Today’s blog is not academic but it’s about an academic (but I’ll come to that later). Back in the early 1980s when I was in my early teenage years, my obsession for music was fed by listening to the John Peel show every weekday night. I still have dozens of cassettes of the songs that I taped off the show that I still cannot throw away (and before you ask, yes I am a hoarder when it comes to anything music-related). It was 1981 when I first heard a song that has become one of my all-time favourites – ‘Taboos’ by post-punk band The Passage. From the opening verse I was transfixed. Here was a group writing songs about sexual dysfunction in both a cerebral and humorous way. Around this time I was also a massive fan of Adam and the Ants, particularly their songs on sexual perversions and paraphilias (which I have already documented in two previous blogs on the psychology of Adam Ant, and Ant as a portrait in pop perversion)
The Passage formed March 1978 in Manchester and the band was led by Richard ‘Dick’ Witts (formerly a percussionist in the Halle Orchestra) and the only ever present member until they split up in 1983. Their early material as been likened to The Fall (not totally a surprise given that The Passage’s first bassist Tony Friel also played bass in The Fall), and like The Fall there was a constant change of line-ups with Witts being the equivalent of The Fall’s lead singer Mark E. Smith. Witts was also an occasional television presenter of music programmes (such as The Oxford Road Show). Witts also recalled the story of Morrissey auditioning for them before he formed The Smiths (“‘As we were spineless about singing we once auditioned a bunch of hopefuls, including a certain Steve Morrissey, who we thought a bit too glum for the likes of us”).
Between November 1980 and March 1983, The Passage released four great albums (Pindrop; For All And None; Degenerates; and Enflame) on three different record labels (first Object Music, then Virgin subsidiary label Night & Day, and finally with legendary indie label Cherry Red). The LPs were all re-released in 2003 on the LTM label along with a compilation album (BBC Sessions). There’s also a ‘best of’ CD collection with the homophonically titled Seedy (geddit? A prime example of Witts’ wit) which is well worth getting as a primer to their later recorded output. Much of their music was critically lauded including (then NME critic and later a member of the band Art of Noise) Paul Morley who compared them to Joy Division (a band that was actually the support act at one of The Passage’s early gigs). Morley’s review of their debut LP noted:
‘With the disquieting Pindrop, The Passage can be accepted as major even by the cowardly, cautious and cynical: it’s a work of disciplined intellectual aggression, frantic emotions and powerfully idiomatic musicality. Pindrop is densely shaded, erratically mixed (which often works in its favour), rough edged, heavy in an unloveable sense of the word…It’s as shocking a beautiful nightmare, as stormy and aware a debut LP as [Joy Division’s] Unknown Pleasures. Where you gasp a lot. Comparisons will harm. Their sound is their own. It’s the shock of the new – new shades, textures, noises, pulses, atmospheres, energies, the opening up of new realms of feeling.’
One of the things I loved about The Passage was they were never afraid to write songs that were lyrically intellectually political and/or sexual (e.g., ‘Troops Out’, ‘Carnal’, ‘Taboos’, ‘XoYo’). Their ‘love songs’ (to use a quote from the Soft Cell’s song ‘Perversity‘) are “deliciously twisted” (e.g., ’16 Hours’. Love Is As’, ‘Revelation’, ‘Time Will Tell’). In fact, a number of music critics would talk about Witts’ “rigorously intellectual approach” to music and lyric writing. Their second album (For All and None) even took its title from the four-part philosophical novel by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (i.e., Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None). In the song ‘My One Request’, Witts refrain “Love, fear, power, hope” appears to be his manifesto on life. In a lengthy interview with Johnny Black for indie fanzine Masterbag about his continued fascination with form and structure:
“‘We’ve done 53 songs now and they’re all based on just three words,’ says Witts, beginning to illustrate his musical triangle on a paper napkin. At the corners of the triangle he writes the words and speaks them as he does so. ‘Fear, power and…love.’ ‘Another triangle takes shape while he tells me about power. ‘Power is ambiguous, it depends on how it’s used. In the same way, a knife can be used to cut bread, or to slit a throat.’ ‘The second triangle is ready, and at each corner he writes, semitone, minor third, major third, then pushes the napkin over to me. ‘Within these triangles you can sum up everything about Western music.’ The Witts fixation with structure (and triangles) is reflected even in the design of their album covers. ‘We use only black, red and white, which are symbolic colours. The red flag, the black flag for anarchy, black and white united fight – all these things…There are three people in the group and I associate those colours with us. I’m red, Andrew [Wilson] blue, and Paul [Mahoney] is white.”
