Words by Peter Tanski
Peter Tanski grew up in the small but thriving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, fronting several bands and founding the music and literary fanzine, Exmortus. After a brief stint living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and writing for Legends Magazine, he returned to Pennsylvania where he began to work with web based music site NEPA Rocks. He currently fronts the melodic hardcore/punk band, Heart Out and hosts The Book of Very Very Bad Things PodZine.
This Month, Shadow-Plays honors the soulful chanteuse that dared to defy the Holy Roman Catholic Church as a needle with which to thread together the darkest and most dour delights.
“When you’re young, you don’t really know quite what you’re aiming at. You’re very impulsive and acting on impulse, which is very important and valuable. But you’re kind of swimming in a blind sea. When you get older, you have more of a sense of direction.” – Sinead O’Connor
In 1987 I was 11 years old and beset by the classicist, dinosaur rock preferred by the Camaro set, and the slicker than goose shit cock rock of the moment. Of course, we’ve trodden this avenue of thought together before, haven’t we? But we never really discussed “her”. The older, pallid, straight haired teen that lived up the street. The first one to play me The Smiths, The Cure, Razz Williams’ Christian Death, and a song by a raving Irish beauty with her head cropped like a Skinhead and a voice as hauntingly, achingly, nakedly beautiful and maniacally ferocious. She played me “Mandinka”, track 2, side 2, from an album titled “The Lion and The Cobra”. Her name was Sinead O’Connor. I fell simultaneously in love with this budding young woman in front of me, and the siren sporting a clean pate and the most soulful eyes I’d ever beheld.
As the weeks slipped by, the local college station played “Jerusalem” daily. I gathered my meager, misappropriated collection plate funds and mis-allotted lunch moneys and pedaled fervently to my local record store to purchase the cassette. I recall the urgent need to hide my adoration from the other boys that, in all actuality, I’d associated with out of the convenience of proximity rather than any sense of deep camaraderie. This was all mine, and I coveted its J-Card, it’s eventual warbles and hiss. It made the same sense the Cult did, The Misfits, Killing Joke, Black Sabbath, and Oingo Boingo had. This was nearer the heart of the Holy Ghost than serving Sunday mass as the dutiful altar boy my ma raised.
Although she’s not often mentioned alongside the more Goth tinged of the era, Sinead certainly carried the Post-Punk banner on her first record, with her pop-chops fully intact. As do Floridian dark romanticists Violet Silhouette, who have just unveiled their most heart stirring anthem in new single “Hired Demoniaca”, a track both nugatory and dance positive. It serves as a precursor to their upcoming E.P., slated for September. I have it on good authority that they will be hitting the road in the coming year as well, so remain vigilant and patience will be handsomely rewarded.
“I don’t do anything in order to cause trouble. It just so happens that what I do naturally causes trouble. I’m proud to be a troublemaker.“ – Sinead O’Connor
Ms. O’Connor was known to toy with genre norms, often totally subverting form and expectations. She played with Jamaican rhythms, Irish Folk balladry, and funk. In the modern age, none have been more comfortable with defying their own sound like Bloc Party. On their new E.P., “The High Life’ (BMG) the folks from the U.K. ramp up the harmony as well as the disco drums. There is a strong sense of Martin Gore worship present here that they’ve never quite explored prior to this, and I’ve been dutifully spellbound by it.
Merging the same Punk spirit that our rebel Catholic hero did, MSPAINT bubbled up from the Hardcore scene, with elements of unironic Hip Hop, Post-Punk, and At The Drive In absurdist explosiveness. This year then have graced us with the incomparable “Post-American” (Convulse Records), as well as the inspired Audio Tree session that dropped 2 weeks ago. This is intellectual Hardcore/PostHop that infects the listener with the most deadly of musical afflictions. Originality.
To dispense with the new and ring in the classics, the latest record by No Wave God/Godess battalion Bush Tetras, have released a record as fresh, rigid, dense, and downright rapturous as anything they’ve done since their 1979 formation with “They Liven My Head” (Wharf Cat Records). Track 1, “Bird On a Wire”, is a sly nod to both Leonard Cohen and Gang of Four. This opus has the courage to stray so far out of the lines that it almost confounds the senses, only to anchor said squalls with enough gnarly rock muscle to crank in a 84 Monte Carlo SS tape deck dialed to 10.
This is the exact wrong time to drop the absolutely right record, and I adore it fully.
80’s Jangle Pop patron Lloyd Cole continues his streak of career redefining moments with an 8 song collection of unself-consciously confessional “On Pain” (earMUSIC). Each song is a meditation on cold regret, post-modernist hangovers, the collapse of capitalism, the loss of the natural world and the spiritual, substance abuse, even string theory… Mr. Cole has ever been a thinking person’s songwriter, and this one is no exception. It is mournful look over the shoulder at misspent youth and a cautiously pessimistic picture of a future cast in global catastrophe. In a word, perfection.
At 2 hours and 2 minutes, apocalyptic cowpoke Michael Gira’s latest foray into the 7 headed beast that is Swans, “The Beggar” (Young God), is so biblical in scope and spirit that one could conceivably found a cult based upon it’s lyrical content alone. “Come to me. Feed on me.” Bloated? That depends upon your level of imagination. Each song serves as a movement of a greater, more psychically polluted whole. This IS the Swans, you know. In a league/genre/world all their own. I’d like to tell you it’s accessible. I’d also like to tell you we are not on the verge of global annihilation and we are not spiraling into the new dark ages, but… Swans have crafted the perfect score to the dismantling of life as we know it, and I’d like to applaud how thoroughly engaging it remains for the length of a Marvel Superhero franchise film.
If only she had heard this music. If only her loved ones had been let nearer. If only mental healthcare wasn’t still so hard to undergo. If only existence weren’t so cruel and hard at times. “If only” is a troubling and pointless game that we all regardlessly end up playing after these tragedies. I had viewed a Tik Tok from one of Sinead’s countrymen this afternoon, recounting the SNL Paper photograph incident. The only ramifications that we Yanks felt was Hollywood’s reductive Italian joke in skin, Joe Pesci, claiming he would have “smacked” her had he been present (she would have stomped the Christ out of him, sorry Joe, you toxic little fascist). In Ireland, the country finally stood up to the theocracy to legalize homosexuality and divorce, began looking into the Church’s abuses, and outlawed domestic abuse!
In closing, it would be hyperbolic cliche to call this the “end of an era,” but it is the end of one woman’s revolt against a familial body that disregards people with the disease of mental illness, a clergy that remains 100 years behind human constructs, governmental fascism, corporate tyranny, and the lack of esteem for the LGBTQ+ community, women, and children.
Long may ye reign, Sinead. I love ye still.
“To say what you feel is, to dig your own grave.” – Sinead O’Connor