The Silence of the Lambs and Q Lazzarus – Goodbye Horses

Scenes & Songs is a feature focused on the intersection of music and film, or in this case, TV. Each installment intends to examine movies and shows that involve significant musical subject content, distinct soundtracks, or maybe even just an excellent song used for a specific scene. View all

Scenes & Songs is a feature focused on the intersection of music and film. Each installment intends to examine movies that involve significant musical subject content and/or distinct soundtracks, or maybe even just an excellent song used for a specific scene.

This one might be a little unexpected for a Scenes & Songs entry, but I feel it's a very interesting match of music and film. I'm talking about the use of "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus in The Silence of the Lambs. Which happens to be the Buffalo Bill dance sequence.

Whether you've seen the film or not, let me just offer a fair warning for this post. It may be graphic and a little bit intense to some, and while I'm not going to embed the video, I will link to it. It's definitely not suitable for work. But I do want to talk about all this for a few reasons. One, this is a classic film. Yes, it's dark and violent, but it offers incredible, iconic performances and is one of those horror films that goes to twisted places without sensationalizing or feeling excessive. I recently watched it again and there were a few things that stood out. One is how little Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Hannibal Lecter is actually even in the film compared to the stature the character enjoys in pop culture. Another is how great the surface story is matched with the internal one, in the case of Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling. She learns to catch a scary man after confronting her own fear, which she can only do through the tutelage of Hannibal. As you must already know, their interplay is amazing.

But what really stood out – what brought on this post – was just how awesome the song "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus is. Here's the full version of the song without any film footage:

I dig this track so much. It's very 80s electronic, but it strangely doesn't sound too dated or overproduced like a lot of other hits of the time often can now. I like how it takes a little time to build. First is that killer drum beat. Man, I just can't enough of it. I almost want more time alone with it! Sometimes a song is blessed with a beat that absolutely knocks it out the park. In some of those cases, everything else gels on top of it, leaving listeners with a true gift of a song. To me, "Goodbye Horses" is an example of this phenomenon. After the drums, there are some synth parts that on their own are quite simple but they weave together perfectly. One is sort of a staccato ping, another is an alternating up-down repetition, and there's one that kind of sounds like plucked strings. All of this over warm chords makes for such a wonderful sonic bed.

After more than one minute, Q finally comes in with a chorus and it's just sublime. Q Lazzarus is the woman who sings and this is her main hit, largely due its use in Jonathan Demme films; besides Silence, it was also in Married to the Mob. She contributed a few other songs to other films of his, too. But essentially her legacy is this track and it's very much sewn (sorry I had to) to the Buffalo Bill sequence. I think it's a really great pairing, first of all because it's just a damn good song. However, when you think about it further and listen to the words, you can draw quite interesting parallels to the characters and arcs of the film. We don't see Clarice or Hannibal in the scene which uses the song, yet I can't help thinking of their relationship. The lyrics detail a conversation between two people, one who is arguing that "all things pass," and the narrator, who disagrees. It echoes how Hannibal makes Clarice confront her most vulnerable moment so that she can move forward. Plus, with the way Q evokes wistful nostalgia and the farm animal imagery of the horses, it's not hard to connect to the lambs in Clarice's memory.

This scene is really about Buffalo Bill, though, so let's talk about that. I'm going to link to it as it is played in the film, but remember, you don't want to watch this at work and even if you aren't there, it is disturbing. Here it is. The song starts about 0:35 seconds in. Remember, Buffalo Bill is a serial killer. He chooses victims for specific qualities: they have to be young women who are a little bit large. That way, he can take their skin and construct himself a new skin. It's part of a metamorphosis that he believes is the unleashing of his true self, like an emergence from a cocoon of the moths he collects. In this scene, he has his latest victim Catherine in the pit under his house. She is working on an escape plan by luring Bill's dog Precious down to her. This intercuts with shots of Buffalo Bill as he engages in a ritual of transformation. For awhile, we only see parts of him: a pierced nipple, a chest with a fertility statue necklace, the wig, lips as he applies lipstick and croaks the memorable lines "Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me. I'd fuck me hard."

We know we are dealing with a truly deranged individual here from seeing the harrowing state of his victim and also from seeing the weird things he's into. But there's something about the song that lulls you into a false sense of security or at least lessens the visceral impact, mimicking how he operates as an injured man to capture these girls. Thus, Buffalo Bill represents something genuinely terrifying: a lurking, hidden evil, biding its time to turn the world of an innocent upside down.

His full body is finally revealed around 2:45 and he starts his dance…which culminates in a graphic bit. In some ways, this song also offers another shock: it almost makes us identify with Jame Gumb. I use his real name here intentionally. The song is perfect as an escapist dance track and, returning to the lyrics and the notion of "Goodbye horses, I'm flying over you," we can almost feel the pain that motivates Jame, the yearning to get away and become something more beautiful. That is horrifying because this is a killer. A legitimately messed up man. Overall, the feeling we get is repulsion, but I think the song is what gives a small glimmer understanding, and that just elevates the artistry of everything that happens here. Plus, Q's lower voice is another subtle shading provided by the theme song for this man who wants to be a woman. Maybe I'm reading it a little differently than intended, but as someone with a strong involvement in the music world – Stop Making Sense, several documentaries on Neil Young, to name just a few examples – Jonathan Demme probably chose the song for this moment for some specific reasons. 

I think it's a really inspired pairing. A classic film, a great song, and an unforgettable scene.