REVIEW: V/A - "Only Sorrow"

By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Only SorrowIt seems as though once in a decade a CD will be released that is full of more passion and intensity than any one heart could hope to contain. Only Sorrow is a memorial musical tribute whose aim is to donate 100% of its profits to the Ellen Claire Lawrence Memorial Scholarship fund.

Before reviewing the music, it is essential to highlight this enigmatic young lady who went by her middle name, Claire, who was taken from the world at the tender age of 19. Through interviews with Lee Whipple, the creator of this compilation, Claire came alive in my mind's eye. Despite the youthful disadvantages that she had, she lived her life with glowing passion and compassion, a true embodiment of an angel living on Earth.

Claire was the product of a bi-polar mother and an unknown father. Her frail grandmother provided her early schooling and taught Claire how to read through the works of her favorite author, Edgar Allen Poe. Her mother supported the family through a used bookstore that she initially owned and worked a private sideline job until she sold the bookstore and moved to Arizona. While in Arizona, Claire's mother worked in the adult entertainment industry as a phone sex operator and was even granted a business and tax license by the City of Glendale for her phone entertainment company.

"Even though Claire would baby-sit for the children of call girls while their mothers were working, Claire's grandmother did her best and succeeded in keeping her sheltered from the worst aspects of her mother's life style."

Claire was an honors student, majoring in computer science and was vice president of the Phi Theta Kappa chapter at Glendale Community College. Every one who knew her loved her because she was compassionate to a fault. Lee described her as forgiving, patient, and full of love for life, amply demonstrating that people are not always negative byproducts of their developmental environment. "She was philosophically well read; Nietze, Plato, Kant, Hume, Locke, Berkey, Marx, and Rand. Steven Hawking was a hero to her, and Lewis Carol a prophet. Alice In Wonderland was her Bible, as she could quote the entire book word for word from memory."

Lee states, "She loved beauty; she went out of her way to bring out beauty in everything." She saw beauty in everything with the exception of television and Disney, which she despised with a passion. Claire would often discuss for hours about Disney's destruction of great literature."

Lee mused, "Claire and I would go for walks together at the Arizona Desert Botanical Gardens. She would stop at every plant, sniff the flowers she could and watch the bugs and the birds. It could take over an hour to go only 300 feet. I spent most of that time watching her, and learning to see the world as she did.

"Claire loved birds and was mother to 10 of them. All of them had free roam of the house, however, if one got outside it would come straight to her when she called."

Claire once told Lee that "people were sheep and that bothered her because she was not a sheep, but she was also neither a wolf nor a shepherd - nor did she have the right to shear the sheep. She said that she felt like an outsider and an observer and deep down inside she had lived before. She was agnostic bordering on atheism, no religions made sense to her, even the faiths that believed in reincarnation. She had read all the religious books and they all were the same. Claire had mentioned that no one understood what the books really said."

"Claire kept a daily journal of her thoughts and daily events, but it was intentionally non-chronological. In her journals Claire summed herself up as a mental hedonist, pursuing the things in life, which made her mind feel good. She cautioned herself against pursuing only physical things. However just because it was physical did not mean that it was not good for the mind."

Claire's upbringing may have been less than loving unintentionally, but it was miles away from the ordinary childhood of most people. She cared very deeply for those around her and sought to make things comfortable for the less fortunate. It was this compassion and drive to make things better that lead to that fateful day. On May 24, 1998, this loving, warm, tender young lady lost her life from an accidental shooting while wrestling a gun away from her suicidal mother. It is an understatement to say that there is evidence of bitterness from her loss through the music that is on this compilation CD. Quite frankly, the emotions of passion, pain, anger and loss are tightly and expertly represented. There is not one dud in the bunch.

