Bridging the realms of goth subculture and the gothic aesthetic, Adrienne LaVey is an individual who revels in the beauty of darkness. Her YouTube channel, Ligeia Resurrected, features insightful reviews on topics that run the gamut from 19th-century macabre literature to the latest goth music releases. Of the content she produces, her absinthe videos truly set her apart and are a unique offering. Since March 5th is National Absinthe Day, I felt it fitting to interview someone who seeks to unravel the mysteries that surround this widely misunderstood spirit.
Notoriously known as the Green Fairy, absinthe has had a tumultuous history, having been wrongly accused of being a hallucinogenic, poisonous and inciting outrageous behavior. Allow me to say this—Vincent van Gogh did not cut off his ear because he drank absinthe. That is just one of the many falsehoods connected to the alcoholic beverage and an example of the type of misinformation LaVey works to dispel.
When watching Adrienne LaVey speak about absinthe, her passion for and in-depth knowledge of it are apparent. She delivers a wealth of discerning critiques on various brands, as well as educational videos that share more about the spirit’s history and presence in today’s society. The absintheur is proving to be a prominent figure in the movement to make the drink more accessible and less dangerously mythical.
In the following interview, Adrienne LaVey gets real about absinthe and gives a peek into her other creative endeavors.
Q: In your Absinthe Q&A video, you talk about how a scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula ignited your curiosity about the drink and that your first experience with it happened in New Orleans. What do you find special about absinthe in particular compared to other spirits?
A: Much like the goth subculture, absinthe is the most widely misunderstood spirit in history. No other spirit has been banned for almost a century. No other singular spirit had a smear campaign against it like absinthe has. When something is widely misunderstood, with the intellectually curious there comes the desire to learn about it and truly understand it, and that’s why I researched it from the time I was 11 years old after I watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That was in 2005, before the ban was even lifted in the United States. I was also positively dazzled by the preparation ritual performed in the film. I’d never seen anything like it. There was something sensual, feminine, and uniquely intoxicating about absinthe, and I still feel that way about it today at 27 years old.
Speaking of unique intoxication, I quite enjoy the clear-headed or lucid drunkenness that comes with absinthe’s intoxication, whereas other spirits leave you feeling sloppy drunk. Which leads me into it being favored by a lot of my favorite writers, artists, and musicians of the 19th century—absinthe inspired them to create their beautiful works, and drinking it is a way for me to relate to the artists, writers, and musicians of that era, and to have an even deeper appreciation for their works.
Q: The amount of misinformation that continues to surround absinthe persists today, and a major part of your mission is to debunk the myths. What are key facts you’d like people to know about the drink? Besides watching your insightful absinthe videos, what are other trusted resources you recommend to individuals wanting to learn more?
A: 1) Properly made absinthe was never hallucinogenic, both in the pre-ban era (beginning of the 19th century to 1915) and today. It was never designed to be hallucinogenic, and that wasn’t the selling point of absinthe in the pre-ban era. A smear campaign concocted by the French wine industry to demonize absinthe made claims that it was harmful, hallucinogenic, and would rot your brain and make you murder your family. Unfortunately, those first two claims of it being hallucinogenic or harmful have stuck more than a century later. I have had pre-ban absinthe made in 1900, and I can assure you, I didn’t hallucinate. The “absinthism scare” of the 19th century was just a precursor to the “Reefer Madness” anti-marijuana propaganda campaign, which only happened a little over 20 years after absinthe was banned in the U.S. in 1912, and much of the rhetoric in both smear campaigns were the same. I do plan on making a video about this in the near future.
2) Most absinthe available in the U.S. is authentic. If it contains anise, fennel, and wormwood (also known as the holy trinity of absinthe), it isn’t artificially colored, and is made according to traditional standards, it is authentic. Many will try to convince you that the only “absinthe” available in the U.S. doesn’t have wormwood in it, and therefore isn’t authentic, and that just isn’t true.
3) Wormwood is not hallucinogenic, and its active ingredient thujone has no “recreational drug” value—it’s actually a neurotoxic convulsant that will cause renal failure and vomiting, and there are such negligible trace amounts of it in absinthe (made both today and in the pre-ban era) that you’d die of alcohol poisoning a hundred times over before you’d “feel anything” from the thujone. People think this is what caused hallucinations in the pre-ban era, when in reality, it was bad actors creating a cheap, toxic liquor and peddling it as absinthe. In the U.S., an absinthe is considered “thujone free” if it has less than 10 milligrams per liter of thujone, and therefore is allowed in the U.S. on that basis. You know what other liquor has wormwood in it that wasn’t banned for nearly a century? Vermouth. Vermouth even gets its name from the German word for wormwood. There are many other herbs in the U.S. that have more thujone than wormwood: tansy, Rosemary, thyme, sage, cypress, oregano, and mugwort. Why was there such a big problem with it for absinthe? I have two words for you: smear campaign.
