Category Archives: Popular Culture
In a previous blog, I briefly overviewed the influence that the Catalonian surrealist artist Salvador Dali had made on psychology (based on a couple of articles I had published about him earlier in my academic career – see ‘Further reading’ below). In that blog I briefly mentioned some of the strange aspects in his life relating to his sexuality and sexual desires but did not go into any details. In this article, I delve a little deeper into Dali’s sexual psychology and concentrate on some of the more extreme aspects of his life. I’m certainly not the first person to do this given that there are various online articles covering similar ground such as ‘Five sadistic and depraved secrets of Salvador Dali’, ‘10 depraved secrets of Salvador Dali’, and ‘17 unbelievably weird stories most people don’t know about Salvador Dali’. In a nutshell (and if you believe everything you read about him), Dali didn’t like sexual intercourse, was ‘addicted to masturbation’, was a sexual voyeur, was obsessed by buttocks, had an interest in necrophilia, was sexually attracted to Adolf Hitler and hermaphrodites, and was a candaulist (i.e., he liked to watch his wife have sex with other men).
The first observation to make concerning Dali is that he had little interest in sexual intercourse. All Dali’s biographers make reference to this because this was something that Dali admitted himself (for instance in his book The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali). In Ian Gibson’s (1998) biography The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali, it notes that Dali had been fixated on his unusually complex sexuality since his teenage years. Dali wrote that:
”For a long time I experienced the misery of believing I was impotent…Naked, and comparing myself to my schoolfriends, I discovered that my penis was small, pitiful and soft. I can recall a pornographic novel whose Don Juan machine-gunned female genitals with ferocious glee, saying that he enjoyed hearing women creak like watermelons. I convinced myself that I would never be able to make a woman creak like a watermelon”.
It was in his teenage years that Dali acquainted himself with the pleasures of masturbation even though he had a fear that it would cause homosexuality, impotence, and madness. However, sexual self-gratification became his primary (and many biographers allege only) sexual activity he engaged in throughout his life, often in front of a mirror. It’s also been noted by many authors that Dali “associated sex with decay” and that the roots of this association were due to his father’s strange form of sex education (such as being shown sexually explicit photographs of individuals with advanced, untreated sexually transmitted infections that Dali described as “the color of hell”). After viewing the pictures of grotesque genitalia, Dali started to associate sexual activity with decay and putrefaction (which came to the fore in his paintings). In his 1942 autobiography (The Secret Life of Salvador Dali) he even claimed that he became interested in necrophilia but was then later “cured” of it (but to what level his interest spanned is unknown). Dali had many obsessions including a deep fascination of buttocks (both men’s and women’s) as well as many phobias including female genitalia and a fear of castration (and appears to be the basis of his infamous painting The Great Masturbator). As a 2014 article by Jackie Fuchs noted:
“These fears and obsessions – along with a lifelong fascination with ants – became recurrent motifs in his paintings. In ‘The Great Masturbator’, Dali’s first significant work, a woman believed to be Dali’s future wife Gala rises out of a downward-facing head, which is suspended over a locust swarming with ants. The positioning of the woman’s mouth next to a thinly clad male crotch suggests fellatio, while the trickle of blood on the male figure’s thighs reflects Dali’s castration anxiety (see below)”.
A 2011 online article in Living in Philistia by Joshua White makes other allegations about Dali’s early childhood saying that he might have been sexually abused by one of his schoolteachers and that he might have had an incestuous relationship with his sister (although I’ve found little evidence of these allegations):
“[Dali] later pinned his ‘impotence’ on his father, as well as his mother, and naturally Dali went on to fantasise of sodomising his dying father. This also might explain the direct kind of gynophobia Dali later developed. It has been suggested that he was molested by a teacher who used to have Dali sit on his lap while he stroked him. That would explain the artist’s lifelong hatred of being touched. The subject of twelve of his early paintings was Dali’s sister Ana Maria, a number of which tellingly depict her from the rear, which has led some to conclude that the relationship between them may have been incestuous. The sex life of Salvador Dali was not a common one to say the least”.
