Welcome to the Reptile House! This is my fanshrine to the the legendary English Punk and Gothic (a note on this below) rock band The Sisters of Mercy, not to be confused with the Catholic organisation with the same name.
Sisters of Mercy was founded in 1980 by Andrew Eldritch and Gary Marx, and went on to release three studio albums - First and Last and Always, Floodland, Vision Thing - as well as Some Girls Wander by Mistake, a compilation album of various non-album songs. While the Sisters stopped recording and releasing new music in the 1990s to protest their record label, they have a relatively colossal volume of unreleased songs, many of which were written since their strike began and only exist via recordings of their live shows.
While they do not have as large of a volume of work as some other bands, Sisters of Mercy is in my humble opinion possibly the greatest band of all time. Most of their songs are incredibly well-written and feature literary references and double/triple meanings that the listener may not notice until they've heard the song many dozens of times. Although they have changed their line-up far too many times to bother going into detail on here, the quality of their music never wavered, and the timeless, baritone voice of Andrew Eldritch - the only band member to have always been part of the band - has always given them an unforgettable, beautifully morose sound.
As Sisters of Mercy is known for their deep and cryptic lyrics, I have decided to dedicate this song to my personal interpretations of some of their songs. Far more interesting than just giving generic information about the band that can be found anywhere else, I think.
This page's design is very loosely based on the design of the First and Last and Always album's and Reptile House EP's cover artworks. The name of the page comes from the first line of the Sisters song Burn: "burn me a fire in the reptile house". The term also went on to be used for the name of one of their EPs and on some of their merchandise.
Depending on what browser you're viewing this with, you are hearing either the MIDI version of "Burn", an .OGG version of the MIDI version of "No Time to Cry", or quite possibly both. I wanted to merely have the former, but the deplorable state of modern HTML does not allow this in anything other than Internet Explorer, old Opera, and maybe Edge. Lamentably, the Burn MIDI converted awfully to an OGG so I was forced to use another Sisters MIDI to replace it. Perhaps some day, W3C will get its act together and all will be well again. Until then, I recommend using IE for this page.
If you have any interest in the Sisters of Mercy and have not yet done so, I encourage you to make a pilgrimage to their official website. It's a glorious, genuine Web 1.0 site created by Mr. Eldritch himself and has a lot of interesting information about the band's members, official lyrics for some of their songs, and some top notch humour.
You will often see me using slashes (/) when quoting specific lines from songs. This is meant to mark where one song line ends and another begins. It's a tad unorthodox but preferable to breaking paragraphs up every time I have to quote the source material.
A note about the term "Gothic rock": while Sisters of Mercy has been consistently classified as a Gothic rock band, Andrew Eldritch has always vehemently denied this. Based on the content and tone of most of their songs, I personally consider them to be a Gothic band, but I don't think Mr. Eldritch holds as positive of a view of Goth culture as me.
I'll start by saying that this song is so incredible that even my autistically large vocabulary cannot quite conjure up sufficiently extravagant words to describe it. It's probably the most depressing song I've ever heard and never fails to make me tear up when I hear it, but is nonetheless tied with Susanne (also by Sisters) as my favourite song of all time. That is all. On to the lyrics analysis.
This is one of the many Sisters of Mercy songs that requires outside context in order to fully understand. The song twice mentions one "Isabelle", and Eldritch seems to be speaking directly to her throughout the song. I can no longer find anything but references to the interview where this was stated, but Eldritch had explained at one point that he received a letter from a female fan named Isabelle asking him to consider doing a song with only piano and vocals. Eldritch also mentioned that this Isabelle had the most "innocent" and beautiful handwriting that he ever saw in his life, which is key context here.
Obviously, 1959 is indeed a song (and the only Sisters song) that consists of only piano and vocals, so between this and the Isabelle name drop, it is undeniably a response to the fan letter.
