Love is war, the Manics would have you believe. Or so write Nicky and Richey, who effortlessly blend political repercussions with a much more intimate level of bitterness. This theme is pervasive across the band’s entire repertoire (‘Make love make hate make war...’ –To Repel Ghosts), but nowhere is it more effective than in The Holy Bible’s most overlooked track, Mausoleum.

Where you go I will be carcass
Whatever you see will be rotting flesh

These are the spoils of war and the spoils of love. According to Richey, the war references come directly out of World War II and the Holocaust – the casualties of which will always be visible, despite the ‘good’ side having won the war.

The lover here says: Look at me, I’m proof that you fucked up – as long as I’m around, you’ll never forget. (Perhaps a motivation to vanish.)

Humanity recovered glittering etiquette
Answers her crime with mausoleum rent

Humanity is ‘her’. Crimes against humanity – this death is the awful proof.

‘Her’ is also someone specific, someone involved in this ‘distastrous’ love. Etiquette, or societal approval, has been achieved – but at the expense (rental) of a deathlike depression. ‘Gliterring’ emphasizes the monetary aspect – gold glitters, material wealth despite the emotional cost, and so on.

Finally, 'her' can relate to Eve's original sin. There is a stunning streak of godless despair in this song. It rails against love, war, and religion all at the same time.

Regained your self-control
And regained your self-esteem
And blind your success inspires

The winners of war are on top, having regained their esteem, but they are blinded to what the war has actually done – killed millions of people, left destruction in its wake.

This lover has ‘succeeded’ with another, given the surface appearance of contentment, but has neglected another for his own image.

And analyse despise and scrutinise
Never knowing what you hoped for
And safe and warm

Violence and ego win out – you winners explain yourself away, disregarding any alternative path you could have taken. The choice is ‘safe’, sanctioned, honored by history.

This lover took the easy way out – the way society deems to be the ‘right’ way. He can regret all he likes, explain himself away, but the final choice of comfort over love remains.

But life is so silent
For the victims who have no speech
In their shapeless guilty remorse
Obliterates your meaning

The victims who have no speech – the dead, the ‘losing’ side, are relegated to the ‘background’ of history. Their voices have only the effect of questioning. Did we do the right thing? Who cares, we won, that’s what matters.

The former lover is relegated to ‘leftovers’. Not allowed to speak about the affair, for various reasons – skepticism, embarrassment, posterity. But grin and face the cameras; everyone seems so happy!

No birds - the sky is swollen black
And no birds - holy mass of dead insect

In mythology, birds often symbolize hope. If there are no birds, there is no hope.

Literally, Hiroshima has no birds – only remains. Maggots feed on the dead; their only funeral a religious ceremony of vermin.

Also a loss of idealism. Dig your depressed head into the ground like a tick.

Come and walk down memory lane
No one sees a thing but they can pretend

On the one hand, there is revisionist history. With so many people looking at the past with imperfect memory, some things are bound to be lost. Despite this, the populace thinks they know exactly what happened.

On the other hand, this lover is invited to witness his betrayal from the beginning. It is revisionist history in a romantic sense – viewed from one point, an emotional debacle is always the other person’s fault.

Life eternal scorched grass and trees
For your love nature has hemorrhaged

This is one of the greatest couplets in literary history.

In the first line, eternal life must witness the ‘scorching’ death of its most obvious incarnations (nature). With regard to religion, 'life eternal' is promised if you love God, yet those who wage 'holy war' are hardly in touch with God.

In the second line, love is the thing to blame for this; it has left the world bleeding. Look, the words scream. This is what your so-called ‘love’ has done. Our past has been left to decay.

Where else could you see love and hemorrhage in such natural proximity?

And life can be as important as death
But so mediocre when there's no air no light and no hope

This is the most fascinating bit of the song for me, because you can hear Nicky and Richey lyrically sparring. Despite Nicky’s claim that optimism has its place, Richey rushes out and retorts with dark conviction. You can almost see them arguing on a debate panel: ‘Life can be as important as death!’ ‘Maybe, but it’s so mediocre in the midst of all that’s happened!’ ‘Fuck you!’ ‘Fuck you!’

Prejudice burns brighter when it's all we have to burn
The world lances youth's lamb-like winter

This takes the juxtaposition of love and war and puts it right out in the open. Prejudice, of course, is at the very root of war, particularly religious war. In World War II, despite overcoming the opposition while waving their flag of ‘justice’, the Allies subjected their own citizens to Nazi-esque discrimination.

The final words take innocence and split it in two. 'Lamb of God'? Rendered obsolete by humanity. This love has been lanced by the world. Social schemes and warfare win out, despite all youth-like earnest.

In a word: ouch.

Love is war, Nicky and Richey would have you believe. And they’ve done a damn good job of convincing me.

Lyrics from The Holy Bible liner notes.

Mau`so*le"um (?), n.; pl. E. Mausoleums (#), L. -lea (#). [L. mausoleum, Gr. , fr. Mausolus, king of Caria, to whom Artemisia, his widow, erected a stately monument.]

A magnificent tomb, or stately sepulchral monument.

 

© Webster 1913.

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