Gothic References in Audioslave’s Debut Album

by: Zoee Reale

As a general fan/ admirer of Chris Cornell’s lyrical work—whether it was his songs for Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, or even his solo stuff, I’ve always found this subtle gothic undertone that comes with the subject matter that Cornell writes about. And many can argue that his impressive vocal range was a key to this sound, I think there are some gothic themes at play in his writing. 

I would like to examine the lyrics of Audioslave’s debut album and discuss some of the gothic links that can be found in a majority of these songs. I want to begin by pointing out some of the obvious gothic literature references and then work down to the not-so-obvious—which more-or-less correlate with gothic thematics that are found inside of the genre. I’ll discuss some of the songs’ music videos that may further highlight these explored themes. It is important to note here that a majority of this is my initial interpretation of the lyrics based on some of the gothic texts I’ve previously studied.

 Much of the album’s subject matter was largely speculated by fans to revolve around Cornell’s struggle with drug use and recovery. While I can agree with this sentiment, I would also like to speculate on the themes of death/rebirth, hauntings/ the supernatural, psychological torment, faith, and the past.

To point out the most obvious of gothic references would be found in Track 2; “Show Me How To Live”. It depicts a retelling of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein;

And with the early dawn

Moving right along

I couldn’t buy an eyeful of sleep

And in the aching night under satellites

I was not received

Built with stolen parts, a telephone in my heart

Someone get me a priest

To put my mind to bed

This ringing in my head

Is this a cure or is this a disease?

Even though the first verse opens with an obvious connection to Dr. Frankenstein’s madness in trying to create the daemon, a lot of listeners began misinterpreting the song for religious references with the chorus;

Nail in my head from my creator

You gave me life, now show me how to live

The religious reference was mistaking the word “head” for “hand” to depict Jesus being nailed on the cross. Cornell debunked this confusion on Twitter a few years later, by responding to one person by simply saying “Frankenstein”.


Track  9, Exploder depicts a series of eerie fates. There are a lot of gothic themes of violence, and psychological anguish; telling of a man who was wrongfully accused and forever imprisoned, a girl who takes her life just as her father did, and a boy who kills his mother based on the voices in his head. The most interesting gothic connection I want to point out is a seemingly subtle reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s story “William Wilson” in the last verse;

There was a man who had a face that looked a lot like me

I saw him in the mirror and fought him in the street

Then when he turned away, I shot him in the head

Then I came to realize, I had killed myself

While I cannot find a direct comment that this verse is a “William Wilson” reference, it definitely feels close to the ending of Poe’s story;

“Not a thread in all his raiment–not a line in all the marked and singular lineaments of his face which was not, even in the most absolute identity, mine own! … ‘–and , in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself’

 Personally, I find this song to be one of the more darker laden songs on the album as it does contain these troubling occurrences that don’t have a great resolution–not that all of Cornell’s songs have a great resolution, a large portion of his songs do tend to remind me of these Poe-esqe endings where someone is left to their own devices in madness and speculation.

Possibly one of the best-known songs of Audioslave is their fifth track, “Like a Stone”. The song seems to be playing with themes of death and a connected struggle with religion by placing the Narrator inside an empty house, waiting for whatever comes next.

On a cobweb afternoon in a room full of emptiness

By a freeway, I confess I was lost in the pages

Of a book full of death, reading how we’ll die alone

And if we’re good, we’ll lay to rest anywhere we want to go

A lot of Cornell’s lyrics remind me of a strange melody of Poe and Emily Dickinson, especially when involving this vast emptiness and speculation about death. More focusing on the resembled themes Dickinson uses, I could pick out several of her poems that feel reminiscent of Cornell’s song (Here I’ll use the first and last stanza of Dickinson’s poem #279)

Tie the Strings to my Life, My Lord,

Then, I am ready to go!

Just a look at the Horses–

Rapid! That will do!

Goodbye to the Life I used to live–

And the World I used to know–

And kiss the Hills, for me, just once–

Then–I am ready to go!


For some final thoughts, I will say that a large majority of this album brings the listener to decipher Cornell’s howls and yells to truly get down to what the lyrics are saying. At the core, I find that there is typically a singular character, left to his own thoughts and troubles trying to escape the trials he is in; decidedly that be life, the afterlife, or himself. It is interesting to pick apart this progression of gothic imagery and potential references, which gives me an even better appreciation of Cornell’s genius in his work.