An online article by Mateo Sol also alluded to Dali’s poor relationship with his parents. On one occasion Dali exhibited an artwork in which he wrote “Sometimes, I spit for fun on my mother’s portrait.” His father asked him to publicly apologise but Dali declined to do so. Following this incident, Dali sent his father a condom in the post (into which he had added his own semen) with a short note that simply read: “This is all I owe you”.
Dali’s wife and muse Gala (born in Russia as Helena Diakanoff Devulina) appears to have dominated Dali from their first meeting in 1929 (figuratively, psychologically, and arguably sexually given that almost no physical intimacy took place between Dali and Gala). It’s also generally agreed among scholars that Dali was a virgin when he married Gala (at least heterosexually) and they remained married for 53 years until Gala’s death. Gala was ten years older than Dali and had many sexual conquests before they married. Gala might perhaps best be described as a ‘swinger’, and at the time she met Dali was married to Paul Éluard (the poet) who both adhered to the sexual philosophy of ‘free love’.
Many biographers describe Gala as a highly-sexed nymphomaniac. Éluard and Gala were constantly sexually unfaithful to each other and (according to some accounts) encouraged each other’s infidelity. Gibson’s biography recounted Dali and Gala’s ‘mutual degradation’ of each other and Dali became some who tolerated all her extra-marital lovers. According to Zuzanna Stranska in a 2017 article in the Daily Art Magazine, Dali bought Gala a castle in Púbol (Girona) in 1968, but Dali was not allowed to visit without Gala’s written permission (and described in Joshua White’s article as Gala’s “fuck-nest” rather than a ‘love-nest’). It was here that Gala entertained her younger lovers.
It’s also been claimed that Dali had a homosexual relationship with poet Federico García Lorca (but has never been verified). It’s been alleged by a number of authors that Lorca twice tried to seduce Dali (and Dali said “Lorca tried to screw me twice”). Lorca was shocked when Dali married Gala because (according to a 2009 paper in the PsyArt Journal by Zoltán Kováry) “he was convinced that the painter had erection only with a finger in his anus”. Although Dali claims never to have had a relationship with Lorca, it appears they did have one sexual liaison because Dali wrote that: “I tried sex once with a woman and it was Gala. It was overrated. I tried sex once with a man and that man was the famous juggler Frederico Garcia Lorca. It was very painful”. Dali also wrote that:
“Deep down I felt that [Lorca] was a great poet and that I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali’s asshole. He eventually bagged a young girl, and she replaced me in the sacrifice. Failing to get me to put my ass at his disposal, he swore that the girl’s sacrifice was matched by his own: it was the first time he had ever slept with a woman”.
According to the article by Joshua White, Dali was arguably more homosexual than heterosexual. He claimed that:
“[Dali] developed a penchant for persuading youths to drop their trousers and masturbate as he watched. He hoarded thousands of photos with many different lads. There has been a long speculation over the exact sexuality of the exhibitionist painter. We might be able to trace the misogynistic, or more accurately gynophobic, tendencies of Dalinian art down to Dali’s fear of a particular part of the female anatomy. To put it more bluntly, Salvador Dalí was a self-professed worshiper of the female posterior. The extent of this obsession drew the concern of his fellow Surrealists, he denied he was coprophagic one minute and in the next instance would state ‘true love would be to eat one’s partner’s excrement.’ Perhaps we should keep in mind that the Catalonians are a very scatological people, for it is custom before eating to exclaim “Eat well, shit hard.” The specific preference he had was for hermaphrodites, which he never encountered and only ever fantasised about. Not masculine or feminine, androgyne was the order of the day”.
Consequently, masturbation became Dali’s only physical sexual activity throughout his life. While this might be psychologically devastating for most people, his sexual psyche, tortured sexuality, and sexual inadequacy are critical to understanding the great art he produced. It certainly appears he had a great fascination with masturbation. For instance, Brian Sewell, the British art historian, claimed that Dali once asked him strip naked, lie down in the foetal position, and masturbate in front of a sculpture of Christ. Dali’s voyeuristic tendencies have also documented by others, most notably the alleged weekly orgies that Dali used to host which not only catered for Dali’s love of voyeurism but also his candaulism (where he would enjoy other men having sex with his wife). The most infamous story was told by American singer and actress Cher who arrived at Dali’s apartment mid-orgy. She picked up “a beautiful, painted rubber fish. Just fabulous. It has this little remote-control handset, and I’m playing with it, and the tail is going back and forth, and I’m thinking it’s a child’s toy. So I said to Salvador: ‘This is really funny.’ And he said: ‘It’s wonderful when you place it on your clitoris’”.
