The Verlaines - "Death and the Maiden"
A personal favorite from the Dunedin scene
Nothing sounded quite like the music coming out of Dunedin, New Zealand in the ‘80s. Isolated from the rest of the world, the area’s music — now often grouped under the “indie pop” umbrella — was a reaction to the Aussie and New Zealand punk, itself a riff on proto-punk bands like The Velvet Underground, MC5, and the Stooges. All those New Zealand punks slowed down just a tad, ventured into crates of then-passè ‘60s psychedelia, and the Dunedin Sound was born.
Bands like The Clean, Tall Dwarfs, The Chills, and hundreds more grew from this scene and released records on the great Flying Nun label. The Verlaines were among the best of them, and had a storied, 40+ year career that included releasing records on the Homestead Records label (the precursor to Matador), a couple of majors during the major label boom in the ‘90s, and even a record during the pandemic. Ask the average Flying Nun fan about the Verlaines, however, and they’ll almost instantly name-check “Death and the Maiden,” the band’s most famous song and their de-facto theme.
“Death and the Maiden” serves as both a tale of two mismatched love interests and a literal rallying cry for The Verlaines. The chorus is the repetition of the famous poet’s last name, of which The Verlaines appropriated, and a tone-setter for the many lovelorn songs in the band’s catalog. The jarring bridge, a carnival organ romp, lightens the mood for the subject at hand, only to bring it all back to the quarrel between the subjects and end once again with Verlaine, Verlaine, Verlaine.
The beauty of the Flying Nun catalog (and the ‘80s Dunedin scene as a whole) is there are a million points of entry and no one band sounds completely alike. A fan once told me their litmus test for getting others into Flying Nun bands is usually Straitjacket Fits, which I could not disagree with more. In college, I used to share The Clean’s EP and Singles Anthology with others as a jumping off point, and someone out there undoubtedly disagrees with me on that. Regardless of where one starts, the next deep dive or two into the scene’s extensive catalog will inevitably land on the jangly sound of “Death and the Maiden,” and rightfully so.
I had a lot more planned for this week, but I’ve only a day left in my Paxlovid regimen before I’m hopefully right as rain and ready to stop holding the entire second floor of my home hostage. Here’s a song by Muna that I listened to on repeat while I drank too much Gatorade Zero.
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