Thursday, February 26, 2009

We got BOTH kinds of Music..Goth AND Industrial

We got BOTH kinds of music...Country AND Western... so the old joke goes. Although they're not that far apart, Country music evolved out of Appalachian folk, or hillbilly music and Western music evolved out of cowboy songs and Western Swing. Add to the mixed genre Bluegrass and Gospel and you get pretty much most of the elements of Country/Western

If there ever was a genre of music that is the polar opposite of Country/Western it would have to be Goth/Industrial. Like C&W, Goth/Industrial is a mixed genre that evolved over time adding elements of other compatible musical forms. Like C&W, G&I is somewhat removed now from what it was back 25 or so years ago. In fact, 30 years ago neither the Goth nor Industrial music genres technically even existed, although there were groups and artists that preceded both and paved the way for them.

In order to understand the evolution, there needs to be definition of what makes 'Goth' goth and 'Industrial' industrial. Goth music is dark in tone, has elements of horror, morbidity or moroseness and is often melodramatic. Industrial music evolved out of the avant-garde musique concrete but stylistically couples jarring sounds to cadent rhythms. Or at least that's the basic elements of the genres. Owing to its somber nature, Goth music is good for moping. Owing to its rhythmic impetus, Industrial music is good for dancing. There were crossovers however, even before the genres came into their own way back in the 1980's.

Likely the first 'Goth' bands before there was even such a genre were Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath. Both were rather dark, tackled maudlin themes (nightmares, suicide, murder, witchcraft, demonism, the occult, insanity, etc.) and were vilified by televangelists. Both owe their concept to horror movies. Alice Cooper was 'glam-goth' where Black Sabbath was more your dressed in black leather sort of goth. And then there was KISS, which was just rock n' roll with a 'makeup goth' veneer. These certainly weren't the only dark bands in the pre-Goth period, but most of the others never achieved any critical or commercial success, so you probably aren't aware of their existence.

In the early 70's, I was in a band called Leviathan (no relation to any known band by that name) that described itself as a Gothic Rock Orchestra. Our original music was a dark form of progressive rock, not dissimilar to the more tenebrous aspects of bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator. Some of what we did would be considered 'Goth' by today's standards. Then there was Otto Von Ruggins. He was the first REAL Goth I ever met. In fact, the first time I ever saw him, he was wearing a velvet frock coat. (Now THAT'S a Goth!) Von Ruggins became part of the mid-70's New York 'No-Wave' scene which was the short-lived genre that was partially responsible for spawning Industrial music. Although artists like Lydia Lunch, James Chance and The Contortions, Theoretical Girls, Swans, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and others you may have peripherally heard of are credited with defining the No Wave genre, Von Ruggins and his band
music. and Kongress were the closest thing to Goth-Industrial there was at the time. Kongress often used the trappings of the occult in their shows and to advertise them. They also had (for a period of time) 'mad magician' Geoff (Jeff) Crozier as their lead singer. Their music was a combination of avant-garde industrial rock and minimal synth with gothic theatrics. Very cutting-edge stuff for the time, but of course, you never heard of 'em. Another 2 man minimal-synth group called Suicide (Alan Vega & Martin Rev) was another No-Wave band that had a very Industrial music sound.

The bands most often credited with the spawning of Goth-rock out of the post-punk music scene are Bauhaus, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy and Southern Death Cult. Like any music subculture, the scene has to start someplace, and for Goth it was The Batcave in London, though local (Elder) Goths elsewhere would probably argue that it was THEIR club that really started Goth music. Like any good music genre with a full head of steam, the fashion that defined it changed from the ripped jeans, T-shirts and leather jackets of punkdom to an all-black clothing concept that grew more fetishistic as the genre progressed. Some fashion statements like piercings, tattoos and bizarrely coloured hair

Funny that the founders of Goth now cringe at the label. There were plenty of bands to follow that were more than willing to revel in their gothiness. The Mission (U.K.), Alien Sex Fiend, Sex Gang Children, Christian Death, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Fields of the Nephilim, Inkubus Sukkubus, Kommunity FK, Skeletal Family, Xmal Deutschland and a slew of others jumped on the Goth-rock bandwagon. And of course, these band begot other Goth bands in the 1990's which we'll get to in a bit.