Audra opens the disc with Venus, which sets the tone for the bittersweet ideation behind the CD's intent. Sometimes Silver by 3SKS follows the initial track, bringing the listener into a more reflective and pensive moment as only this band can. At first I thought Trench Warfare by ThouShaltNot was glaringly out of place on this tribute CD, especially in light of some of the gunshots that rang out on the track. When I learned the entire story behind Ms. Lawrence's demise, this track was more than appropriate to subliminally remind us of what killed this young lady, but also provided some impetus for Lee to purge the demon's that haunt him with the loss of this special lady. This track is quite unique and club friendly, utilizing amazing mixing and sound layering making it my top 5 pick of the best industrial tracks to own for 2001.

Pensive emotions are returned to us through Winds Blow Higher by Sleepless. It is a lilting song with and undertone of edginess sung by alto female vocals interspersed with darkly whispered male recitations. It comprises the feelings of love, loss and anger and quite simply put a lump in my throat. Second Skin's track Libereta Me opens with dialogue of someone who has crossed over and is informed that they are dead. It segues into a goth rock angst style song with a Fields of Nephilim type of energy behind it. The ever popular Progression from The Azoic is a song that delivers a poignant message of love, loss and moving on behind dance friendly EBM.

Only SorrowPer Somnia's Grace of Violence is yet another song that helps put the senseless tragedy into perspective. It adds to the body of tracks that deliver a bit of angst meant as a purging element. When we are helpless to change the reality, often music is the only means we have to help us cope. The track is interspersed with dialogue about guns and shooting, which makes it that much more chilling. Long Lost from Oneiroid Psychosis sounds as if the soul is walking across the clouds. This track, though mournful, does not resort to the usual "spooky" fare that one has come to know with this band. It is a fitting musical eulogy of dark angel's weeping and wailing that the light of one so young has been cut so short.

Faith and Disease contribute Rubina Verde, a shoegazer style track that gives the feeling of walking through a garden during the twilight hours. Razor Skyline's Fade and Sustain at this point not only had the lump in the throat growing larger, but also made sure it wasn't going to move from my throat for the duration of this CD. It is a love song yet a farewell song to the one we love all at the same time. Deathwatch Beetle Repairman included the track Drying In the Sun. Having been familiar with this song, in retrospect it is amazing how these lyrics compliment the lamentation and loss of Claire in almost prophetic fashion.

The Cruxshadows contributed an exclusive track, The Dying Song. Having been wrecked to tears with this band's song Monument on their Mystery of the Whisper CD, I was all prepared for the 10-hanky assault by the time this track arrived on the headset. I was not disappointed. Coven XIII delivers Haunted, an almost medieval folk rock ballad with winsome flashbacks to the medieval dark ages. It is a heartfelt and passionate track of love and loss and firmly plants Lee in my mind as the character who dances with the memory of a love that has faded with the dawn.

Paris Burning allows us to catch our breath from the mournfulness, but only momentarily. The song Cold starts like a traditional goth rock song, however the lyrics are up front and very decipherable. If you aren't an emotional wreck by this track, you are certainly one of the emotionally dead. The Unquiet Void's song Angels ties the whole CD together. It is a musical pulsation of the transconfiguration of the soul moving heavenward, being embraced by the angelic realm. It plays with mournfulness and hopefulness of an everlasting life.

Lee Whipple is to be commended for sublimating his grief through the creation of a project that will help to keep Claire's memory alive through a scholarship fund. The tracks not only highlight the various facets of her personality, but also help us to voyeuristically see inside of Lee's emotions and the depth of his pain from losing this cherished lady that he was to one day marry. Only Sorrow is a living goth story in all its mournfulness and introspection, made more bittersweet and heartbreaking because it is true.

Quite frankly, this CD review has been one of the most emotionally difficult tasks for me to ever undertake as a writer. Claire's life and Lee's pain have become so vividly alive that I can't help but be heartbroken for the both of them. With that in mind, I will leave off with the following words from Lee. "I not only loved her, I admired and respected her. I accepted the fact that for some reason, she loved me. Of all the things about her I miss, I find I miss her voice the most."

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