Can there be such a thing as 21st-century gothic? The gothic imagination is all about superstitions that linger on after science has seemed to explain them away...but maybe the old superstitions are done lingering. I mean, vampires are everywhere these days, but not as the unsettling visions of the irrational subconscious of Dracula. Instead they’re fantasy boyfriends in Twilight and True Blood. The old stories have lost their ability to scare us.
I was thinking about this recently when I listened to Dan Sartain’s song “Atheist Funeral,” which declares, “Don’t talk about God at my funeral!” Sartain, who hails from Alabama but spends a lot of time in San Diego, makes bluesy, swampy psychobilly music that has “Southern gothic” written all over it. Think of the Cramps or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins without all the silliness, and you’ll know what to expect. While you’re at it, think of Screamin’ Jay’s “I Put a Spell on You” without the voodoo. Could the song exist without it? Would it have the same eerie quality?
I don’t know the answer to that, but with “Atheist Funeral,” Sartain makes a case that he doesn’t need all the old mumbo-jumbo to cook up a good old-fashioned Southern gothic racket. With a bass sound this powerful and a beat this primitive, he doesn’t need to talk about God or the devil in order to sound heavy. Besides, if Sartain wants to stir up something unsettling, he can find it in the real world. Check out his song “Bohemian Grove,” about the secretive and cultlike resort open exclusively to the richest and most powerful people in the country. Now that is creepy.
- Wednesday, August 18, 2010, 8:30 p.m.
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