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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jim Morrison, New Mexico, The Beautiful Gallows, and the Gothic Connection

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- When one thinks of Gothic music—that odd mixture of atmosphere and rebellion, the mind may wander to Goth music architects, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, or the Cure—during the post punk days in England.

Jim Morrison

Or maybe later incantations such as Cocteau Twins—in Scotland—and 45 Grave in the United States. Or you may think of the recent industrial Gothic sounds of Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson. If you were to go back even further in music history, you’d wind up with two groups—The Velvet Underground and The Doors.

But rarely does one think of New Mexico when thinking of Gothic music.

Yet, the southwestern state has a definite place in Goth music history, a geographical point of influence for the music and lyrics of the Godfather of Goth, Jim Morrison.

It was in New Mexico that Jim Morrison—of the rock group, The Doors—lived twice: during his early and late childhood years, before moving to California then back to Florida, and finally to California (Morrison’s father was in the military), where he formed The Doors.

Jim Morrison lying on stage during one of his dramatic performances

What is clearly known is that Morrison was influenced by the culture of New Mexico, a state steeped in mystery and beauty; even Morrison’s personal look—concha belts, western-inspired shirts, and Frye cowboy boots— draw from the region. And his moniker, “The Lizard King,” conjures up the desert southwest.

Music journalist, Jim Reynalds, believes that Gothic music had its origins in Morrison’s deep voice and dark sensibilities. Writer, Chris Ott, in this book, “Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures,” conveys that Joy Division’s singer, Ian Curtis, was fan of Morrison, following his lead in vocal style and demeanor.

In the book, “No One Gets Out Alive,” writer, Jerry Hopkins, alludes that Jim Morrison received much of his visual and lyrical content from New Mexico: be it an automobile accident that Jim saw as a boy living in Albuquerque, or from a sledding accident his sister had in the Sandia Mountains (east of Albuquerque) where Jim experienced the pain and misfortune in others.

Concerning the automobile accident Morrison saw in New Mexico, writer, Stephen Davis, states, “Fascinated by the bloody spectacle, Jimmy tried to get out of the car to follow his father, but his mother held him back…Jimmy shuddered and strained to get a last look at the carnage…[Jim] never forgot the dying Indians. ‘It was the first time I discovered death,’ he recounted many years later…”

What is it about New Mexico that influenced the opaque and atmospheric sounds that helped shape the music and lyrics of Morrison, and through his influence, Goth music? Or, for that matter, what in New Mexico elicits melancholy feelings and otherworld attitudes that formed Morrison’s childhood memories?

For one, New Mexico is a confluence of ancient cultures, a hybrid of myth and history: Native American, Hispano, and Anglo. And this convergence brings with it a basket of religious thought, philosophical musing and beliefs, some otherworldly and enigmatic.

Penitentes in New Mexico

Take for example the various Pueblo Indian religious rites, or the Matachines ceremonies of the Hispano culture, both celebrating the union of earth and spirit, the physical and metaphysical. Or maybe the Catholic Penitente traditions that meld suffering with religious epiphany, piety and sin.

In a way, mood, setting, faith, melancholy, myth and ambiance are woven into the fabric of New Mexico—elements Jim Morrison—and Goth music—represent; a type of poetry of culture that melds into expressions of creativity.

Second, the New Mexico landscape evokes an exchange of shadow and light (many artist consider New Mexico’s light unlike any in the world), illuminating ancient ruins and modern cities, mountains, rock formations, valleys and plains; atmosphere in its deepest form.

Dancers at Zuni Pueblo

And all this landscape becomes etched in the mind, helping shape and craft contrasts in thought and imagery, a characteristic of Morrison’s—and Goth—music.

As an example, think of the ethereal and beautiful atmosphere found in Gothic music intermixed with a dirge or driving beat: beauty meets the beast; sublimity meets the repulsive; the heavens greet the earth; the saint meets the sinner.

New Mexico breeds these temperaments, a land ripe for inventiveness, inspiration, thought, and expression.

So it’s no wonder that a new Christian band, The Beautiful Gallows, has emerged from the state. Debuting the song, “To The End,” the gothic connection continues in the Land of Enchantment (the motto of New Mexico).

The words of “To The End,” mostly taken directly from Scripture, allude to life and death, common themes in Gothic music:

Now
The hour had come
For Him to depart
Having loved His own

This
The Holy Lamb of God
Who takes away our sin
And grants eternal peace

Hallowed be Thy name
Hallowed by Thy name

Chorus: You have loved me to the end (3x)

Now
May Your kingdom come
May Your will be done
On earth as in heaven

This
The Righteous Prince of Peace
Is to us the end and a
New beginning

Hallowed be Thy name
Hallowed be Thy name

Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Studio 150—I talked with The Beautiful Gallows members. I ask, guitarist, Spec, where the stimulus for the song came from. He said, “The inspiration of the song—first and foremost—came from Scripture. But beyond that, the song called for a combination of angst and ambiance. I wanted to communicate Christ’s looming death with power and fear.”

