If there is one thing the current crop of indie rocker neo-stompist lumber-throwback-jacks loves to do, it’s sing about dead women. Not just any women: historical dead women, and the deader the better, whether they fling themselves off of a lighthouse or a crumbling keep or some sort of whimsical jigging apparatus. One can’t turn on one’s radiograph without hearing about burned seamstresses or strangled maidens or mangled daughters or fisherman’s wives who have thrown themselves onto the knives of jealous lovers.
These girls are all terribly, wretchedly, most tragically and palely dead. It’s awful, how dead they are. They’re in coffins and everything, from how dead they are. Their hands and lips are cold, which is unusual, because when they were alive, those were generally their warmest parts. And there is blood just everywhere, from all the dying that’s going on. Everyone is so sad, because of how dead these poor girls are.
But only one of them can be the most dead, and claim her rightful place as the Queen of Hell, where she shall receive a lavender crown and never have to wear shoes again. Who shall it be?
Song: “Holland, 1945” Songwriter: Neutral Milk Hotel How lovingly detailed are the circumstances of her demise? “The only girl I’ve ever loved/ Was born with roses in her eyes/ But then they buried her alive/ One evening, 1945/ With just her sister at her side/ And only weeks before the guns/ All came and rained on everyone.” How dead is she? It’s Anne Frank. She’s horribly dead. Famously dead. Museum dead. World War II dead. This is as dead as dead gets. Overall score: Not only merely dead; she’s really most sincerely dead.
Song: “Where The Wild Roses Grow” Songwriter: Nick Cave How lovingly detailed are the circumstances of her demise? “On the last day I took her where the wild roses grow/ And she lay on the bank, the wind light as a thief/ And I kissed her goodbye, said, “All beauty must die”/ And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth.” How dead is she? It’s ambiguous. She’s definitely dead, somehow, by the end of the song, and there is a rock involved for sure, but there’s a lot of close-reading that needs to be done here. Overall score: She’s dead, but could be deader. Is there blood? How much? Does he crush her skull? Too much is left to the listener’s imagination. We don’t even know if she’s wearing a shawl.
Song: “O Valencia!” Songwriter: The Decemberists How lovingly detailed are the circumstances of her demise? “All I heard was a shout/ Of your brother calling me out/ And you ran like a fool to my side/ Well the shot, it hit hard/ And your frame went limp in my arms/ And an oath of love was your dying cry/ So wait for the stone on your window, your window/ Wait by the car and we’ll, go we’ll go/ But O Valencia/ With your blood still warm on the ground.” How dead is she? Excellently dead. She tried to run away and keep living, like an idiot, and now her blood is everywhere and her bones are gone or all floppy or whatever. Negatively affected by The Decemberists Handicap, however, since all their songs have a significant body count. It’s almost impossible to make it out of a Decemberists song alive. Overall score: Highly dead, considering.
Song: “The Lighthouse’s Tale” Songwriter: Nickel Creek How lovingly detailed are the circumstances of her demise? “She’d had to leave us, my keeper he prayed for a safe return/ But when the night came, the weather to a raging storm had turned/ He watched her ship fight, but in vain against the wild and terrible wave/ In me so helpless, as dashed against the rock she met her end/ Then on the next day, my keeper found her washed up on the shore/ He kissed her cold face.” How dead is she? Just awfully, awfully dead. It’s tremendous. Her face is cold, and she drowned next to a bunch of rocks and a lighthouse. Classic. Overall score: The gold standard of indie death. No guns or modern weaponry, just lots and lots of drowning. Could have used a jealous lover, but that’s a minor quibble.
Song: “A Good Man is Hard To Find” Songwriter: Sufjan Stevens How lovingly detailed are the circumstances of her demise? “Once in the backyard, she was once like me/ She was once like me/ Twice when I killed them, they were once at peace/ They were once like me/ Hold to your gun, man and put off all your peace/ Put off all the beast.” How dead is she? Sufjan could stand to elaborate, but he does receive bonus points for incorporating a literary hat-tip to Flannery O’Connor, who is also a dead woman. Overall score: Somewhat dead.
Song: “What Sarah Said” Songwriter: Death Cab for Cutie How lovingly detailed are the circumstances of her demise? “There’s no comfort in the waiting room/ Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news/ And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads/ But I’m thinking of what Sarah said, that ‘Love is watching someone die’/ So who’s going to watch you die?” How dead is she? For a band that calls itself Death Cab for Cutie, their back catalog is surprisingly free of deceased women. Also, her death is awfully recent. It’s full of hospitals and nurses, with hardly a stabbed harpsichordist in sight. Overall score: Disappointing.
Song: “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” Songwriter: Fleet Foxes How lovingly detailed are the circumstances of her demise? “Wanderers this morning came by/ Where did they go/ Graceful in the morning light/ To banner fair/ To follow you softly/ In the cold mountain air/ Through the forest/ Down to your grave/ Where the birds wait/ And the tall grasses wave/ They do not know you anymore.” How dead is she? Terribly, anciently dead. What the story of her death lacks in specifics, it more than makes up for in old-timey-ness. Pilgrims wandering around frigid mountains waving banners looking for bird-encrusted graves? An indie death fit for a queen. Overall score: Solid.
Winner: Anne Frank and Neutral Milk Hotel. No girl is more dead than Anne Frank. No other girl even comes close. Oh, you drowned your best girl by the bright seaside? Watched her choke and bleed out in the dusty streets of Laredo? She’s a-moldering in the ground by the weeping willow? Let me ask you a question: is she Anne fucking goddamn dead as shit Frank? No? Not dead enough, my friend. The unquestioned champion. Fuck off with your half-dead woman.