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The Haunting of Bly Manor: A Review as a Gothic Work

by Mallery McKay

Promo Poster

The text that I have chose to write my blog post about is the television series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, created by Mike Flanagan. This television series is loosely based on the novel, Taming of the Shrew, written by Henry James, which is a notable Gothic work. This nine episode series is about an au-pair from America that travels to the English town called Bly to take care of two children that had just lost their previous au-pair and are stilling grieving the lost of their parents. The characters consist of the au-pair named Dani, the groundskeeper named Hannah, the chef named Owen, the gardener named Jamie, and the two children named Flora and Miles. The television series first takes place in 2004, where an older woman goes to a wedding and tells the story of Bly Manor. The episodes mainly consist flashbacks of events of Bly Manor, with the older woman is taking the role of the narrator and explaining the inner turmoil of the main character, Dani. Bly Manor is seemingly haunted by a number of ghosts, the main ones consisting of The Lady of the Lake and Rebecca, the old au-pair who died from drowning herself in the lake. The story explores what really happens after death and all of the characters’ relationship with it. This exploration is what drew me to the series in the first place, every character in the series is put there for a reason, they have their own special and specific relationship with the dead and the living, it is up to the audience to figure out what that reason is. This show is really engaging in that aspect, it leaves you on the edge of your seat, wanting to know more about each character, even the ones that are so clearly labeled “villainous.”

There are many elements from this show that makes it gothic, one of the main aspects of this text is the music score. It has a light, but eerie tone that puts the audience inside the setting from the first time they hear it. It has an underlying feeling of tension, like pulling a string until it breaks. It has the audience wondering what will happen when that string finally breaks. I think that specific form of tension comes with absorbing anything from the gothic media. The setting of the story is what makes this story especially gothic, with its castle-like manor that is closed off from the public and from my interpretation, even only allowing the workers of the manor to be spectators of the acts of the manor. Adding on to the self-isolation aspect of the series, Flanagan makes the audience feels isolated as well. There are only mentions of the town, Bly, and only brief moments of reprieve with characters that are not in Bly at all. Isolation is definitely a recurring theme of gothic works. Flanagan realizes this and makes it a big theme in Haunting of Bly Manor. It is no secret or the surprise that this manor houses many ghosts, the series was advertised as “a ghost story.” A quote direct from the narrator when she first describes the story she is about to tell to the wedding-goers. I believe that to make a story or a piece of media be considered gothic, you should have some sort of supernatural element either underlying the plot or apart of it entirely. The Haunting of Bly Manor does both it seems. It allows it’s characters to breathe and allows the audience to get to know them first, their quirks and faults. Flanagan seems to have a way with making his characters seemingly human before bringing down the “Gothic Hammer” so to speak.

Bly Manor

I found that this series has a very similar setting to We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. The isolation theme between both works is what made me group them together. The motto of ‘Us v. Them’ is recurrent in both cases, with the ‘us’ in each situation being the specific characters that live in that self-isolating setting. The ‘them’ in each situation is what differs the two works, with Jackson drawing a very distinct line between the Blackwoods and the townspeople. But with Flanagan, that line blurs as we never get to see the townsfolk of Bly and the ‘them’ in this work is also the people that live in the same self-isolation setting as the specific characters. The ‘them’ in Flanagan’s work is not the townsfolk, but more so the supernatural beings that attach themselves to the main characters of Bly.

I could not reveal all of the plot points in this essay as there are many plot twists in the story that are important to the overall theme to the work, which is what is life after death. Anybody who likes gothic media should definitely check this piece of fiction out. It truly is a masterpiece of gothic fiction in my opinion, it is what made me get into horror media in the first place and Flanagan truly never misses on getting his point across.

