Last night my wife and I caught Dead Can Dance with Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. A great way to spend a late summer evening, enjoying emotionally atmospheric world music beneath the stars.
The show was great. There’s the review.
What’s truly blogworthy to me here concerns not the show itself, but the band’s name, which is something I’d always appreciated as a fan of the English language.
What interests me is what the name “Dead Can Dance” means, and what creators of the name were thinking when they came up with it.
It seems most people would initally regard the phrase “Dead Can Dance” as an independent clause, or a compete thought. “Dead Can Dance” is another way of saying “The deceased have the ability to dance.” In this interpretation, the word “can” is being used as the action verb of the phrase. (i.e. “Dead Can Dance. And quite well, thank you very much.” etc.)
Seeing the likes of some of the crowd last night, it became even more obvious to me that this was indeed their interpretation of the name. A certain smaller percentage of the Bowl’s crowd last night consisted of younger people, who in their own visible way let it be known that they were part of the Goth thing. Dyed black hair, eyeliner, white makeup, black trenchcoats. We even had a little incident in our section last night where four young Goth/emo kids — clearly with the wrong idea of what the band was about and what the show was for — got up and started dancing while the rest of us were lounging comfortably in our chairs enjoying the show. We asked them to sit down, they opted not to. I would’ve spilled my beer on them if the beer lines weren’t so long. Words were exchanged, one thing led to another, and security threw ’em out. This all resulted in a round of applause from our section mates, who were as annoyed by the pathetic spectacle as we were.
Back to the topic. The kids last night are a living example of how a name can be misinterpreted — perhaps innocently, mind you — to give them a notion that is so off base that they make complete asses of themselves in public. They were apparently there for the Goth rave.
Dead Can Dance. What a great name, with room for more than one interpretation. To the Goth kids last night, and others, the name is a statement declaring that the unliving can still live in their own way, through dance.
To the drummer or otherwise lateral thinker, look closely at the name, and put it in the context of the bands rhythm-based music. You may eventually notice that a “dead can” is actually the drum itself: a cylinder made of a dead tree and a dead animal’s skin. The “Dead Can Dance” is not a statement, it is a thing. The Dead Can Dance is the almighty groove itself. Brilliant.