It has also been claimed that Dali had a perverse obsession with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Most individuals in the surrealist movement were politically left-wing but Dali was expelled for being a Nazi sympathiser (an allegation that Dali strenuously denied). Whether he was a Nazi sympathiser or not, Dali definitely painted a number of artworks featuring the ‘great dictator’ including The Enigma of Hitler and Hitler Masturbating. In his book (The Unspeakable Confessions) Dali also said that he “often dreamed of Hitler as a woman” and that Hitler “turned [him] on in the highest…His fat back, especially when I saw him appear in the uniform with the Sam Browne belt and shoulder straps that tightly held in his flesh, aroused in me a delicious gustatory thrill originating in the mouth and affording me a Wagnerian ecstasy”. An online article by Stephan Roget notes that there’s a good chance that Dali said such things for shock value, but also notes that Dali didn’t appear to have problems with what the Fuhrer was doing in Nazi Germany.
Most Dali scholars believe he was a sexual voyeur and derived great sexual arousal from watching other people (including his wife) have sex. According to the article by Jackie Fuchs:
“[Dali] was attracted to androgynous bodies – women with small breasts and men having feminine lines. Dali wrote of his ‘penetrating voyeur experiences’ during childhood and even titled one of his early paintings ‘Voyeur’.”
Joshua White also noted that:
“Originally [Dali’s] art served as a vent for the eccentricities, fetishes and obsessions that lurked beneath the surface of a shy Catalonian boy. But as he crafted a persona through which he could express these same things with almost the same level of impunity, then the standard of his art went into a steep decline in his later years. The sexual ambiguity, explicit paraphilia and vivid androgyny found so exuberant in Dalinian artwork…The 20th Century leitmotifs of sex and paranoia are conjoined twins in Dali’s work…We find some of the worst nightmares of the 20th Century conjured up by the more sinister works he churned out, while the juxtaposition with sex introduces a sadomasochistic element into the situations portrayed”
Perhaps the best (or worst, depending upon your viewpoint) eye-opener concerning Dali’s alleged sex life was a book first published in 2000 by former dancer and (struggling) actor Carlos Lozano entitled Sex, Surrealism, Dali and Me (and translated into English by Clifford Thurlow; a reprinting of the book in 2004 with new material was published by Thurlow as The Sex Life of Salvador Dali: The Memoirs of Carlos Lozano). Given that Dali had been dead over a decade by the time this book was published it’s hard for any of the stories to be substantiated (particularly as Lozano died shortly after the book was published). After starting out as one of Dali’s nude models, Lozano claimed he became Dali’s young lover and was Dali’s main confidante in the last two decades of his life. Among the book’s revelations were that Dali: (i) orchestrated sex games for his celebrity guests (including the King of Spain, the artist Marcel Duchamp, actor Yul Brynner, and Prince Dado Ruspoli), (ii) was obsessed with humiliating friends for his own amusement and sexual gratification (such as forcing them to strip and then getting them to engage in sexual acts of his choosing) while he masturbated from the side lines, and (iii) forced a famous Hollywood actress to strip naked and crawl through a plastic ‘uterus’ to allow her to re-experience birth.
It is clear from reading about Dali’s various (s)exploits that his sexual behaviour and sexuality were extreme but that much of his early great art derived from his strange sexual psyche. While some of the alleged sexual behaviours may have been embellished over the years, all of the allegations appear to have some truth in them. Many may argue that Dali’s sex life (or absence of it) was as surreal as his paintings, but none of this takes away from the fact that his art is awe-inspiring to many (myself included).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Brennan, A. (2016). 11 seriously strange things you didn’t know about Salvador Dali. GQ, May 11. Located at: https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/salvador-dali-facts
Dali, S. (1942). The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. Dial Press.