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Hieronymus Bosch “Garden of Earthly Delights”

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by Lilly Flowers Hieronymous Bosch was a Dutch painter whose work was extremely important to the Northern Renaissance. My first encounter with Bosch was through a youtube essay dissecting his work. The artwork that I have chosen to analyze as … Continue reading

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“So Long, Prison Boy”: “Chelsea” & The Gothicism of Nancy Spudgen

By Dorian Steele

“Chelsea” by Phoebe Bridgers is a haunting melody narrated by the ghost of Nancy Spudgen, murdered by her partner Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols in 1978. Vicious and Spudgen were known for their mutual addiction to alcohol, heroin, and the toxicity they instigated in one another. Their relationship had an addictive quality for the two of them and the public. Nancy and Sid brought out the worst in one another, yet the two of them seemed to revel in the chaos. Consequently, Nancy and Sid became the darlings of the punk scene as constant sources of gossip and edgy appearances. The relationship received even more press and reached its finale in the Hotel Chelsea after Nancy died of a stab wound in the abdomen. Vicious was arrested for second-degree murder, pleaded innocent, and his record label released him on a 25,000 dollar bail. “Chelsea” is a reflection of the toxicity between the couple and the public attention they received. On her debut album Stranger in the Alps, Phoebe stated the album frequently returned to “the obsession of how somebody could kill another person” (“On the Rise: Phoebe Bridgers). “Chelsea” certainly fits the bill. The poetics and melody are layered with addiction, abuse, and the supernatural: literal and metaphorical hauntings.


I didn’t think of this song as Gothic until I learned it illustrated Spudgen’s tragic death. Before I thought it was a love song, albeit melancholy. I found this song driving home late one night after listening to Phoebe’s Tiny Desk concert. She introduced her song “Killer” with a small laugh,  “this is a song about murder” (9:06-9:09). Since then I’ve been hyper-aware of Bridger’s violent, yet tender, imagery is hidden behind her lulling vocals, which inspired me to look further into “Chelsea”. I still hold to the fact that it’s a love song, but one conflating love, sex, and death: a keystone to Gothic relationships. The lyric, “Because I’ve fallen, yes, I’ve fallen right into the love I’ve found / Long before I reach one hundred, I’ll have fallen to the ground” (2:10-2:28) draws attention to the detrimental and consuming nature of their relationship, paired with Nancy’s suicidal mindset. Nancy often stated she couldn’t see herself living past 21, much less 100. Nancy died when she was only 19, and the lyric “I’ll have fallen to the ground” evokes a chilling image of her young body on the Chelsea floor. Additionally, the verb “falling” describes Nancy’s relationship with Vicious, equating their love with her demise and bleak philosophy.

I think the most Gothic aspect of this song is Nancy’s haunting, tethering her to the tragedy history will never let die. The song begins by illustrating Sid’s extreme addiction, self-destruction, and Nancy’s enablement of those behaviors, “for a chemical imbalance, you sure know how to ride a train” (0:18-0:26). When asked to explain this lyric Bridgers tweeted, “even though you have no personality other than your drug addiction you are hot and cool”. Nancy’s perception of Sid was a ticket to fame, drugs, and fun along the way. In articles about her life, it was stated Nancy would have ended up with a rock star if it was Vicious or not as she craved their dizzying lifestyle. Nancy met Sid because she was the Sex Pistol’s dealer, and their growing fame did nothing but draw her closer to the band. Even after Nancy’s death, Sid cannot break away from the relationship they cultivated, “There is no distraction that can make me disappear / No, there’s nothin’ that won’t remind you I will always be right here” (1:09-1:25). Both chilling and tender, this line sports a double meaning of haunting and reassurance. Once again, Spudgen and Vicious’ relationship is suspended by an inevitable, immature death, continued by Nancy’s ghost.

This song reminds me of how Shirley Jackson and William Faulkner grapple with the past through violence and mortality. In perhaps my favorite lyric “And for generations, they’ll romance us, make us more / Or much less than ever was before, the Chelsea and the floor” (2:31-2:45), Bridgers illustrates the distortion of their relationship after Nancy’s death. Critics simultaneously ignored their abusive nature, twisting them into a groupie superstar fairytale or tearing them into nothing but violent addicts. The Gothic adores spectacles such as this. Jackson’s personification of the town as a mob of harmful gossip and delusion functioned as an antagonist, a mirror into the societal detriment alongside the dimension of the Blackwoods. It proposes that normalcy is not as far from monstrosity as we believe.