4) I don’t care how many people claim that using fire in the traditional preparation ritual is “traditional” because they saw Johnny Depp do it in the film From Hell. The fire ritual, also known as the “bohemian” or the “Czech” method was never used in the pre-ban era and began in the 1990’s when absinthe began making its comeback. Just because weakly flavored, blue-green dyed vodka with flaming sugar cubes claims to be absinthe doesn’t mean it is. Because this type of absinthe wasn’t made to traditional standards, it doesn’t cloud when water is added; but what other way can you dazzle American tourists with a short attention span? Fire, of course! That’s how the Czech or bohemian method of preparation came to be.
5) Finally, any absinthe brand that peddles their product as an illicit drug experience disguised as alcohol is lying to you. If the brand claims to have “the highest allowable thujone content” or any hallucinogenic or otherwise psychoactive effects, it’s a scam, and may also be potentially dangerous, hoping that you are ignorant enough about absinthe to buy their brand.
As for resources, the best I can recommend to you is The Wormwood Society. They’ve consistently been the leading online resource for absinthe for decades, providing historically and scientifically accurate information about absinthe (since it was science that made it possible to have the ban lifted in 2007 in the U.S.), and extensive information about brands, reviews from its members, and answering the questions that everyone inevitably has about absinthe. I highly recommend this site to everyone who has questions about absinthe, whether it be what brands to try, the science, the REAL history of absinthe; the Wormwood Society is a treasure trove of information.
Q: In your recording on being an “absinthe activist,” you mentioned that you’re working on a book about the spirit. Can you share any details about that project? And in what other ways would you like to expand your role in the realm of absinthe?
A: The idea of a book was first proposed to me by a very dear friend of mine, Rose Sinister. The title will be Absinthe Resurrected to play up on my username on YouTube. It’ll be a short and sweet guide on the history, science, and how to get started with exploring the world of absinthe for yourself. I will include a small section for reviews of great brands to start out with that are available in the United States, since our country seems to have the biggest hang-up when it comes to absinthe.
My biggest goal is to dispel the misconceptions about absinthe once and for all. Once those firmly held false beliefs are eradicated, absinthe will have an easier time being understood and enjoyed by those who want a taste of The Green Goddess. It went from being the most popular alcoholic beverage of the Western world to being thought of as a novelty (or worse, a dare by dull thrill-seekers on the internet, egging each other on to knock it back in shots, to disastrous results), all because the misinformation perpetuated by the French wine industry to get their business back stuck even after more than a century.
I recently released an eyeshadow collection in collaboration with TaterRounds Beauty to celebrate absinthe’s true history and legacy, and this was to rebel against other makeup brands who thought they could better sell their product by sensationalizing absinthe’s misconceptions. I couldn’t let that fly. Eyeshadow shade names like “trippy,” “lucid visions,” “holy hallucinogenic,” and “flames and sugar” send all the wrong messages about absinthe.
And eventually, I’d love to either collaborate with an existing absinthe brand or start my own absinthe brand that would be made according to traditional standards with my own unique twist to it. I think that would be one of the ultimate accomplishments that a true absinthe lover could attain. When the green goddess finds you, she just keeps pulling you in; the more you learn about it, the more you love it. It’s like her devotees are her faithful servants once they know the truth about her.
Q: What do you hope the future holds for absinthe? Have you noticed any strides in it becoming a more accepted alcoholic beverage?
A: Ultimately, I’d love to at least see the stigma and misconceptions about absinthe be eradicated, but that seems to be a long way to go still. The second I mention absinthe to someone, I hear, “Isn’t that poisonous?” or “Isn’t that the stuff that makes you hallucinate?” and “You know you can’t get the real stuff in the United States, right,” so it’s very clear to me that the misconceptions are planted firmly in the consciousness of the general public. I’ve seen people in the comments on my TikToks spread these misconceptions without even blinking an eye.
Speaking of TikTok, I’m seeing some really amazing absinthe cocktails on platforms like YouTube and TikTok. I’ve indulged in making some absinthe cocktails on TikTok as well. Cocktails are a really great way to introduce a skeptic to absinthe, and to take the step to be more accepted by the mainstream so that it is thought of less and less like a novelty.
Still, it breaks my heart to hear from people who desperately want to try absinthe, but they either have only inferior “crapsinthe” brands available in their area, or they don’t have access to it at all because their states have restrictions on the distribution of absinthe or just alcohol in general. The more we can educate the general public, the more we can push lawmakers to lift those restrictions. Hopefully once restrictions are lifted (and we have a legal definition of absinthe), absinthe will become more readily available, and hopefully the cost will go down a bit, and will incentivize people to buy it.
While people in some States can’t even get their paws on it, legitimate brands of absinthe are collecting dust on the shelves of liquor stores because some people are either convinced that it “won’t make them hallucinate, so why bother buying it?” or because they are too afraid to try it due to the misconceptions they’ve heard repeated to them, either through the media they consume, or from dudebros bragging about how they had absinthe in Amsterdam one time and it made them “trip balls so hard” to seem cool.
Q: In addition to absinthe, you discuss gothic literature on your channel. What do you find most fascinating about the genre?
