to think that humans conspiratorially may share his attitude of existential rage at the injustice of cosmic circumstances, yet he also clearly shows that he is jealous and contemptuous of humankind, wondering what in women and men deserves free will and platitudes. The best part of the song is these lines:

"These tears are real/I'm jealousy I'm spite and hate/to the core I'm mean/I'm nearly human./ Look at me, I'm almost a human being/I'm just like you, better than he/to hell with they/I'm almost me/I'm nearly human/Pity me I'm almost a human being."

Lucifer acknowledges that he is indeed cruel and vicious, but he seems to be asking what makes mankind so confident that they are superior to him. Both woman and angel were made by God; both are hated by some and loved by others. His very self is at war; as Lucifer, he is still a loyal and loving angel, but as Satan, he is cruelty incarnate, meaning that he himself can take no solace in his self: "I'm almost me". His rage at his creator reminds many of a rebellious child's rage at her father; both he and humankind are better than God. He is a simulacrum of humanity, a humonculus, nearly human but not quite.

In a snapshot, Voltaire has produced an unapologetic yet questioning angel, a tempter who is made that much more real by his very real commentary on the corruption of women and men and his questioning of why he is in his state, someone who is cruel and yet who we can identify with. The brilliant violin and drum work evokes the passion and speed of a tango, propelling the work from angst to pathos. The instrumentals and the even-keeled crooning makes Lucifer not an object of pity but someone with a grand yet flawed majesty, and the quiet, plaintive, yet powerful energy of the song propels the listener forward to repeat plays. Never does Lucifer become accusatory or wailing; he has an understated yet powerful rage and sadness that he stoically bears, the first rejected child.

This Lucifer is unquestionably evil, yet it is an ambiguous evil, a subtle evil. It is caused by some cosmic injustice. His comment that he is cruel and evil, like a person, like a human being, shows the point rather starkly: people, with free will, are capable of horrific things. I find the fundamentalist Christian narrative aggravating, yet I think it would not take much to modify it. Buddhists speak of demons and of Buddha minds; perhaps there may be a Lucifer mind, giving in to our primal desires and our rage and pride, and a God mind, encouraging compassion, humility, and love. Only by balancing the two can humans respond to a complex world.


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