Dali, S. (1976). The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali. New York: W.H. Allen.
Fuchs, J. (2014). 10 depraved secrets of Salvador Dali. Listverse, May 26. Located at: http://listverse.com/2014/05/26/10-depraved-secrets-of-salvador-dali/
Gibson, I. (1998). The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali. New York: WW Norton & Company.
Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Salvador Dali and psychology. BPS History and Philosophy Newsletter, 9, 14-17.
Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Salvador Dali, surrealism and psychology. Psychology PAG Quarterly, 4, 15-17.
Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Heroes: Salvador Dali. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 240.
Kovary, Z. (2009). The enigma of desire: Salvador Dalí and the conquest of the irrational. PsyArt Journal, June 29. Located at: http://www.psyartjournal.com/article/show/kovry-the_enigma_of_desire_salvador_dal_and_th
Lopez, A. I. (2016). Five sadistic and depraved secrets of Salvador Dalí. Cultura Colectivia, August 22. Located at: https://culturacolectiva.com/design/the-sadistic-and-depraved-salvador-dali-secrets/
Maclean, A. (2016). Your ultimate guide to Salvador Dali. Dazed, September 27. Located at: http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/32985/1/your-ultimate-guide-to-salvador-dali
Roget, S. (no date). 17 unbelievably weird stories most people don’t know about Salvador Dali. Ranker. Located at: https://www.ranker.com/list/crazy-salvador-dali-facts/stephanroget
Stranska, Z. (2017). Dali and Gala – the love story. Daily Art Magazine, February 14. Located at: http://www.dailyartmagazine.com/dali-gala-great-love-story/
Sol, M. (2013). 7 eccentric things you didn’t know about Salvador Dali. Loner Wolf. Located at: https://lonerwolf.com/salvador-dali/
Thorpe, V. (2000). Hollywood, sex and the surrealist. The Guardian, February 20. Located at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2000/feb/20/vanessathorpe.theobserver
Thurlow, C. (2004). The Sex Life of Salvador Dali: The Memoirs of Carlos Lozano. Tethered Camel Publishing.
White, J. (2011). The divine anus of Salvador Dali. Living in Philistia, August 5. Located at: http://livinginphilistia.blogspot.com/2011/08/divine-anus-of-salvador-dali.html
Throughout my career I’ve carried out quite a lot of research into the marketing and advertising of gambling and the way in which some gambling operators use psychology to exploit our senses to maximize profit. Connected to this, I’ve also published a number of papers that have examined the role of sound (and particularly music) can influence the way in which individuals gamble (see my previous blog on this and ‘Further reading’ below).
The reason I mention this was that I recently came across an online article by Fast Company entitled ‘The 10 most addictive sounds in the world’ based on some market research carried out by Martin Lindstrom, the Danish ‘neuromarketeer’, author of the book Buyology – Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (I do love a good pun). Lindstrom is known for using neuroscientific techniques to help commercial operators better understand their clientele. One of his collaborations was with Elias Arts (a sound and music design company) who joined forces to examine the world’s most ‘addictive sounds’ in what an article in The Village Voice dubbed a “neuromarketing experiment”.
Obviously, my interest was piqued when I saw the use of the word ‘addictive’ but their working definition of ‘addictive’ had nothing to do with individuals being addicted to sounds but simply referred to an individual’s response to specific sounds. (Even with this explanation, I still can’t see why the word ‘addictive’ was used but its’ use probably guarantees more people – like myself – will want to read about the study). Lindstrom told the media that:
“We have all those top 10s of everything, but most top 10s are based on the visual sense. What we realized in another study is the most prominent sense we have [when we see a commercial] is not the sense of sight or smell, but the sense of sound”.
As far as I can tell, the study Lindstrom carried out has not been formally published in a peer reviewed journal (although he has published academic papers). The study was described in the international media as involving 50 participants and the research team monitored their brainwave, pupil, and facial muscle activity while listening to 50 different everyday sounds (both man-made ‘branded’ sounds and those ‘non-branded’ sounds that occur naturally). Lindstrom concluded that the most ‘addictive sounds’ weren’t necessarily the non-branded sounds of nature because some of the commercial man-made branded sounds (described as “beeps, jingles and ditties”) were more ‘addictive’ than a number of familiar sounds found in everyday life.