I should also note that the track ‘Love Song’ from their New Love Songs EP was the first song I ever heard that featured the word ‘c**t’ in a rhyming couplet (‘I love you/Cos I need a c**t/I love you/To use you back and front’). (As a possibly amusing aside, I was the first ever academic to get the word ‘f**kwit’ into the British Journal of Psychology in a study examining the role of cognitive bias in slot machine gambling – see ‘Further reading’ below). The same song also referred to fellatio (but Adam and the Ants had already covered the topic in the song Cleopatra on their 1980 debut LP Dirk Wears White Sox). The Passage are arguably one of the most unsung bands of the 1980s. Perhaps the best tribute to the band was from Nick Currie (aka the musician Momus) who said:
“[The Passage were] one of the greatest, yet least known of 80s groups. I bought ‘Pindrop’ after hearing a track on [the John Peel show]. The album (slightly murkier, more introverted and mysterious sounding than later releases) was like nothing else being made at the time. Totally electronic, spooky, intelligent, political, passionate as hell, like Laurie Anderson crossed with The Fall. ‘Degenerates’ and ‘Enflame’ are also great records, Brechtian politics melded to angular, caustic lyrics. The Passage were very un-English in their willingness to write about sex and politics. I think you’d have to see them as libertarians in a peculiarly Protestant mode, like Quakers or Methodist radicals or something”.
Which brings me to arguably their two greatest songs – ‘Taboos’ and ‘XoYo’ – both about sex but both very different both musically and lyrically (sexual dysfunction versus sexual liberation). Both songs are on the 2003 CD reissue of the Degenerates LP and most people that have heard of The Passage probably prefer ‘XoYo’ because they are likely to be one of the 100,000+ music lovers (like myself) that bought the Cherry Red indie classic sampler album Pillows and Prayers on which it also appeared. The opening quote by Shakespeare is actually the first lyric on ‘XoYo’ (which you can listen to here) and it fits perfectly with the lyrical content of the song (you can read all the lyrics here as they also work as prose).
The ‘Taboos’ single (which you can listen to here) was recorded at Stockport’s Strawberry Studio in August 1981. Witts was apparently unhappy with the mix (although I think it’s great) as he was quoted as saying: “I drowned the drumming with timpani and other percussion, in particular Taboos which now sounds more like an Orange Order marching band than the [Phil] Spector ‘Wall of Sound‘ I had in mind”. Lyrically, I just loved the whole song. Below are the lyrics to the whole song that I transcribed myself as (unlike ‘XoYo’), they don’t appear to be published anywhere online:
“I use this magazine that gives instructions/It tells me many things about seduction/It comes in monthly parts, there’s 16 sections/I need nine more for the complete collection
In Number 6 there’s chapters on disorders/And Number 7’s all about withdrawal/In Number 8 there’s pictures of positions/I’m stuck till I receive the ninth edition
Whoever hopes to dance with me/Must abandon all such guides and schemes/And measure up a million ways and means/Take to heart strange choreography
We have to wait until we’ve read them through/With things like this we’re better safe than sorry/I have it written here, four things to do/Each one a cornerstone of carnal knowledge
It makes you go blind/By closing your mind/Obstructing the view/Too many taboos/Too many taboos
We really should wait till we’ve read them through/You know we’re/always better safe than sorry/You see it written here a thousand rules/Certain regulations should be followed
Perhaps these studies on cassette are wisest/While they play you try the exercises/Just one of 15 minutes would be plenty/My body can’t take all five C-120s
Whoever hopes to dance with me/Must leave behind what’s being heard and seen/And stepping through a thousand routes and dreams/Take to heart new choreography
It makes you go blind/Disclosing the mind/A little taboos/Two million taboos
Let’s wait until we’ve seen the TV series/A programme titled ‘All Your Bedroom Queries’/You may will think I’m making lame excuses/I just don’t like, you know it more than I do
My only option is to write about/A verse or two of hollow lies about you/So you’d be flattered by my sharp deception/And words were made to exercise deception
Whoever wants to dance with me/Must abandon traps and trickery/Take to heart new choreography/Take by storm strange choreography
It makes you go blind/By closing the mind/Obstructing the view/Too many taboos/Too many taboos”
‘Taboos’ (words and music: Dick Witts and Andy Wilson)
Since The Passage disbanded, Witts has put his musical talents to good use. He became an academic and university lecturer in modern music and has taught at Edinburgh University, Goldsmiths University (London) and Edge Hill University (Ormskirk, Lancashire). He’s also written some great books including ones on Nico and The Velvet Underground (that you can download at his academic website). Hopefully after reading this, a few more people will delve into The Passage’s back catalogue and discover one of the great cult bands of the 1980s.
Note: I would like to thank both Dick Witts and Keith Nuttall (at http://www.thepassage.co.uk) for their help in compiling this article.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.