I’ve included a playlist of songs containing a similar essence or story to Bridgers’ “Chelsea”. Though not all the songs are Gothic, they have the same melancholy of horrific love, addiction, and self-destruction. I think there’s courage in art that reflects and projects the most difficult cycles to break, romantic, physical, or psychological. To create something beautiful and vulnerable and exposed from our ugliest bits.

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“Ode to Billie Joe”

by Scott Peeples

The Wikipedia page for “Ode to Billie Joe” lists its genre as “Gothic Country,” but the Wikipedia page on “Gothic Country” is considerably shorter than the one on “Ode to Billie Joe.” Which tells you something: this song is bigger than the genre that supposedly contains it. It was a huge hit — number one on the Billboard singles chart in 1967, sold a million copies in six weeks. I was four years old when it came out, so I don’t really remember the sensation it created, but I do remember it as a song that was always around when I was growing up. Everybody knew the song, and nobody knew what Billie Joe McAllister and the singer threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

You’ve probably heard the song, but just in case: It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day . . . the singer is a young woman, probably in her late teens, living in rural Mississippi in the 1960s. The first four verses consist of her family’s dinner conversation, which revolves around the news that Billie Joe committed suicide. In fact, the first three verses end with the line “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge” after providing a little more information about the incident or about Billie Joe. Each verse also includes dinner-table talk that has nothing to do with Billie Joe’s suicide, which to some listeners seems strange or even comic, and to others points to a lack of compassion on the part of the singer’s family:

And papa said to mama, as he passed around the blackeyed peas

Well, Billie Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits please

Gradually, the conversation reveals that the singer and Billie Joe were in some kind of relationship. In the fourth verse, the mother reveals that she heard from the “nice young preacher” that he had seen the singer and Billie Joe “throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” In the fifth, final verse, the singer catches us up on other events in the community in the year since Billie Joe’s death — including her own father’s death from a virus and her mother’s depression resulting from it. The song ends with the enigmatic lines that echo the famous refrain:

And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge

And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

It’s a haunting song with a haunting arrangement to match. The primary instrument is a nylon-string acoustic guitar, on which Gentry plucks a simple blues progression, backed by an electric bass and a string section that accentuates the ends of the vocal lines. No drums, no guitar solo, very spare with a lot of open sonic space. The strings all but disappear in the last verse before creating a falling sound that mimic the last lines of the song. Gentry’s singing is direct and close-up, with no frills or gimmicks. She tells the story straight, which makes it even colder and sadder.

This is all incredibly Gothic, of course — not only the boy’s death but the mystery behind it and the fact that the singer knows the secret but doesn’t tell us. It’s one of the reasons the song was a hit. What did they throw off the bridge? What did it signify? Gentry wasn’t telling, but most of us thought it must have something to do with a breakup, maybe an unwanted pregnancy. Going back to Wikipedia now, I see that Gentry consistently said that the family’s indifference, treating the tragedy as just another topic of conversation, was what the song was really about. In that way, it reminds me of We Have Always Lived in the Castle (another 60s classic), in which tragedy becomes gossip and the community shows no compassion for their neighbors (at least not until they begin leaving them food).

While everyone in my generation was trying to figure out what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge, pop songwriters produced a number of hits with similar Gothic vibes. There was “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence (and, later, Reba McEntire), with an incredibly complicated plot for a 3-minute pop song, in which — spoiler alert — the singer turns out to be the murderer. There was “Angie Baby” by Helen Reddy, in which a lonely, intellectually impaired girl who spends all her time listening to the radio is stalked by a neighbor boy, whom she apparently kills (but possibly traps inside her radio). Both of these songs hit #1. I have other examples of the Gothic hits of my childhood, but I’ll spare you.

In 1976, almost a decade after “Ode” topped the charts, teen idol Robby Benson starred in the film Ode to Billy Joe (new spelling), a rare example of a feature film based on a pop song. In the film, Billy Joe discovers that he’s gay, which leads to his suicide.

 There have been a few other recordings of “Ode to Billie Joe,” but it’s one of those records where the original performance is so crucial to the song’s effect that it’s almost impossible to cover. Remaking it is sort of like remaking Psycho — it can be done, but why? It’s a perfect recording, sad and creepy and as Gothic as anything we’ve studied this semester.

“What the song didn’t tell you, the movie will” (

Capitol Records poster above public domain (Wikipedia)








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