You may not know the name Q Lazzarus, but you may be familiar with her 1988 cult classic song “Goodbye Horses.” The dreamy synth-pop song was prominently featured in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 class film The Silence of the Lambs. It has also been used in films like Married to the Mob and Clerks II as well as television shows like Family Guy.
While the song has become a cult classic because of the quality of the track, the mystery behind the singer also significantly contributed to that status. Not much is known about Q Lazzarus. She doesn’t have a broad discography. Though Q Lazzarus recorded a few of other demo songs such as “Tears of Fear,” “Transformation,” “Love Dance,” and “White Line,” as well as covering the Talking Heads song “Heaven” for the 1993 film Philadelphia, she is primarily associated with one song. And Jonathan Demme is responsible for that.
As mentioned, “Goodbye Horses” was used for Married to the Mob and The Silence of the Lambs which were both directed by Demme. Q Lazzarus was a taxi driver in New York City during the 1980s. Demme had heard a demo of “Goodbye Horses” after he was picked up in her cab. Demme was absolutely impressed and flew to Hollywood. However, record companies wouldn’t sign her because of a perceived lack of marketability. Q Lazzarus responded to this experience with “I market myself, I’m an African American woman who wears locks and sings American rock and roll.”
The song’s inclusion in The Silence of the Lambs is undeniably the most well-known use of the song which has perhaps led it to be included in other film, television, and video game projects since then. It is a recognizable track and unmistakably unique. It has an exotic, dark, and sultry appeal. A song that is a cult classic and features such qualities becomes an excellent choice to cover by bands who don’t want to cover something already played out. “Goodbye Horses” has been covered by bands such as Wild Beasts, Jon Hopkins, and MGMT. Unfortunately, despite being a cool song featured in one of the greatest movies of all time and covered by a number of mainstream artists, not much is known about the person behind the song. But, when Kelsey Zimmerman wanted her band to cover the song, she got more than she expected.
Zimmerman tweeted “time to do my monthly google of whether anyone has heard from Q Lazzarus yet or not.” A few days later, she received a response from someone who claimed to be Q Lazzarus. Zimmerman was incredulous, but took it with good humor. The account claiming to Q Lazzarus insisted by asking Zimmerman if she had any questions which Zimmerman replied with “a whole email’s worth.”
Zimmerman received the following from the account:
Hi, sorry to bother you. I just wanted people to know I am still alive, I have no interest in singing anymore. I am a bus driver in Staten Island (I have been for YEARS), I see hundreds of passengers everyday so I am hardly hiding (or dead!), I have given Thomas Gorton (Dazed) my fone number and address just to confirm I am ‘real’, sorry if this is a boring end to the story, I am going to come off twitter soon as I find it odd, please take note of this message incase anyone else is interested. THANK YOU
From this information, Zimmer did some research to verify the identity of the account. She googled the name of the account Diane Luckey) and found that a woman named Diane Luckey filed a lawsuit against the Staten Island bus company in 2015 for not having a single woman driver. Zimmerman also noted that, prior to deleting her account, Diane Luckey’s picture closely resembled the woman in the Q Lazzarus promo shoots in the late 1980s.
Zimmerman believes that it was the real Q Lazzarus that contacted her and applauds her decision o live a quiet life “away from the lechery of the music industry.” It was also comforting to Zimmerman, as a fan, that the rumors she heard about Q Lazzarus dying in London, being abused by a drug addict, or forced into a bad marriage were all (unlikely) true.
Reading the story about Zimmerman being contacted Q Lazzarus brought up a personal memory of the song. For me, I associate the song with death. Specifically, the death of a classmate in college. I knew the song “Goodbye Horses” before college. Of course, I knew it from The Silence of the Lambs like virtually everyone else. I liked the song a lot, but only ever heard it in that context. It wasn’t until college that the song would become a cultural marker for that point in my life.
During the summer of 2008, I stayed on campus instead of going home like most of the students did. I paid out of pocket to live in a campus dorm that was meant for the small population of students who couldn’t or wouldn’t go back home during the summer holiday. I spent my summer working a part-time job, hanging with friends, and doing summer radio shifts at my college radio station since we believed summer wasn’t an excuse to go off-air; it just meant more shift and longer hours.
My station wasn’t a freeform station which meant that we had structured programming and DJs followed programming logs. The logs told us what to play and when, but did leave some room for DJ choice to add some level of variety and personal DJ flare. New songs were featured the most and referred to as “rotation.” In the songs, we also had songs we would called “recurrents.” These were older songs that were played more frequently than most older songs. Think of these tracks of “rotation-lite.”
That summer, our new station manager began work on their programming vision for the next year. This student was a big admirer of synth-pop music and made changes to the rotation and recurrents programming to reflect that. I don’t remember much of what was added, but I’ll never forget that “Goodbye Horses” effectively became a station anthem not long after it was added.