Nice, J. (2003). The Passage\Biography. LTM Recordings. Located at: http://www.ltmrecordings.com/the_passage.html
Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Wikipedia (2015). Richard Witts. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Witts
Wikipedia (2015). The Passage (band). Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passage_(band)
“A dreaded sunny day/So let’s go where we’re happy
And I meet you at the cemetry gates/Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day/So let’s go where we’re wanted
And I meet you at the cemetry gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose /’Cause weird lover Wilde is on mine”
I’m sure some of you reading this will have immediately spotted these deliberately misspelled lyrics by Morrissey are from the song ‘Cemetry Gates’ on arguably The Smiths’ best album The Queen Is Dead. I’m a massive fan of The Smiths (almost to the point of obsession) and have a bulging collection of books, magazines, vinyl, and CDs. They would be one of my specialist subjects should I ever appear on BBC television programme Mastermind. Anyway, I’ve started today’s blog with these lyrics because in his youth, one of Morrissey’s self-confessed hobbies was to visit the cemeteries in Manchester with his lifelong friend Linder Sterling (artist and singer with the band Ludus, and sleeve designer of the single ‘Orgasm Addict’ by the Buzzcocks).
Anyway, this rambling introduction is by way of introducing the topic of coimetromania (aka koimetromania) and coimetrophilia (aka koimetrophilia). Coimetromania (according to the English Word Information website) is defined as (i) an abnormal attraction to and desire to visit cemeteries, (ii) a compulsion to examine the various graves and other burial aspects of cemeteries, and/or (iii) in some situations in psychiatry, someone who has a morbid attraction to graves and cemeteries. The name comes from the Greek word ‘koimeterion’ which roughly translates to “sleeping-room, burial-place; grave, grave yard; final resting place”.
If you’ve read any of the biographies of The Smiths and Morrissey (by Johnny Rogan, Simon Goddard and Tony Fletcher), all of them make reference to the cemetery walks by Morrissey and Sterling, and Morrissey appears to have had a morbid fascination with gravestones and cemeteries (at least in his early 20s), so much so that he penned one of his most (in)famous songs about them. This appears to be a close cousin of the sexual paraphilia coimetrophilia that the English Word Information website defines as (i) a special fondness and interest in cemeteries or graveyards; especially, in collecting epitaphs that are written on the tombstones, and/or (ii) a fascination with seeing gravestones and sarcophagi (plural of sarcophagus). The Centre for Sexual Pleasure and Health (an organization that provides adults with a safe, space to learn medically accurate, sex positive information about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues) also has a small entry on coimetrophilia:
“Love getting it on in spooky places? Think graveyards are pretty sweet? Perhaps you get turned on by things that are dead, but not actually to things are dead. Not to be confused with necrophilia, coimetrophilia is the love of cemeteries. Aside from there being a lot of history in cemeteries, some are downright beautiful. Throughout history cemeteries have been spiritual places, and that might help!”
Given that coimetrophilia doesn’t make an appearance in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices suggests that if such a sexual paraphilia exists, it is incredibly rare. It would also seem to be related to placophilia (which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog on non-researched sexual paraphilias). Placophilia is where individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from tombstones (which does make it into Dr. Aggrawal’s book but not Brenda Love’s encyclopedia). As I mentioned in a previous blog, after finding out what placophobia was, the musician and author Julian Cope claimed he must be a placophile on a post at his Head Heritage website (although my guess is that his love for tombstones is not sexual).
Literature on coimetrophilia (and placophilia) is almost non-existent and there had certainly been no academic or clinical research on the topic. Given that coimetrophilia is yet another word that was derived from the opposite phobia (i.e., coimetrophobia, a morbid fear of cemeteries and graveyards), it could well be that coimetrophilia is a hypothetical paraphilia rather than a real one. My online search for articles on coimetrophilia threw up only one article on the Are We There Yet?? website entitled ‘I’m a coimetrophiliac – who knew?’ However, none of this first person account was sexually based but just someone (called Linda) talking about their love and fascination of graveyards and tombstones”
“So there we have it, I’m a Coimetrophiliac and now that I know that I guess it’s easy to understand why I go to so many cemeteries and take pictures! And here all these years I thought I was just slightly morbid or something! Truth be told, there are some absolutely gorgeous cemeteries with wonderful tributes to loved ones who have passed on as well as some cemeteries with a lot of interesting history in them so who wouldn’t find them fascinating?”
In a previous blog on human fascination with death, I wrote about Luis Squarisi a Brazilian man who claimed he was ‘addicted to funerals’. Many newspaper stories claimed that Squarisi (who was 42-years old at the time) had attended every funeral in his hometown of Batatais for more than 20 years. The story also claimed that in order to attend every funeral, Squarisi had given up his job to “feed his addiction to funerals”. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I don’t consider Mr. Squarisi’s activity an addiction at all (although the habitual daily ringing of the hospitals and funeral parlour combined with the giving up of his job might potentially be indicators for some types of addiction or compulsion), but from the little I have read about him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s now developed coimetromania.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Fletcher, T. (2013). A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths. London: William Heinemann.
Goddard, S. (2009). Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths. London: Ebury Press.
Goddard, S. (2004). The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life (Revised & Expanded Edition). Reynolds & Hearn Ltd
Rogan, J. (1992). Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance. London: Omnibus.