On March 23, 2022, Slavic American experimental pop artist Zola Jesus released “Lost,” the lead single for her forthcoming album Arkhon. As Nika Rosa Danilova describes on her Patreon page, “i wrote lost after chopping up a sample of a slovenian folk choir singing a song from the bela krajina region where my ancestors are from… lost is about the power of connecting to land, and how that relationship can foster a sense of purpose and fulfillment that so many are currently missing in this modern world.”
“Lost” performs this becoming grounded, beginning with the grasping for materiality that is feeling… lost. The song opens with said “chopped up… sample of a slovenian folk choir,” blipping in and out of the song to create a barren landscape. At 20 seconds in, Danilova enters, singing-panting indecipherable auralities. At 33 seconds in, the reverb on her vocals cranks up as she sings the first verse:
In my woods I fall apart
To be spoken both must start
Ask for all your wisdom here
Give me space to disappear
When she reaches the chorus line “Everyone I know is lost,” the opera-trained Danilova moves all the way up in her vocal register, the full-on synth bass line and additional reverb accentuating her climb. The chorus soon feeds into a bridge of galloping drums, the panting-singing vocals returning to remind us that we are not yet out of the woods. In the second verse, the production starts skipping, moving along with—but also around—the rattling sound that has now entered the song. After the verse, the chorus repeats in much the same way as before, setting up the song’s outro. With 30 seconds to go, the vocals, reverb, and drum gallop all lower—and the chanting starts to fade out with the drums. But then the chanting and singing-panting begin to climb up in volume again… before suddenly stopping. This is being lost and then found, of finding grounding within, even as you get opened up to new questions along the way.
I went to Italy for the first time in July feeling very emotionally lost. A lot of the anxiety that I brought with me was about LA, about feeling not quite sure about my place in various communities in which I was involved. In many ways, it had been a great first year in the city; I had settled into my new job, apartment, and city fairly easily, including making many new friends and being invited into various groups. Never before had I met so many compelling people so quickly—and it spoke to the comfort I was feeling with myself, a place of self-love that I had been working towards for many years (after not feeling that way for much of my adult life). At the same time, something felt missing. While my life was full of fun nights and smart conversations with people, I didn’t really feel that I was connecting with people on a deeply emotional level, minus in a few close friendships. Something would need to shift when I got back, although what exactly that was was not yet clear at the beginning of the month. Additionally, I went to Italy with a loss (or an extended pause? (it’s still unclear what exactly it is this time)) from the beginning of the year still hovering around me—and who I thought about every day that I was in Venice. Despite the pain from how our last conversations had ended and ruptured our relationality, I still cared about this person, remembering that we had been friends for five years before any other possibilities became a discussion point. Finally, I was also trying to process the abrupt ending of what (both people) had intended to be a short-term, couple of months sex situation but had then gotten messy because it had gotten emotional (which it always does for me, so idk how I thought that that maybe wouldn’t happen). Where was I supposed to go from here? How was I supposed to continue to be an emotional person? These are the kinds of questions that I showed up with in Venice, for its islands and canals and biennale.
Everyone I know is lost. In Italy, time instantly slows down. In my six days of solo traveling in and around Venezia, I am completely on my own, beholden to no one. With my data turned off for most of the day, no one can reach me—and I can’t fall back into the anxiety habit of checking my phone constantly to fill up any empty space. I wake up each morning and stroll along a canal to get pastry and an espresso; my favorite is a feminist bookstore cafe near where I was staying in Cannaregio. In the Venice Biennale, I lose myself in art for two entire days, spending five hours each day at either Arsenale or Giardini. On my fourth day, I take the advice of a dear friend/colleague from back home and take a train out to Gorizia on the Italian-Slovenian border. (Although I am Italian (American), I am not Slovenian, but I am Polish and Russian through my mother’s lineage—and so feel the pull towards Eastern Europe.) I have lunch at a restaurant near the train station, where I order gnocchi with gulash. Already, the cultures are crossing. After strolling through the Piazza Della Vittoria, I start walking to Slovenia, crossing at Solkan. There is no marker announcing that you are now in Slovenia, just a yellow sign with the city name on it; the biggest indicator is that all the other signs are suddenly written in Slovene. I hike up to Solkan Bridge, the world’s longest stone arch railroad bridge, marveling at its size. On the way back, I walk through Nova Gorica, the sister city to Gorizia that was founded when the wall went up. I then also go to see the remains of the Berlin Wall, which a cyclist tells me is being torn down so that they can build a bike path there instead (but that, at the start of the pandemic, a metal fence went up again so that people could not cross the border). Once back in Italia, I climb up to Gorizia Castle, reading a plaque about how “Italian and Slovenian partisans and antifascists” resisted the Nazis. Hopping back and forth between countries and temporalities, I realize how much the idea of ourselves as anything other than always becoming is a falsity, much like the binaries of gender but also insider/outsider that drive notions of nationality.