When summer ended, the DJ staff worked to recruit new DJs from the incoming freshman class. Like most organizations that experience an abundance of overly eager youngsters, the beginning of the school year began with a large number of volunteers that eventually dwindled to a solid core of new talent. One of those new talents was DuWayne.
DuWayne was from the area and very much fit the profile of a southern boy from a large town; conservative, rural but not country, and cocky. His faced also resembled the video game character Duke Nukem, but had a body as if Duke Nukem lived off Mountain Dew and Doritos and one foot too short. I don’t suggest this as a negative. He was just a big guy. And we were all in college and came up with jokes like that. It just goes with the territory of being in college radio. It can be like a frat.
Anyway, DuWayne didn’t make the best impression when he started. He was rude, made nasty jokes to people, and acted like he was too cool to be there. From interactions at the station, around campus, and at parties, he was earning a reputation that he wasn’t fun to be around. At one party, he lightly burned my inner arm with a cigarette. He didn’t grab my arm and put his butt out in me. He just grazed my skin after I made a comment to him he didn’t like. I don’t remember what I said, but his response was indicative of how he tried to assert himself in the group. The scar tissue on my arm has faded over the last decade, but it is still visible and a constant reminder of DuWayne.
Looking back, DuWayne was just acting like how most freshman boys act. He goes from being at the top of high school food chain and must start all over in college. However, without making any adjustments to social behavior in an effort to look cool. A lot of freshman boys go through that phase. It happens. However, you learn quickly and readjust. College can be a difficult time and everyone goes through the growing pangs of becoming an adult. It is messy, awkward, and sometimes dramatic, but everyone goes through it together. I really don’t look back at college bullshit with any semblance of animosity. I see that time for what it is; awkward people growing up and learning/deciding who they want to be when it is all over.
As DuWayne’s reputation with the group was sinking, people let him know. Whether it involved people telling it to his face or hearing gossip through the grapevine, he heard what was being said. And it affected him. No one likes to be the butt of jokes or have people speak negatively about them in public or private. People want to be like. Especially if you’re a college freshman.
So, DuWayne started to make adjustments to his behavior and attitude that made him more likable. Some people at the station were welcoming of those changes early on while others were skeptical and needed more time to warm up to DuWayne. Regardless, it was known and seen that DuWayne wanted to be better.
Outside of his behavior, DuWayne was also known for his love of the song “Goodbye Horses.” I don’t know whether or not he had heard it prior to joining the station, but he loved playing that song. It very quickly became considered DuWayne’s song. Even if you hadn’t met him or knew anything else about him, it was commonly known in the group he loved that song.
Unfortunately, DuWayne died in a car crash during the second semester of his freshman year in March 2009. There was a passenger in the car with him, though he survived. DuWayne’s death shocked everyone at the station. At that age, death isn’t that common.
His death impacted everyone at that station who knew him regardless if they liked him or not. He was one of us and we all recognized he had been making a considerable effort to be a better friend and colleague to us. “Goodbye Horses” was played more frequently on the air and at parties to honor DuWayne. Despite his flaws, we cared about him.
I attended his wake, but not his funeral (I generally have an aversion to funerals). I owned a car then and kept the ceremony card in my car at all times. Inside were the obituary details. On the front was a mountain with the image of the American flag depicted in the snow on the peak with an eagle soaring in the foreground. DuWayne identified as conservative and loved his country. The image reflected his values and was a calming presence whenever I pulled it out of the console to look at it.
No matter what, I cannot associate “Goodbye Horses” with anything other than DuWayne. While the rest of the world will always think of Buffalo Bill dancing, I think of DuWayne and the cigarette burn in my arm. He was a good person who was struggling to come out clean from an awkward phase. I feel we can all relate to that.
When I read the article featuring Zimmerman’s communication with Q Lazzarus, the image featured was an EP released in 2017. The EP contained a compilation of the single edit of the track as well as two demos and demos for three other songs on the B-side. I listened to the demos. The second demo sounded great for a demo, but had a distinctly different feel than the single edit. I don’t like it more than the single, but I really like it a lot. I am choosing to interpret it as the awkward beginnings of a classic.
I hadn’t heard the song in a long time. Reading about Q Lazzarus speaking out brought up memories of DuWayne and I thought about how much I have grown since meeting him ten years ago. It is sad when someone that young passes away and when that happens, I feel an obligation to live my life as fully and completely as possible. I had loved “Goodbye Horses” before meeting DuWayne, but I love it even more since then. So, perhaps, the song really means more to me than someone’s death. Perhaps I should think of it as something beyond that and the value of a life lived well and simply.