But what of Industrial? The acknowledged founders of Industrial music came from the Industrial Records label (mid-late 70's) founded by Throbbing Gristle. Early composer/performer Monte Cazazza is credited with coining the Industrial music genre name, but like OVR and Kongress, his contributions to the genre are largely forgotten and his defining early recordings nearly impossible to come by. Other early Industrial music artists included Test Dept., Boyd Rice (NON), Clock DVA, SPK, Whitehouse, Einstürzende Neubauten, Esplendor Geométrico, Severed Heads, and Laibach. The music was often defined by noise, harsh dissonant tones, mechanical beats, repetitive tape loops or sound samples and shouted, distorted vocals. It was meant to be a reaction to the de-humanizing of society, which in its most artistic, non-commercial form at least made a statement. Themes were often fatalistic, fascistic and transgressive - painting scenarios of doom and a dystopian society, alienation, the tyranny of technology and shock tactics. While Goth music embraced Stoker's Dracula
remain to this day. vampire, Industrial music embraced Shelley's Frankenstein monster. Just like a Universal horror movie (not to mention The Munsters), it was only natural that the two would eventually come together.

Some bands that weren't really considered Gothic at the onset of the genre but were later embraced by Goths included the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, This Mortal Coil (all from the 4A.D. label at the time), Depeche Mode, And Also The Trees, The Cranes, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Gary Numan, The Cramps, Swans (including Jarboe & Gira side-projects), and undoubtedly many others that I've left out. The broader 'Alternative' umbrella included bands that were in the 'Shoegazer', 'Neoclassical', 'Indie', 'Synthpop', 'Death Rock', 'Psychobilly', 'Post Punk' and other sub-genres.

The change in Industrial music came about with the birth of
EBM (Electronic Body Music), a term first coined by German minimal synth band Kraftwerk. A solid 4/4 drum machine beat, and a synthesizer-driven sound made EBM ideally suitable for the dance floor. A few early EBM bands were Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Klinik, X Marks the Pedwalk, Die Form, Die Krupps, and Leæther Strip. Industrial music was becoming more accessible by virtue of its dancability, and the common ground it would share with Gothic music was to be found in the 'Goth clubs'. The Batcave spawned many Goth-Industrial clubs (or at least, Goth-Industrial nights at larger venues where there wasn't enough of a scene to support it all the time) throughout the world. DJs played not only what the scenesters wanted to hear, but also what would get them up on the floor to DANCE. This is where Goth & Industrial became intertwined as a hybrid genre, much like Country/Western. And as they did, fashion became more extreme (leather, latex, PVC, Victorian dress, platform boots, corsets, fishnetstriped stockings, duster coats, bondage pants, hair extensions, etc.) and creative. Record labels like Cleopatra, Projekt, Zoth-Ommog, 21st Circuitry and Metropolis were quick to sign on an ever-growing and evolving stable of Goth-Industrial bands. New sub-genres such as Electro-Industrial with bands including Frontline Assembly, Das Ich, Skinny Puppy, Haujobb, Wumpscut and others; Aggrotech bands like Hocico, Funker Vogt, Suicide Commando; guitar-infused Industrial rock like KMFDM, Ministry, Stabbing Westward, 16 Volt, Pigface, Chemlab, Godflesh and others; and the uncategorizable- Coil, Controlled Bleeding, Legendary Pink Dots, Oneiroid Psychosis, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Shinjuku Thief, Sleep Chamber and many more.

