She leaves behind the best song of all time
Q Lazzarus – the reclusive recording artist and the voice behind “Goodbye Horses” – has sadly passed away. At the time of her death, she was working on a documentary about her life, Goodbye Horses: The Many Lives of Q Lazzarus, which is due to be released next year.
Diane Luckey (Q’s real name) was a singer from New York who fronted a band called Q Lazzarus and the Resurrection. She remains best known for “Goodbye Horses”, a song which has left an indelible mark on popular culture. Often described as a one-hit wonder, the track was never a hit in a conventional sense, and barely made a dent in the charts. But it has been covered by a number of artists, featured in countless films, soundtracked a Gucci campaign, and is still so widely beloved that to call it a “cult classic” would be an understatement.
In a mystery which has prompted years of speculation and amateur sleuthing, Q Lazzarus vanished from public view in the early 90s and left years of royalties unclaimed. In 2018, former Dazed editor Thomas Gorton managed to make contact with Luckey, discovering that she was happily retired from the music business and had been working as a bus driver for years.
Throughout the 80s, Luckey struggled to make it as a musician, often finding herself subject to racist discrimination by recording companies. She was regularly deemed “unmarketable” on account of having dreads, to which she would reply “I market myself, I’m a big-boned African-American woman who wears dreads, sings American rock and roll – I market myself.” Her lucky break finally came when she was working as a taxi driver in New York and, by sheer coincidence, happened to pick up director Jonathan Demme in her cab. She asked him if he worked in the music industry and when he replied “no”, she decided to stick on her demo anyway. Demme, who was blown away, went on to use a number of her songs in his films. Most notably, he included “Goodbye Horses” in his Best Picture-winning thriller The Silence of the Lambs (1992), which remains one of the most iconic uses of music in film history.
The scene in question – and the film in general – occupies a controversial position in pop culture history. Its villain, Buffalo Bill – a serial killer who murders women in order to wear their skin as a suit – is not supposed to be trans. But while the film attempts to make that explicitly clear, and to refute the idea that there’s a link being transgender identity and violence, it does nonetheless equates queerness and gender-nonconformity with predation and death. This doesn’t just feel uncomfortable when viewed from a modern perspective: it was heavily criticised at the time by LGBTQ+ groups, and on the night it won an Oscar, a protest against it by queer activists almost turned into a riot. In the scene which features “Goodbye Horses”, Buffalo Bill dances around in front of a mirror, tweaking a nipple ring, applying makeup, and repeatedly asking “would you fuck me? I’d fuck me” as he tucks his genitals between his legs. As problematic as this scene might seem, “Goodbye Horses” really does elevate into something haunting, even oddly beautiful.
After The Silence of the Lambs, Q Lazzarus’s music made one more appearance in a Demme film, (1993’s AIDS drama Philadelphia) and then she disappeared from public life forever. She leaves behind her family, but also an enduring and undeniable masterpiece: the only official single she ever realised, it’s hard to convey just how good “Goodbye Horses” is. According to Q’s bandmate William Garvey, who wrote the song, it’s “about transcendence over those who see the world as only earthly and finite. The horses represent the five senses from Hindu philosophy and the ability to lift one’s perception above these physical limitations and to see beyond this limited Earthly perspective.” If that reads as abstract or pretentious, the song really does feel transcendent. What I like most about “Goodbye Horses” is that it’s impossible to pin down its tone: at the same time, it’s mournful and ecstatic, melancholy and rapturous, sinister and euphoric. It’s the rare piece of music that you can listen to while running on a treadmill, having sex, filling out a spreadsheet, crying on a night bus or dancing on ecstasy in a club. It’s so good that whenever I hear it, it bestows life itself with beauty, profundity and glamour, like only the greatest art can do. Goodbye, Q Lazzarus, and thank you for the best song of all time.