Music Review: Les Fleur Du Mal

Cover artwork for the standard edition CD.

Cover artwork for the standard edition CD.

One of the few things that kept me going through the lonely years of my early twenties was the music of the German musician Anna-Varney Cantodea, best known as the sole participant in Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows. Her music appealed to me for several reasons. The music, image, and lyrical content all appealed to me in a manner I had not yet found in any other band or musician. Much of this appeal to attribute the content of her lyrics, which are not only quite imaginative and clever but always intensely emotional and sincere. It might all seem rather melodramatic to other but, as a passionate person myself, it complemented my own personality perfectly.

Although I can relate to many of the experiences and sentiments Varney expresses in her albums, Les Fleurs Du Mal struck a particularly intimate note. It tells a bittersweet story about a complicated love affair with a man who cannot accept Cantodea’s queer status. Despite all her efforts to comfort and love him, the album ends rather sadly, with Contodea renouncing sex and love in The Virgin Queen, but despite this and other undeniably sad elements in the album, the tone is not despairing. In fact, it’s frequently playful, humorously ironic, and confident.

“Hänsel, call your soldiers back, this witch sticks to her gingerbread.
Girlfriends, wives or fiancées will save your sacred straightness from disgrace.”

“Some men are like chocolate,
but most of them are like shit
and if you don’t have the experience
to spot that tiny difference
you’re likely to fall for all of it.”

“Quickly erasing your lust, all we inspire is disgust
But then, of course, you can never be sure
and that’s the face that’s frightening you!”

The music is rather difficult to describe, apart from it being a complex interplay of numerous instruments and sounds. Overall, it tends to be more upbeat and funky than most of her album tend to me. To make things even more unusual, Cantodea hired a boy’s and men’s choir to performed some of the vocals. Not all Sopor fans enjoy this element–a friend one mine even deemed it “too gay”–but in my estimation the choir vocals really compliment the sound and tone of the album.

The album was originally released in both a limited edition box-set and vinyl. In 2007, when they were first released, these were the only copies available commercially. I actually both the album after only hearing the song La Morte D’Arthur but, a risk I only take on bands I like a lot. I wasn’t disappointed. The artwork imitates an Avon cosmetics catalogue, advertising products promises to hide the signs of sexual attraction and mock romance. Fortunately, the album has also been released both digitally and on a standard edition CD.

Whether you enjoy goth music or not, Les Fleurs Du Mal deserves your attention. It tells a unique story, one we seldom see in music generally, and does so with such sincerity, imagination, and power.

Often a Mistress but Never a Bride

When I look back on my love life prior to meeting my husband I cannot help feeling uneasy about discussing it. My love life was almost void of physical interactions yet it was filled with emotionally intense interactions that shaped how I perceived and evaluated myself. My first boyfriend lived many miles away and over the seven months of our relationship (and the year of strained friendship that followed) we only spent three weeks within touching distance. A friend of mine at the time dismissed it, insisting that the distance did not make it a real relationship, but despite my friend’s objection, it felt very real to me. We were emotionally involved and committed to a relationship, even if it was primarily long distance and dramatically shortened by mutual discontent. It may not seem like much to other people but these experiences have had a significant impact on my life. Strangely, it was the lack of activity in my love life was a part of a more complex and personally painful problem.

I got off to a slow start. I wanted to date more than anything after I came out but I was rather shy about. The internet helped to compensate for my social anxiety and connected me to many people I would never have known without it. However, even as I was making friends, I wasn’t having much luck meeting guys and it was largely due to my purposefully androgynous appearance. I did not fit the masculine type these men wanted. That I preferred to wear skirts instead of pants was enough of a reason to reject me outright. This kind of rejection is always painful to me and has frequently intensified my gender dysphoria. On a number of occasions, I was bluntly told, “If I wanted to date a woman, I wouldn’t be gay.” The fact that I was and intend to remain physically male did not make a difference to them.

My first boyfriend was not exception. He liked me at first and flattered me with many compliments but all throughout our short relationship he frequently tried to turn me into the kind of man he actually wanted. He openly told me that he thought I wasn’t cute enough and discouraged me from wearing women’s clothing. f course, he wasn’t always as mean as this and we had our good times but our problems never went away. It became increasing clear to me that he would never accepted for for what I am and this hurt me considerably because I sincerely believed there would be no one else for me. The pain became so bad that I started cutting myself, punishing myself for not being the person he wanted me to be, and even spent two nights under psychiatric observation after I stabbed myself with an X-Acto knife.

The only men (apart from my ex) who expressed an earnest desire for me were what are colorfully known as “tranny chasers.” These are men who are specifically attracted to transgender women or crossdessing men. At the time, I thought little of it. I was young, inexperienced, and eager to make a connection. Their attention gratified my need to feel attractive and wanted by men but interacting with these men quickly became unsatisfying and even humiliating.

Our interactions were pretty simple. They would send me a message, complementing my appearance and bluntly asking for pictures or for an exchange erotic emails. I was young and assumed this was typical for gay men. After a while, it became clear to me that the exchange was unequal, tilted forever in their favor because I was eager to gratify their desires for the mere promise of reciprocity. Many of these men became hostile when I refused to continue with these types of communications and several harassed me online for months afterward. (That’s in addition to the daily onslaught of harassing messages I got at the time from perfect strangers on social networking sites.) One man, in particular, pursued me for more than year. Of all the men I interacted with online, he was the only man I ever met in person or slept with. I took his consistent interest as a positive sign and, fortunately for me, he turned out to be very nice. Even when I broke promises to meet him again, he never became hostile or angry. However, as nice as he was, his interests were still exclusively sexual and was, to me, just one of many reminders of my undesirability. I was the mistress and nothing more to these men, without much hope of ever becoming the bride.