Author, Cormac McCarthy

Continuing, Spec said, “The influence for the words were the Biblical text themselves, but also the mood of the New Mexican culture: the Southwestern gothic novels of New Mexico resident, Cormac McCarthy, particularly ‘The Crossing’ and ‘The Road.’ McCarthy is able to infuse biblical motifs with philosophical and theological slants. Another influence would be the imagery of Georgia O’Keeffe’s New Mexico paintings: barren landscape, desert plateaus, skulls and sky.”

Drummer, Tobias, used a combination of early 70’s rock and post-punk dirge-like drumming for his tracks, stating, “I wanted to communicate darkness and authority, a combination of tom-tom drum work with an in-your-face rock chorus riff. The song is deep, especially the spiritual message, so I wanted the drums to reflect that.”

Bassist, Loyal, who wrote the pre-chorus riff, stated that the song reminded him of the text in Song of Solomon, “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death.”

“Think of that,” he continued. “Love and death go together. It was through Christ’s death that love had its greatest influence.”

An interesting side note of The Beautiful Gallows is that each member had tenures with other Christian bands prior to forming The Beautiful Gallows, and has since assumed stage names. So a purposeful anonymity surrounds the band.

When asked about this, Spec stated, “We want the music to speak for itself, not the bands we were in the past, but the creative future. And on another note, we don’t want the band to be about us, but about the God that inspires us.”

I asked them where the name, The Beautiful Gallows, came from and keyboardist, Bell, explained, “I came up with it. It is quite fitting, really. When one thinks of the gallows, the mind wanders to the southwestern part of the United States: Tombstone, AZ and the like—a place where criminals found their end.

“But for us, the name has deeper meaning. Gallows came to prominence after the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, abolished the crucifixion—in memory of Christ. So to a certain extent, the gallows are a reminder that the ultimate death—Christ on the cross—was marked and came to an end. Christ paid for it all.”

I asked if the band would ever tour and Spec stated fairly directly, “Most likely you’ll never see a Beautiful Gallows tour. You’ll need to catch the music on-line.”

Loyal—who has an art degree—states, “Our artistic pursuits are important to the band, so you’ll usually find the music associated with aural imagery. This may never translate to a live tour.”

I asked if Goth was a good description of the music of The Beautiful Gallows.

Bell said, “In a way, no; but on the other hand, yes. ‘No’ in the sense that we don’t prescribe to the whole Goth lifestyle mindset, focusing in on darkness, death, and the like. We prefer life. But, ’yes,’ in that—as Christians—we understand that death and life go hand in hand: Christ died so we might live; Christians die to self to live for Christ; and ultimately, we die to eternal glory. And ‘To The End’ does have a very heavy, melancholy sound, that’s for sure.”

Loyal then jumps in: “I think the Goth comparison is more in the mood of the songs—not the status of our worldview, the dark tranquility of the songs are coming to terms with sorrow, pain, and the anticipation for joy.”

Spec states, “Traditional Goth music was rebellion for rebellion’s sake; rebellion without a cause, if you will. The Beautiful Gallows have a cause to our rebellion: Christ. We are rebels with a cause.”

According to one popular definition of Goth rock, the music “typically deals with dark themes addressed through lyrics and the music’s atmosphere… exhibit[ing] romanticism, morbidity, religious symbolism and supernatural mysticism.”

When one listen’s to The Beautiful Gallows song, “To The End,” many of these qualities are manifest. However, after speaking to members of the band, it’s clear that “Goth” isn’t the best description for the music; maybe “Cathedral Rock,” where an infusion of light and hope penetrates the darkness and transport the listener towards the heavens?

Artist, Georgia O'Keeffe with one of her paintings at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

But what is clear is that The Beautiful Gallows stand firmly in the New Mexico region’s culture—be it the history of Jim Morrison’s musical (not lifestyle) influence, the novels of Cormac McCarthy, the art of Georgia O’Keeffe, or the light and shadow dichotomy of a region steeped in the ancient ways of antiquity, tradition, geography, art, and lore—the fact is that New Mexico helps breeds the art.

And most importantly The Beautiful Gallows members are God-fearing men, wanting less to reflect death, but more about pointing people to life. They do this through soundscapes made to reflect an authentic Christian worldview, one full of creativity and hope; one full of Christ, which includes His death and resurrection.

To listen to The Beautiful Gallows first release, “To The End,” click here: https://soundcloud.com/im-an-idiot

* For journalistic transparency, it must be noted that I had a small hand in helping the song along, doing some vocal work.


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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.
Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, minister, and family man. You may contact him at www.briannixon.com

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