Flare gone missing, turning dark. In Roma, I meet up with my sister for a whirlwind four days. We walk virtually everywhere, clocking 15 miles on our third day. Of everywhere I visit in Italy, Rome is the most overwhelming. Despite studying Latin for four years in high school and reading about all these very old buildings, I am not at all ready for their colossal presence in the (middle of the) city. Like the patriarchy that powered their construction, these buildings continue to stand, much like the structure of oppression. At the same time, the history nerd in me loves being around so much old shit, obsessively taking pictures of everything we walk by. After only doing bacari once in Venezia, my sister and I do aperitivo every night, working off the six-screens-long list of Rome recommendations from a dear friend/colleague’s partner, who is an art historian and has lived in Roma for extended periods at a time. On the third night, we go to the queer bookstore/cafe in Pigneto, where I feel at home even though I can speak barely 20 words of Italian. I pick up a graphic novel with the word lesbodramma in the title, hoping that it will inspire me to actually start learning the language this time. The cute bartender soon after describes me as bellissimo to a baby they’re talking to, using the masculine form even though I’m having a gender day that’s more feminine than my increasingly masc-leaning androgyny. That a stranger can so acutely get my gender identity feels incredible, especially after some hard conversations with my family about it before I take off for Italy from NYC. The next day, my sister indulges me and we rent bicycles so we can ride along the Appian Way. I get lost on the way there (even though I have my data on)—and we end up city cycling through a bunch of neighborhoods before cutting across a highway to get into the park, which I love. Once we’re there, it feels amazing to share something I love so much with someone I love so much.
We keep walking through the weeds. In Napoli, my sister and I enter a world that a shared friend from home describes as what he imagines the Village in the 1970s must have been like. The streets are crowded and bustling with life, including mopeds that we have to be wary of getting hit by. Our hostel is on a hilly street with a church on the top of it; throughout the side alleys, there are shrines to the saints or to people who have passed away. Never in my life have I been somewhere so simultaneously urban and religious; nevertheless, my Italian American ex-Catholic witchiness helps me feel right at home. Meeting up with our friend from home, we drop our stuff off and go to eat pizza, where we encounter Pulcinella for the first time. (We eat a lot of pizza—and fried pasta—while in Napoli.) On our last night, it seems like a good idea to purchase a 1.5L of draft wine (for 4.5€) and drink that before dinner. Since I only have a little, I am fine—and end up wandering around on my own when my sister and our friend decide to rally after they push through crashing from the wine. I look for a queer bar near the hostel, seeing that most of them are cruising bars oriented towards cis men (like everything). I think about going to the craft beer bar I’ve already visited a couple of times but decide to walk in the other direction on Toledo to check out a queer bar/cafe. It is Friday night and everyone is out; I lock eyes with and smile at a few cute femmes that I pass by. When I get to where the cafe is, there must be a few hundred people standing outside in the plaza. There’s a Bellini statue that someone has spray-painted an anarchist A over, which is in line with a lot of the anarchist, communist, and/or socialist graffiti that I’ve seen in all the Italian cities on my trip. Even with the language barrier, I feel communally there with everyone. Before my flight back to NJ, I go back to Napoli and do a walking tour of the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels. When I cross Porta Capuana, it is the only time I see more than a few Black people in Italy—and working-class-ness.