So too was Goth music expanding, or at least the sub-genres of music Goths were listening to. Etherial, Neo-Folk, Neoclassical, Medieval, Gothabilly, Electro-Goth, Gothic Metal, Darkwave, Horror-Goth and more. Some of the bands that came about in this next wave of Gothic groups were Astrovamps, Attrition, The Prophetess, Mephisto Walz, Chandeen, Lycia, Black Tape For A Blue Girl, The Marionettes, Love Is Colder Than Death, Ordo Equitum Solis, Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, The Shroud, Love Like Blood, Qntal, Current 93, Sol Invictus, The Wake, Sunshine Blind, Faith & the Muse, Death In June, Lacrimosa, My Dying Bride, Nosferatu, Cradle of Filth, London After Midnight, Miranda Sex Garden, Mors Syphilitica, Type O Negative and many more.

The proliferation of so many new bands made sub-genres became nearly impossible to keep track of. As the demand for this type of music increased, many indie record stores specializing in it also sprang up too. So did print publications like Propaganda, Outburn, Carpe Noctem, Industrial Nation, Music From the Empty Quarter, Side-Line and numerous other
and small "indies" dedicated to the Goth-Industrial music genre, fashion and lifestyle. (More recently, Gothic Beauty in the U.S., Meltdown in the U.K. have carried the torch while others have either gone to an online format, or have just gone out of business. I don't know much about the non-English zines. I've seen them but that's about it.)

The Anne Rice Vampire Chronicle novels also contributed to the popularity of the Gothic subculture and her Vampire Lestat Fan Club in New Orleans held annual Halloween parties that attracted Goths from around the globe. There was also a television series in the 1990's called Forever Knight about an 800 year old vampire police detective had a large cult following. (One of its notable haunt was a Toronto Goth Club called The Raven, which was actually based on a real Toronto Goth club called Sanctuary Vampire Sex Bar. The Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV show also helped keep interest going. But perhaps one of the most widespread de-facto contributors to the Goth subculture was the fantasy roleplaying game, Vampire: The Masquerade.
With the Goth-Industrial genre expanding at such a rapid pace, it was inevitable that some artists associated with the genre would break out big. Nine Inch Nails was the first.
Evanescence was next. Then there was Marilyn Manson. As far as I'm concerned, none of these three are truly Goth-Industrial acts, but somehow they always end up being lumped into the genre. At least NIN's early stuff was worthy of being associated with Industrial (and still gets a lot of play at the Goth clubs). As for the other two, I guess it's a matter of taste, or the lack of it.

One other act that had crossover popularity with the scene was Enigma. Their use of Gregorian chants and atmospheric world music over a dance beat certainly had Goth club appeal. On a similar track, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber of Frontline Assembly had a side-project called Delirium that incorporated atmospheric elements similar to Enigma. They would eventually eclipse Enigma (artisitcally but not commercially) in their 1994 album, 'Semantic Spaces'. They also had projects under the names of Intermix and
Synaesthesia that explored similar territory. Delirium eventally went on to be wore of a Pop-Worldbeat sort of thing as it shed its Goth-Industrial attributes.

Many other acts that developed during the late 90's and finally came into popularity in the 21st century further blurred the genres and seemed to add new ones as well. With the development and popularity of the Internet as a musical resource, the floodgates were open and host of band and artists came pouring through- Apoptygma Berserk, The Azoic, Battery, Battery Cage, Collide, The Cruxshadows, Stone 588, C-Tec, Claire Voyant,
Cubanate, Crocodile Shop, Covenant, Mindless Faith, Mindless Self Indulgence, Hanzel und Gretyl, VNV Nation, Assemblage 23, In Strict Confidence, Icon of Coil, Velvet Acid Christ, Combichrist, Decoded Feedback, Machine in the Garden, The Last Dance, The Birthday Massacre, The Razor Skyline, Kiss The Blade, Dead Voices On Air, Imperative Reaction, Project Pitchfork, Gridlock, Black Lung, Snog, The Newlydeads, My Chemical Romance, My Ruin, The 69 Eyes, Paralysed Age, Switchblade Symphony, Razed in Black, Hate Dept., Xorcist, Spahn Ranch, Electric Hellfire Club, Download, Killing Miranda, H.I.M., Second Skin, Lights of Euphoria, Mira, L'Ame Imortelle, Beborn Beton, Written In Ashes, Unto Ashes, Rhea's Obsession, The Genitorturers, Women of Sodom and so many many more.