A: The genre of gothic literature has always fascinated me, and I think that has to do with me growing up watching reruns of the original 1960’s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows when I was a kid. I was brought up with the ghouls, vampires, werewolves, and even similar storylines that gothic literature is associated with, so by the time I dove into the genre at 10 or 11 years old, I felt like I was right at home. I already had a rather precocious reading ability and loved reading literature that was considered “advanced” for my age.
Gothic literature is also misunderstood and taken for granted. It’s known for being “overdramatic and completely ridiculous”, or long-winded and boring, or people limit the genre just to “vampires, ghosts, and Edgar Allan Poe” (as much as I adore Edgar Allan Poe), but I take great pleasure in showcasing these lesser-known stories, poets, and novels that people may not have heard of. Such as Louisa May Alcott’s “lost” gothic novel A Long, Fatal Love Chase. There is more to it than just the basic, bare minimum that you hear about. My hope in introducing more gothic novels to my audience is so that they can get excited about the entire genre, instead of leaving them thinking “it’s just these three things, it’s so limited”. When I get messages and comments from English teachers saying that they play my videos in their classrooms to get their students excited about the poems, stories, and novels that I discuss in my videos, I’m thrilled beyond belief!
Q: The goth subculture is a significant part of your identity and the content you produce. Can you talk a bit about how you were introduced to the subculture and why it’s important to you?
A: I was introduced to the subculture through the aesthetic, and eventually found my way to the music by the time I was about 11. It took a good few years to get through the 80’s post-punk classics that everyone knows to find what really resonated with me, which was 90’s goth rock, darkwave, ethereal, and industrial music, some of my tastes even including some of the early 2000’s. Bands like Switchblade Symphony, London After Midnight, Faith and the Muse, The Awakening, Dead Can Dance, This Ascension, The Shroud, Monica Richards, Requiem in White, Mors Syphilitica, and many more. Much like how I am with absinthe and gothic literature, the more you dig, the more you find, the more you find, the more you love it.
I’m also very excited about new bands that have come out in the last few years, and artists that are still making music. As an operatic singer, I’m even more excited about the fact that the 90’s trend of female operatic vocals featured in goth music is making a comeback, and it helps lay the foundation for my own music to come out, when it’s ready to, of course.
Q: You are such a gifted opera singer! The videos on your channel showcase your beautiful and powerful voice. When did you discover your passion for this performing art form?
A: Thank you very much! Oddly enough, my passion for opera was just a tiny spark, beginning in childhood. One of my mom’s favorite movies is Amadeus, and I distinctly remember watching it when I was a kid and being utterly fascinated by the beautiful and glamorous opera singer descending the staircase in the flashback the old Salieri has as he fondly recalls his career as a court composer.
Later on in my early teen years, I expressed interest in further developing my skills, but had a difficult time finding a teacher, so I was self-taught for a few years. When going to visit one of my aunts in Ocean Park, WA, she introduced me to her friend who was a voice teacher, and she introduced me to my favorite composer Gaetano Donizetti. It was his arietta “Amore e Morte” that turned that tiny spark into a blazing, infernal passion for opera. The piece was fascinating, dark, unusual, slightly dissonant, mysterious, and beautiful. That had such an impact on me that I got a tattoo commemorating my favorite composer and “Amore e Morte”. A year after discovering that incredible piece, I finally began studying with my first voice teacher Debra, and she really helped lay the foundation of my technique. After 10 years of studying with her, she has recently retired, and I’m now studying with my new teacher Dora Barnes, who is really helping me polish and unlock my real voice and what it is supposed to be. I’m amazed at the progress I’ve made with so short of a timeframe.
I made my musical debut in May of 2020 with my vocals being featured on the title track of The Storm Before the Calm by Beauty in Chaos, and I’ve also contributed vocals to KOFN Underground, Synthetic Requiem, and I contributed a small part to the track “Afterlife” on the new album Behind the Veil also by Beauty in Chaos. I’m really excited for more chances to collaborate with other artists in the future.
When I sing, I feel powerful, beautiful, and like I’m a vessel for the work of these geniuses of the past to live again. I’m also advocating for tattoos, piercings, and slightly less boring outfits to be more accepted in the world of classical music and opera.
Q: Are there any teasers you’d like to drop regarding future projects?
A: Yes! I’m currently writing a goth song about absinthe—something that strays from the “drink this madness” rhetoric from songs we’ve heard before. I want to sing a different tune about absinthe (yes, pun was totally intended), and it will tell the truth about absinthe. It’s a love letter to absinthe, and the many geniuses the green goddess has inspired. It will of course feature my operatic vocals and some of my cello playing.
I’m also working on a collaboration with the incredible Goth in the Raw for their debut album. When they asked me to work with them, I was positively thrilled. That should be out later this year.
And finally, my new voice teacher will be helping me prepare to perform on more stages to get out there and get noticed, as well as auditioning for the Seattle Opera Guild, which I’m very excited about. She says I stand a really good chance of getting in because I have a “unique, chocolatey, rich voice that they’ll just eat up”. Her words, not mine.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog. I’m thrilled that you asked me for an interview. Happy National Absinthe Day! Santé, mes amis!