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Musings on country gothic

Hope this doesn't appear twice. Tried to post it through Deepest Sender but it didn't seem to go through.

Country Gothic
March 5, 2011

A brief disclaimer: this is not meant to be a comprehensive view of country gothic, but the works I have personal experience with. This article has some good information on the Denver country gothic scene: http://www.denverpost.com/entertainment/ci_4100041

Country music has always been intimately connected with pain and sadness – it’s an old cliché that every country song has do with either drinking, cheating, or dying. So it is not unthinkable that some artists would seek to take the sorrow that imbues country music with so much power to the next level. Instead of writing songs about the country staples: relationship problems or outlaw stories, some musicians wrote the kind of stories that would have impressed Anne Radcliffe: tales of macabre violence and deeply spooky encounters. The best example of classic country combining with the gothic is the Louvin Brothers, who recorded some of the most haunting music ever recorded.Their album Tragic Songs of Life features a good number of murder ballads, one of the most powerful being “Knoxville Girl.” A rendition of a traditional folk song, it tells the story of a man who kills a young woman and throws her body in a river, hoping it will be swept away. This song exemplifies many gothic characteristics: the intensely violent death, the sublime encounter with nature at the river, and the violent emotions the narrator experiences.


In the late 60s and early 70s, bands like the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers started incorporating the twang of country into rock music, creating the enduring genre of country rock. Elements of the gothic soon emerged in this new music, combining the spooky lyrics of acts like the Louvin Brothers with the visceral attack of rock. It was this combination that would become the archetype of what would be termed gothic country in later years. An early example comes from The Violent Femmes, a band who had made a name for themselves playing songs brimming with angst and frustration. The Femmes took a different approach with their second album, Hallowed Ground, which many saw as lead singer Gordon Gano’s attempt to deal with his strict religious upbringing. Much like the originators of the gothic did centuries earlier, the Femmes combined traditional Catholic ideas with superstition to create a striking gothic story. The centerpiece of the album is “Country Death Song,” whose title blatantly states its intentions. The song tells the story of a farmer whose family is starving and resorts to pushing his youngest daughter down a well. The father’s guilt by the end of the song arouses the ideas of superstition that exemplify earlier gothic stories. The music itself is chaotic and dark, and Gano’s voice seems as tortured as the narrator.

The country gothic reached in apex in Denver, Colorado in the 1980s. It’s not clear why Denver was such a catalyst for this music, but there was a definite group of musicians who created most of the city’s gothic country for a number of years. The starting point for these musicians was the Denver Gentlemen, a group formed in 1988 by David Eugene Edwards and Jeffrey Paul-Norlander, Jen-Yves Tola, and Slim Cessna. Although the band’s recordings were never released until 2001, the groups members would go on to create the greatest examples of the country gothic, and they became so synonymous with the music that it became known as the Denver sound. David Eugene Edwards and Slim Cessna would be especially successful in their careers, forming the bands 16 Horsepower and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club respectively. 16 Horsepower would receive critical acclaim and significant popularity in Europe. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club continues making albums today, and maintains a presence in the indie rock community. Between these two bands, over a dozen musicians have emerged that perpetuate this haunting music. I’ll leave you with the man who was my introduction to music, Jay Munly. Also known as Munly Munly, he was a sporadic member of the Auto Club who released his first solo album in 1996. I saw him perform when I was around 11 years old, which needless to say was a harrowing experience. Munly has mastered the elements of the country gothic, and his music is filled with spooky string arrangements that make it sound like it emerges from the darkest spots of the Appalachians. Munly’s stories vary from tales of rural horror to bizarre medieval references to touching personal narratives. The song “Spill the Wine” is about a mysterious rider with a disfiguring birthmark who arrives in a town and endures all manner of trials and tribulations.

Posted by Ben Fuqua

Jordan Turner said:
March 12th, 2011 at 4:54 pm


I actually never really thought about this before but I definitely see what you are saying. This just makes me go back to the question ‘what makes something Gothic?’ Really, it seems to be different to everyone and that is what makes it what it is. Even its principles are different and there is no exact definition for it. It is as mysterious as many of its subjects are!!

Kelly Churchill said:
March 11th, 2011 at 10:56 am

Being a Colorado native, I found your post extremely interesting! I had no idea that Denver became a center for Country Gothic music – or even that the Country Gothic genre existed! I am a fan of some Violent Femmes music as well and it was fascinating to listen to some of their music knowing that they incorporated the Gothic into their lyrics and sound. What a great example of how the Gothic has evolved over time and permeated so many social venues. Thanks for the post!


Do any of you all make your own lace or crochet?

This was in January for a benefit, but I thought it would be good for fall and Halloween. Enjoy.


for you all


Huddle of graves whose moss grown stones
Nobody cares for, nobody owns.
Neglected places! O let us keep
Green the graves where our forefathers sleep!

Nell Warner Fisher
Castles in Memory

What do you do?

To put it mildly, it's a bit brisk outside, and I'm bored. I've watched the sunset, petted the kitties, and washed the dishes, but now what? How many bookworms do we have in here, and what must-read should I add to my list? To you other sewers, what useful/neat/just too darn fun project have you done lately? Crafters, same question. Web sites I should spend some time perusing?

To add my two bits:
Reading: I loved the Dies The Fire series by SM Sterling.
Sewing: Blue-jean log cabin quilts. Burlap and canvas throw rug for the bathroom.
When I was younger and in more populated areas, I'd always find a club or a party. Since moving out to the sticks, its more about things like, decorating my house, having a nice dinner, the ritual of making my yearly decorations, baking, taking my Niece trick-o-treating, or even just enjoying the hell out of the turning of the season.

So the question is, What is awesome about Halloween in the Country? How do YOU celebrate the season?


Seen this?


A Country Gothic Playlist
Posted by C.M. Wilcox on 10/06/08 • Categorized as Playlists

Silver daggers. Unrequited love. Senseless murder. Graveyards. Encounters with Death. Crazy women wandering the hills. People frozen in various stages of grief.

Gothic elements have long been an important part of bluegrass music, but they also show up from time to time in the country mainstream. With Halloween fast approaching, here’s a playlist of spooky country to put you on edge.

I’m only including one song per artist (some performers have lots more) and one artist per song (some songs are oft-recorded bluegrass standards), so there should be lots of room for you to jump in with your own suggestions. Additions from the alt-country scene, about which my knowledge is quite spotty, would also be most welcome.
C.M.'s ListCollapse )

There are more examples in the comments.

Poll #6

This is just a fun one that is neither rural nor goth, but what the hay.

Weekly Opinion Poll #6: What music are you listening to lately?

I bought the new Cure album, and I could say I was disappointed, but honestly I wasn't expecting much from it anyway. I've not thoroughly enjoyed a new Cure album in many years, and I feel like instead of trying something new, ol' Rob just keeps trying to sound like he used to. Bless him for the attempt, though.

Of late I've been very much into the new folk music, and have been completely head-over-heels for Fleet Foxes. I think it's because they sound wintry to me. I'm also enamored with M83 because they sound like an 80s movie soundtrack without trying too hard, and I keep coming back to the Marie Antoinette soundtrack even though I already owned half of the songs before purchasing it. There's something about a great collection of songs that's quite irresistible, I feel.

Anyone else heard anything good lately?