And still, there are projects out there like Anders Manga, James D. Stark, Lamia Cross, Luna in Caelo, Mind Confusion, Ophelia's Garden, Psychophile, Pulcher Femina, Serious Black, Synthetic Dream Foundation, that are either self-produced with no label or on small labels that get little to no promotion in spite of how good they are. Undoubtedly there are many, many others. You may even have your own project in the genre that hasn't gotten its due. (If you do, you might want to contact me.)

The whole point of this post is to say, that over the years, the Goth-Industrial genre at large has grown HUGE. With so many off-shoots and so much variety, and so many artists still active in it it, it is far from dead. Sure, some labels dealing in this type of music have gone out of business. Sure, a lot of bands have broken up and their albums and CDs have gone out of print. That's what a place like Windhamearl's Black Lodge is for- not as some museum of dark faddery, but a place where you can find a lot of the aforementioned artists at a fair and reasonable price. (Hey, nobody's got

Regardless of what your preconceptions may be about the genre, remember this- as weird, macabre and menacing as the music may sound to you, as
deviant, decadent and outlandish some of its devotees dress, you're more likely to find intelligent conversation with those that listen to Goth-Industrial music, and less likely to get your ass kicked at a Goth-Industrial Club than you are at a Country/Western bar. So the next time somebody trots out that old joke, "We got BOTH kinds of music here..." be sure to add quickly "Oh, you mean Goth AND Industrial!"

NOTE: I'm sure there are many worthy bands and artists of note in the genre I've failed to mention here. (Hey, this ain't Wikipedia.) I didn't even touch on Dark Ambient music, but that deserves a post of it's own at some future date. Stay tuned...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Celebration of the Lizard or...When The Music's Over

"When I was back there in seminary school..."

If you were to ask me now what my favorite band/music artist is, I'd probably be hard-pressed to come up with just one. If you really pressed me on it, I might say
Frontline Assembly, because I really admire their skill in crafting the kind of electro-industrial music that they do so well. But my all-time favorite? Probably not. I might say Van der Graaf Generator because there is just so much history there for me as a musician, prog-rock devotee and music writer. But- if you were to ask "What band do you think has been most influential on your life?" undoubtedly, it would be The Doors. Of all the bands that shaped my 'formative years' as a musician, a person and freak in general, why The Doors? Well, I really owe facets of my musical development, my influences if you will, to a number of other bands/artists from Alice Cooper to Zappa, with a whole lot in-between. But The Doors? They were different. And let me tell you why. Just like most kids who grew up in the 60's, I started out with the typical pop music of the time. I listened to AM radio, had my faves of top hits (those songs that just stuck in your head) but never really got attached to any artist in particular. When Beatlemania struck the U.S. I sort of jumped on the bandwagon, and got my Mom to buy a few of their records for me, like Meet The Beatles. I also collected Beatles trading cards (the kind that came a few to a pack with a flat piece of inedible gum, man I wish I still had them now) and may have even gotten a Beatle wig as a gag gift. Still, they weren't really influential on me, just a fad more or less. Nice catchy songs that got stuck in your head. The "influence" part came with Dylan. Bob that is. A buddy of mine in high school turned me on to Bob Dylan. He was an enigma. Actually, they BOTH were enigmas- my buddy and Dylan. My friend gave the impresson of being an arch-conservative, which was weird for someone who was so into Bob Dylan. He always took right-wing positions on ploticial issues and absolutely looked the part. Yet, when it came to music, his tastes were certainly left of center. Before long, I became embroiled in trying to decipher the meaning of Dylan's arcane lyrics, like-
"He sits in your room, his tomb, with a fist full of tacks
Preoccupied with his vengeance
Cursing the dead that can't answer him back

