Thursday, May 31, 2007

Elegy For Eldritch

The night of March 6th, 2006 I went to The Sisters of Mercy concert at Webster Hall in NYC. I hadn’t seen the band in nearly fifteen years, back when I was a young goth chick who worshipped at the altar of lead singer Andrew Eldritch. The show was unbelievably awful, a sort of “name that tune” beneath heavy distortion and smoke machines (“Holy shit! Did they just play ‘Anaconda’?”), with the only-man-that-mattered Eldritch crooning lyrics like faking orgasms, mouthing words that meant the world to him twenty years ago but resonated now like mindless feedback to a man nearing fifty.

For over two decades Andrew Eldritch has been a big fish in a small pond, forever yearning to move beyond the goth scene (see “touring with Public Enemy”). His playful irony has always hinged on a nasty bitterness, manifesting ultimately in a condescension and disdain for his fans unparalleled by any other musical artist I can think of. (It’s hard to imagine Nick Cave – a Renaissance man restlessly testing his talents – living off Birthday Party songs and mutilating “The Mercy Seat” live in a blatant “Fuck you!” to his followers.) The reflexive cheering for two encores at the end of Eldritch’s phoned-in set seemed more a reflection of the sadomasochistic relationship between the singer and his slavish fans than an expression of their adulation. (I couldn’t help but think a round of raucous booing might have earned the audience just enough respect in Eldritch’s eyes to merit the soul-bearing brilliance of a song like “Nine While Nine”.)

If an exit poll had been conducted, a general consensus would have emerged regarding the absolute atrociousness of the concert, though one club kid, all eyeliner and black lipstick, hit the nail on the head when she said with a shrug, “Yeah, but you don’t come for the show.” Duh! Reunion tours are a way for the audience to reconnect with its past, with the community that “raised” you. It really wasn’t about The Sisters of Mercy and no one recognizing “On The Wire” until the chorus. It was about leafing through memories like old photo books. Viewing a moment in time from a lifetime away. Resurrecting the past to make it sound relevant and new was an exercise in futility, akin to remaking “Temple of Love” over and over again.

Unfortunately, Andrew Eldritch learned long ago how to exploit “for fun and profit” this universal need for a touchstone, knew that The Sisters of Mercy and likeminded bands were the glue binding a community bigger than they. Yet despite all this, I’m still grateful to The Sisters who filled my youth with odes to unrequited love and transcendental one-night-stands. Eldritch’s lyrics in fact shaped my own writing – and also the heart of this idealistic rebel who gleefully screamed the words to “First and Last and Always” over those screeching guitars.

Edited version at:,wissot,72573,22.html

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