The other fact needed to understand the song lies in 1959 - the name of the song and the number that is repeatedly mentioned in the song. Andrew Eldritch was born on May 15, 1959, so the most obvious reason this number has personal significance to him is due to it being his year of birth. Indeed, the first line of the song is "living as an angel in the place I was born."
The song appears to be describing a contrast between two states of being. A state of 1959, and a state of, well, Andrew Eldritch: "And it feels like me today / do you feel the same, Isabelle? / or do you feel like 1959?" Eldritch starts the song off by describing 1959 as "heaven", and knowing that it was the year he was born, we can assume it refers to childhood innocence. The blissful haven from the woes and tragedies of life, that the average person experiences in their formative years, before the relentless march of adult miseries and losses wears away their innocence like an endless downpour of acid rain.
The bitingly melancholic lyrics and tone of the song (and many other Sisters song) seem to suggest that Eldritch is speaking from the other side of life's journey: "Like homeless, restless, known to none / like way beyond the line / like it never was / in 1959."
Eldritch says the following lines before asking Isabelle if she feels the same as him or if she feels like "1959": "and the wind blows still / and the wind blows wild again / for a little child could never kill this clean." My interpretation of this is that it is meant to evoke the feelings that Eldritch had when he saw Isabelle's letter. 1959 was a place where the wind was calm and "still," and for just a second Eldritch felt a heartwretching sense of nostalgia for how serene things once were. Reading Isabelle's letter, it felt as if for just a second, the unruly winds of despair that have been battering his soul were tamed, and he remembered how it felt when all was well.
Full lyrics can be found here.
The usual interpretations that I see for this one suggest that the song is not very covertly about sex, and that the "burying" in the song refers to someone burying Eldritch's... well. I do somewhat agree but believe that it's only a goofy secondary meaning. It's never quite so simple with Sisters of Mercy.
While the chorus lines "lie beside and bury me deep" suggest an erotic meaning, the second verse's line "on the bed tomorrow morning / before you sleep / bury me deep" seems to have a double meaning. The words "morning" and "mourning" have the same pronunciation, and "mourning" is actually the word used in the official lyrics book. The way that Eldritch ruefully stretches the word out also hints at a more melancholic meaning. Going with the second word, the song meaning seems to shift towards a dying or deceased Eldritch perhaps imploring someone to bury him in their hearts and not mourn him too hard. The fact that the lines are preceded with "broken and torn" is a good hint at the mental state of the person the song is addressing.
The first verse ends with the line "oh, Marian / I can hear those voices singing." Marian is a name that pops up in two others Sisters songs - the eponymous Marian, and the unreleased Red Skies Disappear. Both songs read as dark and desperate cries for help from someone dying, possibly quite literally, from sheer despair. "Marian, I think I'm drowning / the sea is killing me."
While I am unaware of when the latter song was recorded, Marian was made in the same year (1985) as Bury Me Deep, and this wouldn't be the first time Eldritch referenced one of his songs in another song.
Bury Me Deep's chorus line "lie beside and bury me deep" gains an entirely different meaning when considering that Red Skies Disappear had two separate lines imploring Marian to "take my hand / lay beside me on the burning sand". At this point, it's safe to assume that Marian is likely a close confidant/confidante that Eldritch is emotionally reliant on. Laying beside Eldritch no longer seems to have a literal meaning, unless Eldritch is beseeching Marian to dig him up and lie next to his corpse in the cemetery.
The next possible meaning that I would seek to assume here would be that "lying beside" means being there to comfort him, acting as silent support even if Marian cannot quite understand Eldritch's pain. Perhaps it was brought on by mental illness or Eldritch's prolific drug use. Indeed, Red Skies Disappear does implore Marian to "don't try to understand."
Given the context, I think Bury Me Deep is intended to follow Marian and Red Skies Disappear. Eldritch has expired as a result of his battle with whatever malady, emotional or physical, was plaguing him and he wants Marian, likely standing at his grave, to think of him one last time - lie beside him - and then to bury him deep within her (his?) heart and move on.
Full lyrics can be found here.