I'm sure that he has no intentions
Of looking your way, unless it's to say

That he needs you to test his inventions

And before long, I started writing ones of my own. Yeah, they pretty much all suck now, the product of too much inspiration and influence and too little originality and talent. But at least I was trying. I was beginning to go beyond just being your average teenager and developing something that had to to with creativity.
My infatuation with Dylan's music didn't last long. In spite of making me realize that you didn't have to have a great voice to make an impact in rock music, I moved on to other music. The burgeoning music scene of San Francisco was exploding, and before I knew it, there was TONS of great music. Oddly enough, my entry into this new scene didn't begin with the tripped out flower-power psychedelic hippie bands of Haight-Ashbury, but rather a band from L.A. - The Doors. The Doors self-titled debut LP was released in January 1967. I remember I bought it in February 1967. This was the FIRST album I ever purchased completely on my own. (Previously I had bought some 45's, and I'd been given a couple of record albums as gifts.) To me, The Doors were mind-blowing. They seemed to embody everything I had ever been looking for in music- kind of dark and dangerous, musically adventurous while still maintaining a good pop music sensibility, and absolutely charismatic. I was hooked. Although many fine bands and record purchases came afterwards, there was nothing that had a hold on my psyche like Jim Morrison and company. Of course, the history of The Doors has been well documented elsewhere, most notably in the 1991 Oliver Stone movie of the same title. (Best role Val Kilmer ever had, or probably ever will have.) But there was nothing, absolutely nothing, like being there yourself. I got my chance in the summer of 1968. Their third album, Waiting For The Sun, had just been released. The band was at their peak. This was before the shit hit the fan in Miami a little more than half a year later; before Morrison became a subdued, fat bearded drunk. This was prime Doors. I can only say I remember a few things about that concert- Jimbo constantly telling the light man to "turn down the lights" (setting a mood, or fooling around in the dark?); the amplifier reverb crashing and Morrison's extended scream in "When the Music's Over"; the exchange of expletives between Morrison and a female (who was likely very high) in the audience who wasn't sitting very far from me; Morrison's threats to just leave if the audience wouldn't stop shouting stuff (it worked, they stayed); "The Celebration of the Lizard" performed in its entirety which I had only heard part of from "Not To Touch The Earth", and a band that seemed larger than life in so many ways. I also remember Jim Morrison wearing leather pants, and wanting to own a pair myself, but that wish wasn't fullfilled until much later. When I hear live recordings of The Doors, I get a sense of what I experienced. Just a taste. They set a mood that could be simultaneouly the ultimate rock & roll party and the deepest journey into darkness experienced in a concert hall.

"Your ballroom days are over, baby
Night is drawing near
Shadows of the evening
crawl across the years

Ya walk across the floor
with a flower in your hand

Trying to tell me no one understands

Trade in your hours for a handful dimes

Gonna make it, baby, in our prime...
Get together one more time!"