Overall, sound of a baby giggling was ranked as the most ‘addictive sound’ (although I’ve not seen the specific methodology employed to ascertain how being the top ‘addictive sound’ was actually assessed. Apparently Lindstrom examined the “dimension of the responses” and the “contrast and balance of all three [brainwave, pupil and muscle] factors” – although he did admit that such factors can lead to both positive and negative reactions). The second and third spots were Intel’s computer startup chime and the sound of a vibrating mobile phone. Other top non-branded sounds were the sound of a sizzling steak and the lighting of a cigarette being inhaled. Lindstrom claimed that the participants “weren’t responding to the structures of the sounds, but what they mean in a greater social context”. In relation to what makes a sound ‘addictive’, Lindstrom did at least make one reference to a classic sign of addiction (i.e., craving):
“It’s not the sound itself, but the consequence of the sound. A laughing (or crying) baby elicits a maternal protection mechanism, a buzzing cell phone prompts a pick-up, a sizzling steak means a solid meal is on the way. For advertisers and consumers, the research indicates a whole new battleground of multi-sensory advertising. Sometimes the sound from one category generates a craving in another category. For example, given the links between tobacco and beverages, the sound of a cigarette being lit could be used in an ad for alcohol. Although sound is more intuitive for people, the field is still quite young. It will be a long time before it will be so prominent”.
In a story for ABC News, other academics were asked for their thoughts on Lindstrom’s study. One American ‘auditory neuroscientist, Professor Barbara Shinn-Cunningham (actually Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University) said that:
“Although the sounds identified by the study are extremely meaningful, with the exception of the giggling baby, most are not inherently addictive. They’re identifiable. They brain responds to repetition. Our brains are good at picking out patterns that repeat. We’ve evolved to do that. If I chose an arbitrary sound, as long as it was clear and distinctive, and then played it 50 times a day for the next five years (as many of the branded sounds have been), it would become attention-grabbing. I don’t think [the sounds on the list are] so much addictive because of their acoustic properties, but because of their ubiquity. There is neurophysiological evidence showing that brain is hardwired to notice certain kinds of sounds. For example, the abrupt, jarring sound of a slamming door could prompt cells in a person’s brain stem to fire even before that person was conscious of it. For early humans, that kind of sound could have meant it’s time to run for the hills. [Also] studies have demonstrated the existence of a so-called ‘cocktail party effect’. At a party, if you hear your name in the background, even if you’re not paying attention, that’s something that will draw your attention involuntarily. Your brain is so exposed to your name and it’s tremendously important to you, so it encodes that so you respond to it”
According to Lindstrom’s research, the most ‘addictive sounds’ in the world (although they are arguably US-centric to say the least) are: (1) baby giggle, (2) Intel chime, (3) vibrating phone, (4) ATM/cash register, (5) National Geographic theme tune, (6) MTV theme tune, (7) T-Mobile ringtone, (8) McDonald’s jingle, (9) ‘Star Spangled Banner’ (tune), and (10) State Farm jingle.
The Fast Company article also noted that:
“Sound is immensely powerful. And yet 83% of all the advertising communication we’re exposed to daily (bearing in mind that we will see two million TV commercials in a single lifetime) focuses, almost exclusively, on the sense of sight. That leaves just 17% for the remaining four senses. Think about how much we rely on sound. It confirms a connection when dialing or texting on cell phones and alerts us to emergencies. When the sound was removed from slot machines in Las Vegas, revenue fell by 24%. Experiments undertaken in restaurants show that when slow music (slower than the rhythm of a heartbeat) is played, we eat slower–and we eat more!”.