When I talked to a few of my friends about these experiences, they encouraged me to take it as a compliment. To be honest, I dearly wanted to take it as a compliment. To some extent it was nice, as sex often is for many people, but at the end of the day, it was all that I had or felt that I could expect. The inevitable disappointment this type of sexual contact entailed haunted me every day but I could not entirely draw myself away from it because my loneliness always returned. Although I stopped interacting with “tranny chasers,” I still sought out casual sexual encounters. Since I lived with my family at the tome, could’t drive, and had little money, I rarely ever met any of men with whom I made plans. When I look back now, I’m glad my circumstances had prevented me from taking on easy hookups. At the time it frustrated me but I do not doubt that the alternative would have been much worse.

Memories of my sexual past still evoke some pain but the wounds I once carried with me have healed. Time can heal some wounds but love is by far the stronger remedy and I found that with me husband. He gave me all the things I had always wanted but could never get from other men—romance! He took me to restaurant and bars, gave me gifts and introduced me to his friends. He wasn’t embarrassed to be seen with me. For the first time, I felt genuinely and completely appreciated and loved. He did not make me feel ashamed of my appearance as my first boyfriend had but embraced it. Before I met him I did not think I would ever find such a person, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have him in my life. With him by my side, I can finally close an unhappy chapter in my life and live as I always wanted to, a valid person worthy of love.

Cat People, Dog People, and Me

Most people know me as a dog person. This does not mean that I hate cats; it’s just that I find their aggressive non-commitment to me very disturbing. That and they always abuse my kindness. My aunt owns (or rather puts up with) a large Persian cat. In the hallway outside the guestroom there was a dresser, atop which was placed a dish for cat food, and every morning he would sit in front of it and meow mournfully. My heart ached for him, so I filled his dish, and he seemed pleased. The next morning he was sitting on the dresser again, so I filled his dish again, but he wouldn’t eat it. Not knowing what else to do, I petted him for a while, and he began to eat. Stupidly, I thought that might put an end to it. For the rest of my stay he expected me to pet him while he ate his kibble. I suppose he thought his duty to give me some employment.

Don't be fooled! Behind that adorable facade is a being of pure malevolence.

Don’t be fooled! Behind that adorable facade is a being of pure malevolence.

My husband loves cats. Accordingly, his appreciation for dogs is unmistakably negative. He respects the callousness of cat but I can’t quite abide it. Dogs never withhold their love. Well, except for my parents pugapoo, who I suspect was raised with cats before we adopted her. She never wags her tail unless she is about to something. She hides in dark places and springs out of nowhere just to wrap her legs around your ankle and sink her teeth into your tender flesh. She treats my room as though it were her own private den; when we give her a treat, she runs off to my room but without even taking the treat, as if to say, “I’ll take it in my study.”

Obviously, not all dogs are sweet, adorable things. It is for this reason that I consider myself less of a dog person and more of a spaniel person. In 2008 I adopted one from a local shelter and she has proven to be one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known. I would even say she is the sweetest dog.

My adorable little Spunkles.

My adorable little Spunkles.

I decided to call her Spunky, after the dog in Rocko’s Modern Life, and she more than lives up the name. The people at the shelter told me she was a very vocal dog and indeed she was when she was at the shelter but ever since we brought her home she has been surprisingly quiet. She’s very playful and very affectionate, loves to run around my parents’ large back yard and chasing toys.

She’s very friendly with other people but she tends to ignore most other dogs. When a friend and I took our dogs to a local park, Spunky hardly seemed to notice my friend’s golden retriever. This may have been partly due to a language barrier because my friend and her boyfriend use only German commands with their dog and Spunky uses English commands.

The one exception to Spunky’s standoffish attitude towards other dogs are spaniels. Whenever she sees another spaniel she never fails to take an interest. One of our neighbors once had a spaniel and frequently allowed it to lounge out on the front lawn. Spunky never missed an opportunity to see her little friend on our weekly perambulations. That fact that the other spaniel no longer appears to reside there (after all, we have seen it in many a moon) has not discouraged her from peering into the yard in hopes of seeing it again.

She also likes cats very much but cats don’t really like her. Once, while we were on a walk, she caught the scent of one. She sniffed around eagerly in search of it and found it sitting on the wall framing the yard we were passing. The wall was only about a foot tall, so she was almost face-to-face with it. The cat immediately batted her noise and ran off into the yard. Since then Spunky has had several opportunities to make contact with the various elusive felines that treat our back yard as though it were their own but has as yet had no success.

My husband does not share my love for Spaniels and openly mocks my dear Spunky. It’s not that his remarks are incorrect. She is very stupidly happy and will affectionately love anything that moves. This is why my husband and I have concluded that Spaniels will love anyone, no matter how good or loathsome they may be. If they couldn’t, how else could a man like Richard Nixon have a spaniel named Checkers! Still, while this might seem like a fault to some, it is a quality worthy of the highest praise to me. She is the perfect embodiment of unconditional love. Cat’s are a different matter. They regard their owners with lordly disdain and are only too eager to bite the hand that feeds it … and that’s if you’re lucky! They adore doling out bodily harm with malicious playfulness. It hardly matters whether you deserved it or not. In fact, I rather suspect that cat lovers have a masochistic streak in them. It certainly seems true about my husband’s relationship with his childhood cat. Even it has long since passed on, it’s memory stills haunts his dreams.

When my husband and I have our own place, we plan to adopt a cat at some point, provided of course that my husband become the primary caregiver for it. I can find a few redeeming factors in cats but cleaning their litter box is not one of them. Besides, I will likely be able to take my dear Spunky with me and she will offset much of the horror of cat ownerships with her sweet, loving, affectionate, adorable self.