Considering how the band eventually collapsed after a mere six studio albums and one live double LP (I don't count the albums without Morrison or Morrison's
An American Prayer as real Doors albums), they're STILL an iconic band to be reckoned with in the history of rock music. Of course, this is in no small part due to Morrison's mysterious early demise in Paris, July of 1971.(Visited Paris a couple of years ago, made a pilgrimage to Père Lachaise Cemetery and Jim's little grave is still there.) If somehow he had lived, and somehow ended up getting back together with Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore, I don't think the fire would have been there. I think events had to play out as they did for the legend to live on. As good as the musicians of The Doors are or were individually, and they most definitely ARE superb musicians in my estimation, there is no comparison for what they were collectively. And that can't be put back together again, not with Ian Astbury, not with Eddie Vedder, not even with someone out of the blue who looks and sounds like a Jim Morrison clone. There ain't no substitute for the original. "So when the music's over When the music's over, yeah When the music's over Turn out the lights Turn out the lights Turn out the lights Well, the music is your special friend Dance on fire as it intends Music is your only friend Until the end Until the end, Until the end" Yeah, I have to credit The Doors with opening the door for to the dark side. I have to credit them with making me really want to play, and write songs that aren't happy pop tunes. For me, the music's never over. It's a never-ending stream or force, that in spite of creative lapses and moments of ennui, nourishes my psyche and galvanizes my being. To this end, I make it, buy it, sell it and immerse myself in the experience of it. As a 'Celebration of the Lizard', I've decided to offer three more Doors-related items in Windhamearl's Black Lodge to replace 3 other items I just sold. They're more relevant to getting a feeling of what The Doors were like than they are rare. One is their 1970 double LP, Absolutely Live. Another is the 2 CD set, The Doors: In Concert. The last is Riders On The Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors by John Densmore. In time, I'm sure these items will end up being highly collectible, but for now they're as close to the real untainted experience as you'll ever get. Only a band like The Doors could play the garage rock standard "Gloria" for over six minutes and still make it riveting. Yeah Jim, you were the Lizard King. You could do anything.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why So Serious?

I was reading comments on my last blog post and also pleasantly surprised that I have followers now that I installed some gadget to allow followers (show you how much I know about blogging). So far my followers are all good people- People from Bonanzle. They, like me have stuff to sell and are doing their very best to get the word out in any way they can to entice potential buyers to visit their little shops (we call 'em booths) at 'The Ranch' (a euphemism for Bonanzle.)

This post isn't a promo post about The Ranch...been there done that for this week. It's more about me by way of stepping out of my comfort zone and talking about myself, something I don't ordinarily like to do. It happened quite accidentally that I decided to do that; if fact, I was just thinking of going to bed after reading some email digests of some other groups I'm in that will remain nameless. Anyway, I decided to click on 'the next blog' just to see what some random someone-else had to say, and I was surprised at what I found. There at the top of the blog was a picture of the Heath Ledger Joker from the BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT movie with the caption "Why So Serious ?" scrawled in blood or lipstick, not sure which. The blog was in Spanish and I didn't understand a word of it, so it wasn't the blog that had anything to say to me, just the picture and the caption. It made me think, Why AM I so serious?

Really, I usually am. Oh, I can make a joke now and then...but I rarely crack a smile. Most of my day is consumed with efforts to be productive. I tend to be reactive and hard on myself when things aren't going right or when I don't get all the things done I set out to do. I can't remember the last time I took a day just to 'goof off', and I don't even know if I'd enjoy goofing off since I'm so out of practice.
Why so serious?

I hear a lot about what's going on politically and financially. From what I know, I think that throwing debt after debt is no solution, only the inevitable losing scenario for all but the very, very wealthy. Going to hell in a handbasket, yet there is nothing I personally can do about it. It's almost comedic really, when you see all these supposedly knowledgeable people heading in a direction that inevitably leads off a cliff. P. J. O’Rourke said, "A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool trusts either of them."Bob Dylan said, "Don't follow the parking meters..."and we shake our heads and laugh at the mini-wisdom of these lines. Why so serious?

It's winter. I hate winter and in spite of the temperature notching up a few degrees giving the illusion of spring, I still know it's winter out there. It tends to foster a sense of misanthropy in me and dashes any daydreams I might have about basking in the sun, or at least taking a long walk. (Oh, that would be goofing off, wouldn't it? Better scratch that idea.) But there's nothing I can do about winter but wait it out, listen to some music I enjoy and try and have decent time working. Hey, work can even be FUN if you do it creatively. Why so serious?

