Putting the Goth into March Madness

College basketball fans everywhere know what March portends—the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments. This post is not about any of that televised hoopla. No mentions of basketball or an impressive three-pointer will you find here. Nope. This assortment of words is about a different type of 64-team bracket, one probably no one’s office has money on, in fact.

March Vladness, 2019’s “the tournament of goth,” pits 64 award-winning essayists against (or with?) one another as they write into and through how goth their given song is. This year’s first round has already commenced, and I am eagerly waiting to see if Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” (1994) will beat out The Crüxshadows’ “Marilyn My Bitterness” (1995) in the first round. While I listened to gothic rock from afar during its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, I have, however, openly enjoyed reading Elena Passarello’s winding associative leaps and Jim Ruland’s rhythmic storytelling.

For the past three years, so many amazing writers have squared off in the name of something fun and not the least bit pretentious. Yet, when you read Berry Grass’ lyric essay about The Chameleons’ “Swamp Thing” (1986), you cannot help but wonder, in awe, how she managed to veer into President Trump’s chant of “draining the swamp” to her mother’s do not resuscitate order, all while cataloging Magic the Gathering land cards and exploring why it is swamp iconography and lore, in particular, which tend to capture the untapped horror of our imaginations.

When the bracketed literary competition began in 2016, the theme was March Sadness, or which college rock song from the years 1980-2001 would be deemed, well, you know, the saddest. A year later in 2017, novelist, poet, University of Arizona professor, and literary firestarter Ander Monson organized March Fadness, a tribute to all those bands and musical artists who touched greatness once. The year of our Lord 2018 found writers exploring the best of hair metal in March Shredness, where Loudness’ “Crazy Nights” (1985) bested pop-culture darling, Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (1987).

The annual tourney is, in the best way possible, a look at how throwback odes to popular culture can often yield essays that are deft, resilient, and substantive glimpses into music, art, a writer’s coming-of-age story, sex, life, death, and everything in between. This playful nexus of writing into the past with one foot squarely aware of where these songs now stand (or do not stand) in our contemporary lives is what makes the contest something bigger than just another way to accommodate some of the kids picked last in gym class or the kids who were sorely misunderstood for their all-too-human fascination with darkness.