Nuns, lesbians, suicide, oh my!
Those who have been keeping up with this season of American Horror Story know very well that shit is getting pretty cray, pretty fast. The current (second) season of the miniseries shares a handful of the same cast members from its first season, but the plot and characters are completely different, mainly in that the story now takes place in an insane asylum. In a matter of just four episodes, we have already been introduced to a myriad of creepy things, including a sadist doctor, the demon-possessed, an unsuccessful exorcism, terrifying creatures in the woods, and what seems like the big mystery of the season: a brutal serial killer by the name of Bloody Face. The asylum is run by a scary nun named Sister Jude (played by Jessica Lange), who, like pretty much everyone in that show, has more than a few skeletons in her closet. We quickly come to realize that many of the patients in there are either wrongfully accused or diagnosed insane on accounts of homosexuality or promiscuity. Eek. Every episode is so terrifying and messed up but I'm so obsessed with the show, I can't even handle myself on Wednesday nights. IT'S SO GOOD, YOU GUYS. WATCH IT.
Anyway, if you do watch the show and have been paying keen attention, you may have noticed a light-spirited pop song ironically filling the hallways and common room of the eerie asylum in every single episode thus far. You know, the one that's sung in French that goes like “Dominique nique nique something something la la la”:
Cheery, right? Not something you would expect to soundtrack a show like American Horror Story. Then that got me thinking, "What is the significance of the use of this song?" so I decided to do some research on it. (That's not true, I don't think that hard while watching TV; I was just curious as to what song it was and looked it up.) Here's what I found out: the song "Dominique" was written and sung by Belgian singer Jeanine Deckers, who went by the moniker "the Singing Nun" or "Sœur Sourire" (Sister Smile), because she herself used to be a nun. As far as pop music goes, it makes sense that the strict Sister Jude would tolerate playing a song about a Catholic saint written by a fellow nun.
But the musical choice is actually quite peculiar, because the Singing Nun wasn't such a saint in the eyes of her own church. Jeanine Deckers, who was known as Sister Luc Gabriel in her Dominican Order, went sort of rogue when she left the convent (some sources say she was disowned) to pursue music. Whereas her first hit "Dominique" was a massive hit—the first Belgian song to go number one in the United States, beating out the Beatles on the charts—she struggled to put out another hit and eventually owed a ton of money in back taxes. As innocent as the tune "Dominique" sounds, and even though the subject of the song, Dominic, was a patron saint, he actually founded the order that brought on the torturous events of the Spanish Inquisition. Hmm, hmm. There is definitely a lot of torture and punishment in this show, like nuns who give out whippings for naughty patients and a certain doctor who enjoys tying up and torturing hookers. Oh, corrupt Catholicism.
Deckers rebelled against the Catholic church in other ways too, such as by publicly advocating contraception and even writing a song about birth control pills. I think the most interesting aspect of her life, though, is that she took a female lover, Annie Pecher, and later, they made a pact to commit suicide together. Her sexuality is interesting to me in the context of the TV show, because Sister Jude hospitalizes one of the main characters, Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), against her will, citing that she is "diseased" with homosexuality and needs to be cured. Watching the "healing process" last episode was really disturbing, as they conditioned Lana by showing her photos of sexy women and then giving her a drug that literally made her sick and throw up. They were hoping she'd associate her sexual attraction to women with a feeling of nausea. After that bit, Dr. Oliver Thredson (played by Zachary Quinto, who is gay in real life) orders Lana to touch herself while simultaneously touching the peen of some random man. Of course, Lana being a full-blown lesbian, sobs, barfs some more, and not only fails to get off, but finds the whole thing traumatizing. Well no shit, geez.
But anyway, back to real life lesbians. Deckers and Pecher, after having been together for ten years, eventually could not deal with the financial burden of life and committed suicide together in 1985 by overdosing on barbiturates. Deckers was 51 years old. The note they left behind read, "We have reached the end, spiritually and financially, and now we go to God." If contraception and homosexuality were already Catholic no-nos, suicide was the big, big no-no—the final act to the tragedy that was Sister Smile's life. Listening to "Dominique" again after knowing all that adds a sort of haunting ring to what once sounded like a carefree, jovial song.
Can't get enough of scandalous nuns? American Horror Story: Asylum will give you a good heaping, every Wednesday on FX. A new episode airs tonight and if they play "Dominique" again, now you'll know the story behind the song. You're welcome.