Fact is, I don't know. I was serious as a child, pretty serious as a teenager, and definitely serious as a young adult. For all my seriousness, I never gravitated towards a 'serious profession', like accountant, lawyer, doctor, etc. I was much more motivated towards endeavors that favored the FUN side - music, writing, sales, game design, things that allowed some creativity. (My current music project being appropriately named, 'Serious Black'.) Still, they didn't make me any less serious. Oh, I've had my fun in those occupations, but innately, my personality wasn't altered by them. Astrologically, I'm a Taurus. Does that make me serious? Don Rickles, Jay Leno and George Carlin are Taureans. Would you call them serious comedians?

I guess I just have a different perspective; a different ethic on life. Maybe it's a way of keeping my sanity. Maybe if I wasn't serious, I might end up going off the deep end like Daffy Duck and just be a candidate for the looney bin. Serious is the way I deal with things. It's my anchor, the way I trust myself that I don't expect anyone to understand. I still enjoy the company of people who aren't serious, and find humor in the ironic, which certainly helps in these troubled times. Don't confuse seriousness with depression. It's not. I'm NOT depressed and I'm not in denial. But please don't ask me, "Why so serious?" I just may have to slap you silly.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Bloody Valentine

Nope. This isn't a post about the late 80's/early 90's shoegazer/noise band, My Bloody Valentine, nor is it about the 1981 slasher movie, My Bloody Valentine (probably where the band got its name from in the first place) but the "bloody" greeting card 'holiday' known as Valentine's Day. Although named after an early Christian martyr named Valentine (of course), it has about as much to do with him as Christmas has to do with Christ. Thank the Victorians for putting both of these 'holidays' on the calendar and making them obligatory gifting occasions befitting retailers more than either recipients or givers.

This post is obviously from a guy's point of view. Men don't usually talk about 'the bloody holiday'. We either fall in line and acquiesce to tradition and bestow the customary love tokens on the object of our affection, or we ignore it completely. (And run the risk of landing in the doghouse.) Personally, I think it's unfair to guys to have to toe the line and submit to the traditional gifting ritual. But this is NOT a holiday for guys, and any benefit a guy is going to get out of it is purely coincidental.

Valentine's Day has its traditional gifting protocol tied to the Roman child-god Cupid, with his bow and arrow of love, and the (target) heart(s) so associated with the holiday. Traditional gifting is usually limited to greeting cards, flowers (usually a dozen red roses), a box of chocolates, or jewelry. All eligible items are intended to elicit a positive sentimental response from the recipient, in fond affection of the giver. The protocol can be expanded to include intimate clothing, a fine dinner, a romantic escape, cute stuffed animals, perfume, a gift basket, mink coat, taking in a(chic flick) movie or nearly anything that has romantic connotations. The appropriateness of the gift is proportionate to the relationship of the parties involved; that little juvenile card worked just fine for you in fourth grade, but a pearl necklace would have been way out of line, unless you were in schools like Page in Beverly Hills or Dalton in New York. Then again, just try giving one of those 'paper dandies' as an adult to the object of your desire and you're in a heap o' trouble.

By far and large, Valentine's Day is a day for females, more than males. Although the gifting is supposed to be mutual, the gifting protocol is heavily biased towards women and the kind of things they're supposed to like. (Sorry ladies, the boxer shorts with the hearts on 'em just don't do anything for us guys.) Unlike Christmas, all practicality is thrown out the window and if you're planning on getting her a gift you think she needs, it's probably the wrong thing. (Be sure to consider the weight of such a practical gifting item before purchase; it could have a serious impact on your skull when she hurls it back at you.) So it's easy enough for guys to select something within the protocol; consider what might elicit the best emotional response for a bit more than what you would normally spend.

Women actually have it a little harder in the gifting process on Valentine's Day. Although we'll accept your cards, boxer shorts (grudgingly), new watch, new tie, cuff links or whatever silly little trinket you want to bestow on us, there is only one thing we really want, and unless you're clueless, you've already guess it. Funny thing is, it doesn't cost you a dime, unless you want to 'dress it up a little'. Short of this, we don't need any tokens to let us know you love us, the physical expression is quite sufficient. Of course, the extent of physical expression is dependent on the depth of the relationship; from a kiss for a friendly admirer to wild passionate sex for the deeply involved. Of course, the appropriate reciprocation is usually left up to the ladies- you're probably not going to screw some guy you've been casually dating just because he gave you a bunch of flowers. But you might soften up a bit and allow the physical romantic expression to linger a little longer. If this doesn't feel comfortable, you shouldn't be accepting Valentines gifts from this person anyway. It's supposed to be a romantic holiday.