Hoping for a quick relief. For the tail end of our time together, we base ourselves in Salerno so that we can easily get to Gioi (the mountain town from which our paternal grandmother immigrated) and Pompei (so we can see the ruins). Getting to Gioi the next day is a challenge. We take the train to Vallo Della Luciana and hope that, using Google Translator, we can get a taxi driver to get us there and then come pick us up in a few hours. When we get to the top of the mountain, the town is dead, since it’s a Saturday and the middle of the summer. Texting with my cousin in LA (who’s up at 4am feeding her baby), we figure out, via pictures, which house was our grandmother’s. After taking a bunch of pictures, we walk downhill for 30 minutes to get to the two restaurants that have been recommended to us. The first one is definitely closed while the second one has open doors but no one standing downstairs. We call the farm-restaurant and I speak to the owner in broken Italian. She soon appears downstairs, offering to feed us—and instantly reminds all of us of our Italian nonnas. More than happy with the eggplant parmesan first course, we are soon served green beans in lemon, tomatoes and zucchini, provolone, salumi with peppercorns, and a basket of bread. For dessert, we’re brought peaches, cannolis, and caffe. We take a selfie with the owner and then walk back up the hill, so we can go in the alleys—and in the church—before our taxi driver returns. As we wind back down through the mountain, I think about how (part of) why I feel at home in the mountains in LA must be because my grandmother grew up in them in Italy. That night, as my sister and our friend crash, I go out on the beach in Salerno and journal. Although we joke that the beach is the Seaside Heights of the Amalfi Coast, I like being out there at night, with a few other people and the bright lights from the nearby restaurant granting me a lantern. It is out on the water at night that everything I want to change when I get back becomes clear.
In the Zola Jesus discography, death, the meaning of life, posterity, ancestry, and connections to both the land and those around us are all overarching themes, with implicit critiques of both capitalism and America running underneath. Her songs are often very emotional, a result of intertwining her operatic vocal delivery with the affective, felt power of the synths/piano, drum machines, strings, and (more) bass. In this vein, “Vessel” is a “great exhale,” the result of letting go into the outside what Danilova had previously been holding in on the inside. “Vessel” is the first single from Conatus, Zola Jesus’s 2011 album that I gave a passing listen to when it was first released—and then came back to again with full force after the transcendental experience of her set at Moogfest in May 2017. In an interview with the New York Times, Danilova discusses the “cathartic” process of recording the album. She remarks,
In the early stages, I wanted this record to feel more pulled away, more immediately entertaining and less overwhelmed by my own emotional intensities. But it quickly became just that. It is an entirely introspective record, where I ended up forcing myself to analyze every last detail of my skill as a musician, and that kind of avalanched into me dissecting my own fabric as a person.
“Vessel” begins with a few drum pounds, synth squeaks, and piano chords, with Danilova soon singing “a-a-a-aa” and “o-o-o-oo” at different vibratory frequencies, molding her voice to what’s instrumentally going on around it. I have to be honest that I’ve never paid close attention to the words in this particular Zola Jesus song, instead inscribing the vibrations—and the emotionalities—to my bodily memory (here comes that piano chord mid-line, here comes that synth sputter before the chorus). Even more than other ZJ songs, “Vessel” is a feeling, one that plunges you deep inside the emotional depths within yourself. At the end of a chaotic first six months of 2022, I live on the wavelength of this song.
I’m beginning this section in mid-June, before Italy. I’m thinking about the past six months in my sex/dating/romantic life, from a long distance feeling-it-out (that ended in mid-/late December) to a trio of one-off dates/conversations that I definitely wasn’t ready for (in January into early February), six weeks of emotional intimacy with someone that began to feel romantic for me and I was almost ready for (late February into early April), and six weeks of feelings, intimacy, and sex with someone with whom I (still) feel there were real moments of connectivity, shifting me from almost to fully ready in the process (early May through mid-June). To go through a six-month period of so much start and stop was a lot; to feel in a cycle of constant emotional recovery is also hard, especially when you’re also trying to be empathetic and mindful of other people’s feelings. I don’t think we talk about the ethics of empathy enough, about the lines that can get crossed in this porous space, about how hard it can become to distinguish between what’s yours and someone else’s when you’re trying to hold feelings with another. (This was especially the case in the last situation, where we both were/are self-identified empathetic people—and not used to having that reflected back to us.) When I look back at all of it with space from August, I realize how much I keep giving what I wished I would have emotionally had, both during my childhood (which felt like an emotionally vacant landscape) and in my past romantic relationships/situations (where I’ve almost always given more—and then really hold onto the moments when people emotionally show up for me, even if they’re inconsistent). I keep giving what I wish I was receiving, instead of asking for it more directly. For someone who is generally forthcoming, it is still very hard to ask for what I emotionally need, that it somehow still feels like too much to ask for. How do we ask for this intimacy? More so, how do we receive consent for this kind of emotionality? These are the questions that will also spin around my head while I’m in Italy, as I search for answers from a distance.