These types of findings suggest that ‘audio branding’ is likely to be an increasing topic of academic research given that every company wants an edge in selling their product. While I am totally unconvinced that the word ‘addictive’ should be used in this type of research, that’s not to say that sound doesn’t have an influence in the development of addictive behaviour more generally. It looks like a case of watch (or should that be listen?) to this space.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bark Soho (2016). 3 of the most addictive sounds in the world. October 16. Located at: http://www.barksoho.co.uk/blog/3-of-the-most-addictive-sounds-in-the-world/
Dixon, L., Trigg, R. & Griffiths, M. (2007). An empirical investigation of music and gambling behaviour. International Gambling Studies, 7, (3), 315-326.
Edroso, R. (2010). “Most addictive” sounds mostly jingles, machine noises. The Village Voice, February 22. located at: https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/02/22/most-addictive-sounds-mostly-jingles-machine-noises/
Fast Company (2010). The 10 most addictive sounds in the world. February 22. Located at: https://www.fastcompany.com/1555211/10-most-addictive-sounds-world
Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed), Gambling: Who wins? Who loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.
Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2005). The psychology of music in gambling environments: an observational research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13.
Heussner, K.M. (2010). The world’s 10 most addictive sounds. ABC News, February 24. Located at: https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/worlds-10-addictive-sounds/story?id=9923506
Lindstrom, M. (2008). Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. New York: Doubleday
Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics re-visited. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.
Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.
Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.
In a previous blog on examining all Adam Ant’s songs about sexual paraphilias, I noted that Soft Cell are probably the only other recording artists who come close to talking about the seedier side of sex. They are also artists that (like one of my other favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle) have never been afraid to sing about taboo topics including prostitution (‘Secret Life’, A Divided Soul’), a housewife’s sexual fantasy about the paper boy (‘Kitchen Sink Drama’), pure hedonism (‘Sensation Nation’), alternative therapies such as colonic irrigation, meditation, and crystal therapy (‘Whatever It Takes’), murder (‘The Best Way To Kill’, ‘Meet Murder My Angel’), suicide (‘Darker Times’, ‘Frustration’ and ‘Down In The Subway’ – “Jump on that train track and die”), incest (‘I Am 16’), psychopathic killers (‘Martin’ based on the story of a serial killer in a film of the same name), shopaholism (‘Whatever It Takes’), anorexia nervosa (‘Excretory Eat Anorexia’), and obsessional cleansing (‘Cleansing Fanatic’), to name but a few.
Soft Cell arguably saw themselves as outside of the norm. Their first official release, an EP entitled ‘Mutant Moments’ EP set out their psychological store (and where ‘Metro Mr. X’ was their “favourite mutant”). They also had a track on the seminal 1980 (various artists) Some Bizarre Album about a disfigured woman (‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’). Very few artists would ever sing about such topics (although there are a few exceptions such as Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Hamburger Lady’ based on the medical case notes of a badly burned woman).
Soft Cell’s reputation as a band that focused on the sleazy side of everyday life was cemented after the release of their 1981 debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (NSEC). The cover featured a photo of the band’s two members (Marc Almond and Dave Ball) taken outside the Raymond Revue Bar, a notorious strip joint in the heart of London’s Soho district.
Just as the Velvet Underground’s debut album was viewed as a ‘sex and drugs’ LP because of a couple of songs about sadomasochistic sex (‘Venus In Furs’) and drug-taking (‘Heroin’), NSEC’s reputation as a ‘sleazy sex’ album also rested on just a few songs – most notably ‘Seedy Films’ (about telephone sex as well as pornographic films), ‘Secret Life’ (about using prostitutes behind a wife’s back), and the (now infamous) ‘Sex Dwarf’ (a song glorifying sadomasochistic sex). Later songs and albums also touched on various aspects of sexuality (their third album This Last Night In Sodom raising a few eyebrows on its’ release in 1984). They wanted to “try all of the vices” (in ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’) and also sang about having sex in cars (‘It’s A Mug’s Game’ and ‘Where Was Your Heart [When You Needed It Most’).