You can't really call Valentine's Day a real 'holiday' anyway, unless you make it one. The very concept of a holiday implies a day off of work. Businesses and government offices don't close on Valentine's Day. If you're a working stiff, your boss isn't going to give you the day off, unless you might be meeting him or her for a torrid affair. A housewife (or house-husband) might be given the day off by a generous spouse, but this is purely optional. the holiday aspect only has to do with the date appearing on the calendar, and the parties involved hopefully spending some time with each other.

If you're married or in a committed relationship, the celebration of Valentine's Day's is usually MANDATORY, unless you BOTH consider the concept of Valentine's Day a ridiculous commercial tradition. (Guys, don't second-guess women on this; you either know how she feels about V-Day for a fact, or you don't. If in doubt, err on the side of gifting. If you don't, there could be hell to pay, and it's a small price to keep the peace.) Most couples don't have that cynical attitude, although guys are more prone towards resenting being manipulated by V-Day's commercial aspects. Guys, don't expect any reciprocation either. V-Day is about HER, not about YOU. This holds no matter what the depth of your relationship is, and no matter what the size of the gift is. Although you might think it should, giving her a pair of diamond earrings doesn't necessarily guarantee an intimate liaison. It could help, but your best bet is to 'go with the flow' and see what happens. Expect nothing and you might even be pleasantly surprised.

Of course, if you want to double you chances of getting some Valentine's Day action, lingerie might be the best way to go. After all, women wear boudoir garb mostly for men (perhaps in some cases, other women) and unless she's not the type who enjoys this most feminine of apparel, it's a good bet she might want to try it on and try it out. A few caveats though: you need to know her size (guessing is the #1 downfall in this department, with the potential to turn a dream into a disaster), her preference (perhaps romantic over risque, but the better you know her, the more elastic this rule becomes), make it a 'supplementary gift' (in addition to one of the more traditional gifting items) because in a sense, it's more for you than it is her, no matter how much a woman enjoys wearing intimate apparel. The final caveat: if you haven't already been (or aren't yet close to being) intimate with the object of your affection, chances are that a gift of this nature isn't going to prompt that fantasy scenario you've been imagining. If fact, you are more likely to be shut down quicker than a porn website in Saudi Arabia.

So what if your relationship hasn't progressed to the stage of intimacy yet, you're unsure what to get her and you don't want to subscribe to the traditional gifting items? Well, there are quite a number other options at your disposal- a bottle of champagne; a smart-looking handbag; a good book; a romantic DVD; her favorite music CD she doesn't have in her collection; a nice figurine; an object 'd art; some scented soaps; a cool candle; a gold cigarette case (only if she smokes); a fancy journal; a photograph of her pet; or any other item that carries a sentimental attachment. Avoid gift certificates and items lacking that personal touch unless you're giving from afar. A cute teapot may seem like a good idea but it won't inspire any romance. Whatever you do, choose wisely, grasshopper, you don't want to end up playing the fool over an ill-conceived valentine gift.

So back to the 'Bloody Valentine' theme I started with, personally, I think the 'hearts' have got to go. I don't care for the card game, in romance it has absolutely nothing to do with the organ in the body by the same name (unless you count anticipatory palpitations, or cardiac arrest due to exertion from love requited) and it has a silly shape that only ever reminds me of "I Love Lucy". For guys, our concession to the lady in our life is to honor you with a token of our affection on Valentine's Day. Please honor us by eschewing the bloody valentine heart that is the silliest symbol of love ever conceived, the hallmark of crass commercialism.