In my pre-travel second half of June, I put these questions about emotional intimacy on hold, hoping for better answers to emerge while I’m in Italy. In the meantime, I go on Feeld in LA, looking for some sex that might feel more contained—and less complicated—than it has for most of the past few years. I do this even though I am starting to deeply desire a long-term partnership again, along with to date only one person (at least initially). But, then, there’s also my sexual body, this body that I’m still coming back into after the sexual and emotional violence of two years ago. How does one hold these desires for sex and romance together? During my first year in LA, I find myself piecing these two needs and desires together across multiple people, including across multiple geographies. It’s not ideal, but I’m used to it at this point, especially after my seven years of (largely) poly dating in the south. This all gets additionally nuanced by how mid-June, I start getting flashbacks to the only time (back at the start of the pandemic) that sex felt truly dissociative for me, asking myself over and over again, “Did I do enough to stop it?” (The flashbacks are not triggered by sex, but by something else.) I spin out; I can barely hold it together. I can’t separate the past from the present; I feel myself collapsing into a state of constant panic and anxiety. So I go looking for sexual encounters where I more clearly spell out what I need, with people who do the same with me, hoping to have sex that feels healthier. In LA, the sex feels physically good, and I feel very present until right after, where the intimacy of just laying there afterward is more than I can emotionally handle in the moment (and so I leave, immediately—which is very uncharacteristic of me). At home, in the dark, I wish that I could instead be having sex with someone with whom I’ve had more of an emotional connection, that I’ve known—and desired—for more than a minute. In Italy in July, a combination of the language barrier and summer tourism means I don’t actually meet up with anyone that I match with on Venice/Biennale Tinder, which I realize is for the best, as I probably could not emotionally handle anything else so short-lived at that moment. And so, I return to the dark, with myself.
On the phone with my queer/affect theory mentor (who, because of timing, catches (up with) me at the beginning and end of this six-month cycle) in mid-June, she encourages me to keep grounding myself in community/friendship and following the sexual/romantic currents out from there (as I prefer to do—and know that always works out best for me, given my in-person charisma). I think about how grateful I am that we’ve become emotional friends in addition to mentor/mentee, about how the phone conversation shines a light on the emotional intimacy I’m still needing more of in LA. Talking with her also reminds me of the power of my emotionality—and encourages me to keep practicing empathy. And so, I don’t get angry at anyone from that tumultuous six-month-long period, even as I continue to feel sad about the means by which the lines were ultimately drawn. (In the same vein, I practice self-forgiveness for the moments in all the situations where I misstepped.) I stay emotionally open to the possibility of a future conversation, even as I understand that we all need to keep our distance (for all of the reasons) for the indefinite future. What else can we do in this moment? Both pandemic capitalism and white heteropatriarchal supremacy are nonstop assaults, leaving us no time to grieve or process anything unless we actively claw the time out ourselves. As someone with a flexible schedule, I ended up taking off, on average, a half or full day a week of my first year in LA off, just sitting and trying to process—and emotionally rebuild and heal from—the past couple of years. I know that professorial cultural capital and a symbolic/lingering white upper middle class privilege allows me to do this, along with the seven-year-long commitment to working on myself via therapy, spirituality, etc. None of us are okay right now, and what that looks like and what is needed differs from person to person—and, often, from moment to moment. All we can do is try our best to hear what people are asking for and to act accordingly from there.
As Danilova sings on “Vessel” in the first verse, “Sickle the cells of our pains/ Grow in deep, deeper the stains of/ Our youth, our youth imbued.” If only we could more easily pull out what has most pained us.
The week of the Zola Jesus headlining show in LA, I join my first Monday night group cycling ride, which I’m invited into by a badass lawyer who I met at the farmers market. Similar to the Vaginal Davis bike ride out of the ICA in November, I register that it is a pivotal moment in my LA life, that I will look back on this months later and appreciate how that night (further) opened up my life in my still new-ish city. Before and after the day of the ride, I hang out with the friends with whom I’ve always felt emotionally safe and reach out to new friends (many of whom I met or reconnected with in the three weeks before I left for Italy) and make plans with them. Although I am not new in the city at this point, I feel that I’m getting a fresh start, that this is going to be LA v2.0 for me. As I wait for my PCR test results to come back after I get back from Italy, I journal—or just sit with—a lot of my thoughts. I realize that the only way to change my situation in LA is to lead with emotional intimacy, is to prioritize the people and spaces that cultivate that kind of presence. On the night of the show, I have my friend who will be joining me over for dinner beforehand, bonding over our shared sound/performance studies world. Like many of my favorite people in life, we met at a (virtual) conference last year—and started hanging out once we realized that we both lived in LA County. More than anything, I am excited to go to the Zola Jesus show with someone who is also a fan—and to share the intimate venue space that is the Lodge Room with someone to whom I feel so connected. Just as much as the show will be a homecoming for Zola Jesus back to LA (where she once lived), it will be a coming home for both of us as well, the first concert for my friend since the start of the pandemic and the end of my first full week back in LA—and the sedimentation of a new LA for me.