One of my personal favourite in the Soft Cell canon is the 2002 song ‘Perversity’ which was a bonus track on their comeback single ‘Monoculture’ after reforming in 2001. It talked about studying at the “university of perversity” and provided me with the title to my series of blogs on the A-Z of little known paraphilias and fetishes. As Marc Almond and Friends, there was also a great cover version of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’ (a song about sadomasochism) and ‘Sleaze It, Take It, Shake It’ (by Almond’s side-project, Marc and the Mambas)
Soft cell’s second hit single ‘Bedsitter’ summed up my formative years as a teenage clubber and shares some of the same lyrical DNA as The Smiths classic ‘How Soon Is Now?’ (going to nightclubs in search of love and/or sex but going home alone). I’d also argue that Soft Cell sometimes give The Smiths a run for their money when it comes to songs about misery (e.g., ‘Chips On My Shoulder’, ‘Mr. Self-Destruct’, ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’, ‘Forever The Same’, ‘Down In The Subway’ and ‘Born To Lose’).
But Soft Cell aren’t just about sex, they also like songs about love more generally although their take on love is more about the unrequited love, the disintegration of love (‘Tainted Love’, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, ‘All Out Of Love’, ‘Together Alone’, ‘Desperate [For Love]’, ‘L.O.V.E. Feelings’, ‘Whatever It Takes’, ‘Last Chance’, ‘What’, ‘Barriers’, ‘Disease And Desire’, ‘Her Imagination’, ‘Desperate’, and ‘Torch’). In short they focus on (as they describe in their song ‘Loving You, Hating Me’) “the other side of love” and the “devil in my bed” (‘from ‘God-Shaped Hole’). The only other band that have explored the ‘darker’ side of love lyrically in so many different songs are Depeche Mode (which I discussed in a previous blog on obsessional lyrics in pop music). Their songs aren’t afraid to feature one-night stands and casual sex (‘Numbers’, ‘Surrender To A Stranger’, ‘Heat’, ‘Where Was Your Heart [When You Needed It Most’ and ‘Fun City’). It’s also worth noting that Soft Cell were never afraid to talk about drug use in their songs including cocaine (‘Frustration’), LSD (‘Frustration’), alcohol (‘It’s A Mug’s Game’), valium (‘Tupperware Party’, ‘My Secret Life’), heroin (‘L’Esqualita’) and their “dealer in the hall” (‘Divided Soul’).
They also made cover versions that were often better than the originals. They sexed the songs up or made them mean, moody and menacing. Soft Cell were huge fans of Northern soul and is evident in their covers of songs like ‘Tainted Love’, ‘The Night’ and ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ but their other cover versions came from a wide variety of artists including Jimi Hendrix (their 11-minute ‘Hendrix Medley’ comprising ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Voodoo Chile’), Johnny Thunders (‘Born To Lose’), Suicide (‘Ghostrider’), Lou Reed (‘Caroline Says’ as Marc and the Mambas), and John Barry (‘007 Theme’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’). From the very first note, this were instantly Soft Cell even though they didn’t write the songs.
Lyrically (and musically), some of their best songs were on their final 2000 studio album Cruelty Without Beauty. For instance, ‘Caligula Syndrome’ depicts sadomasochism (“crawling down on your hands and knees like slaves”), orgies, and “every kind of deviation on demand”. The song ‘Grand Guignol’ is about the Parisian theatre that operated from 1897 until it closed in 1962. The theatre specialised in naturalistic amoral horror entertainment shows horror shows or as Soft Cell put it: “It’s Grand Guignol/It’s rock ‘n’ roll/It’s vaudeville and burlesque/All of human life is here/In the theatre of the grotesque”. A sentiment that (I would argue) also sums up the many of the blogs I have published on this website.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Almond, M. (1999). Tainted Life. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Almond, M. (2004). In Search Of The Pleasure Palace. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Fanni Tutti, C. (2017). Art Sex Music. Faber & Faber: London.
Lindsay, M. (2013). Sex music for gargoyles: Soft Cell’s The Art Of Falling Apart. The Quietus, December 12. Located at: http://thequietus.com/articles/14100-soft-cell-interview-marc-almond
Reed, J. (1999). Marc Almond: The Last Star. London: Creation Books.
Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Tebbutt, S. (1984). Soft Cell. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Wikipedia (2017). Marc Almond. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Almond
Wikipedia (2017). Soft Cell. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_Cell