At Lodge Room, opener White Boy Noise sets the stage, mixing operatic vocals, (melodic) noise, and political-cultural commentary about the systems we’re still (stuck) in. When Zola Jesus takes the stage with her band, Danilova appears in a cocoon (the word she’ll later use) of red see-through fabric, gold rings, and sparkling gold dress underneath. Literally emerging from her cabin in the woods of Wisconsin to open for The Cult and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on the East Coast and Midwest before pivoting to her first headlining show in four years in LA, Danilova looks like she’s still adjusting her eyes to the light of the new world around us, mirroring what we’re all going through back to us. Opening with “Lost,” “The Fall,” and “Undertow,” the first three songs on Arkhon, Danilova quickly warms her voice up, letting it loose for the chorus in “Lost” (“Everyone I know is lost”) and even more so for the chorus in “The Fall” (“I will take/ Take the fall”) before moving back into more subdued territory for “Undertow” (“Take all you know-ow-ow/ Into the undertow-ow-ow”). With the mic stand now pushed to the side, Danilova wraps the mic chord around her arm to get it out of the way during the song’s intro, transitioning into what my friend I was at the show with, IB, describes as movement that was “[not] disjointed but there was a horror aspect to it that I really loved” (me too). While my first thought while watching Zola Jesus is to wonder if this has been choreographed, a closer feeling with reveals that this is Danilova moving with the force of the music, letting its vibrations push and pull her body in whichever direction and to whichever point of the stage they take her. Underneath that, in the undertow, Danilova wades through the horrors of our contemporary moment, of trying to be thinking and feeling people in a country/world of doom and gloom (which her Patreon page offers me—and many others—some respite from). This moment is her enacting this for us, calling us to let go, plunge into the undertow, and get lost with her.
While Zola Jesus has a cult following for being a noise/industrial turned darkwave experimental pop artist, what I find most compelling about her work is what happens between the lines, about how what she says about what she’s doing further amplifies the power of listening to her on record. As an extension of all this, witnessing her live/in person is a spiritual reckoning, the kind of communal concert convergence that borders on being a religious experience. [The first time I saw her live, at Moogfest in Durham in May 2017, the sun set over her as she was performing “Night.” She instantly became one of my favorite artists, especially after I went back and relistened to 2011’s Conatus with new ears.] As one of two musical artists that I give money to via Patreon (the other is Holly Miranda), I feel a strong emotional connection to Zola Jesus’s music. Her music is for sitting with the darkness, not only lyrically but also affectively and vibrationally. This emotional pull is most visceral on Okovi, ZJ’s album from 2017 (which I reviewed for Bitch Media)—and this comes through in the set when she transitions from “Undertow” to “Soak.” As I wrote in my review of the album, “On… ‘Soak,’ Danilova pushes the cinematic feel of her music into the realm of the demented, performing from the perspective of a woman who is facing death at the hands of a serial killer.” At Lodge Room that night, the song signals a switch back to the familiar, to the album immediately preceding the new one—and back to the before times when it seemed like a certain president was the biggest problem that we (in America) had to deal with. Joined on stage by a live drummer for the first (?) of the three times I’ve seen her in concert, what were industrial drum machine beats on the album get a new live (life) force in concert. This is all of us waking the fuck back up.
Somewhere in between “Hikikomori,” “Dead & Gone,” and “In Your Nature,” the red fabric cocoon comes off, ushering us into more vulnerable lyrical content. Zola Jesus begins here with “Witness,” a song written to commemorate a loved one’s suicide attempts. It is a musically sparse but emotionally heavy song, one that I listened to on repeat in September 2019, after learning that a family friend had killed himself. Wearing all black in class that week, I shared with my students that someone who was like a gay uncle to me had “died suddenly,” unable to bring myself to say the word “suicide” (or, more painfully, “gun”). That was my first semester of teaching full time—and it opened up an emotional closeness that I still have with a bunch of the students who were in that fall 2019 classroom with me, the last one we got before COVID began. In the set at Lodge Room, “Witness” registers the collective losses that we’ve all experienced during the pandemic, wrapped up in how we continue to experience the traumas and losses of everyday life. [A collage you made commemorating a suicide that you texted me a picture of last fall (are you doing okay now?). Sitting across from someone I once almost lost back home, breathing a sigh of relief every time that you show up. Flashbacks to running my fingers along the moths on your back, which you said you got when you stopped cutting yourself. Holding the card that you sent me in between when I finished my Ph.D. in May 2019 and when you ended your life four months later, saying that you were proud of me. All the moments that I feel that life is too much to continue to emotionally bear—but then I reach out and hold onto all the love surrounding me in my life.] My mind is a whirlwind in this moment, my body is somewhere beyond me. This is what existing in the long pandemic is like.
If “Witness” is the lull, then “Night” is the busting out. In this rendition of the song, Danilova runs all over the stage, shaking hands and giving smiles along the way. This song hits me in a particular way on this night, as it’s the energy I’m putting out into the universe, in the hope of again finding romantic love. In September 2017, I went to see Zola Jesus in Austin with my girlfriend at the time, someone that I dated for seven months and loved deeply—and was unquestionably the most emotionally present person I’ve ever been with. ZJ opened the set with “Veka” (as she also did at Moogfest), full of questions and vibrations about history and posterity. In the end, all of these things would drive us apart, the class identity differences too big to surmount. I haven’t written about that girlfriend much on here (except briefly here), because it’s a painful breakup to think about, the kind where you can’t pinpoint anyone doing anything “wrong” and you (meaning I) just have to walk away because you can already see the future ahead. I’ve been thinking about this girlfriend a lot lately because she really is the last person that I felt like I was with in all of the ways (physically, emotionally, and intellectually) for an extended period of time, despite “dating”—or being entangled with—other people for longer since then. I keep thinking about her lately as I keep trying to imagine the kind of emotionality that I need to be with someone for the long run, which is where my heart steadfastly is at this moment in time. [A quick perusal of social media shows me that she’s partnered and looks happy. I hope that she is, as she’s the person I most sincerely wish is doing well of all the people I’ve dated or desired.] While “Veka” is absent from the set at Lodge Room, I start slipping there from “Night,” which I can remember texting that girlfriend about seeing after I first experienced it. But instead of despair, I feel hopeful about this part of my life for the first time since the very end of last year, that something—and someone—is out there, that it’s only a matter of time.
After “Vessel” and before “Sewn,” we get “Exhumed,” which is always near the very end of the set—and is always a show stopper. One of my favorite things about the song is the strings, which rapid fire crunch in and out at the song’s intro. After two cycles through of that, Danilova comes in screaming, first purely guttural and then to utter the line, “Bury the tongue between the teeth.” The drums click and then pound in between the lines, and, with time, loop Danilova’s guttural vocals back in. “Exhumed” is an epic song, never mind Danilova’s most orchestral—and it is still one of her strongest songs, if not the strongest one. After singing “Let it sink/ Don’t let it hold you down” with her vocals in the backing track, Danilova breaks out into the song’s signature standalone line: “In the static you are reborn.” After her backing vocals repeat, the drums pound back into the song, pushing the strings up. On record, it is the start of one of Danilova’s best transitions, marking her deftness as a producer in addition to a songwriter. On stage at Lodge Room, Danilova explodes with her voice, orchestrating a group exorcism of whatever we’ve been needing to get rid of from the past two, three, four years. When I tell people that seeing Zola Jesus is a spiritual and even religious experience, I am not exaggerating or being metaphorical. By the end of the night, I find something restored in me that was previously missing, which always happens with her shows. And this really matters in this moment. While abroad in Italy, I really didn’t want to come back to America. What was the point of returning to this country at this moment in time? What was the point of trying to emotionally connect in a city where it’s difficult to find sincerity? What was the point of writing a critical theory book when the entire world was on fire? As Danilova sings “Down throat, let it all go” for the song’s final line, I feel the will to be here—and to be doing the work—suddenly return to me. In the darkness of the Zola Jesus concert and the crowd of witchy, darkwave weirdos around me, there is a light to something else.
In the following days, something that Danilova said near the end of the set stays with me: “Maybe the people who are about to quit are the people who should keep going, to invigorate humanity.”