Read an Excerpt
GOTH BIBLE, THE
DEATH IN DOC MARTENS
Why do me love the tragedy and the dreams? My dear, you need only look into your silent existence to find out. Anon net goth
goth with a small "g"?
Defining goth is like defining Godwe make efforts that always fall short of the reality. To call goth merely a subculture does not do it justice. And while goths are for the most part darkly artistic by nature, pigeonholing goth as an artistic movement only skims the surface.
Nobody knows the totality of what modern goth is about, but the simplest truth about goth is this: goth is a state of mind. And while most people who identify themselves as goth or gothic dress the part, a lot of people who do not wear fishnet and velvet are goth inside. Goth is a way of being that embraces what the normal world shuns, a lean toward and an obsession with all subjects dark and grim, a view of life that incorporates the world of night as well as the world of day. The gothically inclined make room for the noir in a global culture that favors white and prefers its darkness sanitized.
But saying goths are lonely and morbid is misleading. The mainstream views goth through a distorted mirror that sees only dreary music coupled with Morticia Addams fashions. Most goths and kindred souls dispute that shallow reflection. Romance is at the heart of what it means to be goth, and consequently tragedy is always a sigh away. In the modern gothic world, as in few other realms, the outward trappings of similarity belie fierce individuality. Every goth is an individual first and foremost, adamantly defending that position. Yet lurking within such independence is the intense need for community, which is glaringly obvious to anyone who cares to look.
GOTH ACCORDING TO THE + SECTION
Nimue "It is liking what other people find hideous, or disgusting. It is loving things that other people could't love. goths have ancient souls, ones that never really died."
Krockmitaine "[It is] the research of estheticism, art, romantism in a modern society devoid of magic, hope, and humanity."
Being goth is going on what cultural mythologist Joseph Campbell called the Hero's journey, exploring what psychologist Carl Jung dubbed the shadowy side of life. It is a path Robert Frost wrote about in his poem "The Road Not Taken," but in this case, goths promenade down that dark, unknown road that most of the population veers away from. Emily Dickinson wrote about what gives life its juice, "a moment of noon," when something happens. This is what goth is about.
Despite the dark current that carries goths along, and maybe because of it, goth is also about fun. About extremes. About edginess. About flapping your latex bat wings in the face of convention and secretly giggling at the notion that your very existence upsets the mainstream. If goth is anything definable, it is a living, throbbing entity composed of rabid individualists, a veiled underground realm where encompassing what the light of day fears or rejects is considered fascinating, compelling, and, at times, awfully amusing.
Does a black trenchcoat a goth make?
One of the most common misconceptions about goth is that it is some sort of devil-worshiping cult. A number of The + Section are Wiccan (see Chapter 13), and variations thereof. But only two identified their religion as "Satanist." Sire Cédric says, "I do not worship any sort of horned god. It's just that in the Bible and in Romantic literature, I identify with the Satan character. Also, God is the ultimate representation of misogynistic stupid males. I stand for the Goddess of Night, and the pleasures of the flesh."
Still, the mainstream will glare at goths and in their collective eyes you can read the letters C-U-L-T. Maybe it's the cadaverous makeup, or the ready-for-mourning-at-any-time-of-the-day attire, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Cults need leaders. Goth has always been and always will be leaderless. Goth, since it slouched out of the amorphic ooze of Punk in the 1970s, has never had a leader. The closest would be the bands, and none have assumed that role. Nor would goths permit it for a secondwhat a great way to ensure that goths no longer buy your CDs!
It's difficult for the average mortal pounding concrete to realize the worldwide scope of goth, and to believe that nobody started this. In that way, goth is much like the Internetit emerged seemingly out of nowhere, and flourishes, yet nobody can figure out Who Is in Charge Here!!! At least when goths crash, they only effect themselves.
Andrew Eldritch, the currently blond genius behind legendary band Sisters of Mercy, is one of goth's best-known singers. His hauntingly spiritual lyrics combined with wicked instrumentals have rippled through darklings around the world for well over two decades. Eldritch has always divorced himself from goth, although goths are his biggest fans. Sisters were invited to do an autographing in 2002 at the Sonic Seducer music magazine booth at Germany's huge annual M'Era Luna Festival (see Chapter 5). The band's manager warned, "If the booth looks like a goth shop, they might just walk away." Maybe it did; Sisters canceled the signing. And while they continue to adore his music, goths have never been anywhere close to letting Andrew Eldritch take charge, even if he had wanted to be Leader of the goth Movement!
Goths resist being controlledit's at the core of why most goths are goth. Goth is one of the premier artistic movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and true artists are, by nature, unique, and unpredictable.
When goth, with eroticized grace, first lifted its pale flesh out of a murky pool composed of a complex blend of music, literature, and philosophy combined with outré fashion sense, it did so on its own. Despite a world hell-bent on finding "the person to blame," or in this case, The One Who Started It All, in gothland, there is no such dark animal.
Amazing, then, that goth exists all over the world. This nonmovement movement can be found not just in the United States, Canada, and in most European countries, but also the Ukraine, the Far East, South America ... Somehowand the Internet is a major contributor to goth communicationpeople of like mind have built velvet bridges using music, fashion, art, literature, and philosophy to find soulkin. It's a given that goths can spot one another in a crowd.
Lestat de Lioncourt "One thing I am sure goth is not-and this I can say because most goths I know are not-and that's judgmental. They can accept anyone for who they are, regardless of how deviant or egotistical."
One reason that goth has remained whole, as it were, unto itself, protected, still relatively pure, is that while through fashion and music it has been visible, individual goths are still elusive creatures. What goth really encompasses is the silver they keep hidden. And goths do not necessarily want to be high-profile. Goth is an underground movementthat's the beauty of itand it has existed largely apart from the mainstream. This is what has kept it alive, despite bits and pieces of debris hurled into the darkness.
50 Ft. Queenie "It's a way of making the fact that you will never fit in work for you."
Vile "I believe that goth is having learned very tough things at a young age, and being able to see the world for what it really is, to see past lies, and falsehoods. We don't want to damage the already damaged world anymore. We live in sorrow, no, depression."
Saturday Night Live started one of the most widespread goth usurpations with a spoof in the late nineties called Goth Talk. The occasional skits were introduced with Bauhaus's "Bela Lugosi's Dead," one song that can be clearly identified by all goths as goth music. "Goth" hosts Azrael Abyss and Circe Nightshade managed to savage every aspect of goth one can see by observing high school gothswho are the most self-conscious and least able to defend themselves.
It's a mixed bag of good and ill when goths poke their ringed noses into the mainstream, or the mainstream grabs an image to exploit. There have been academic papers written on gothmore and more of them, it seems. TV newscasts and articles in popular magazines and daily newspapers have profiled goths, not always in a favorable light. In the mid-1990s, Cher put out several issues of the catalog Sanctuary, packed with delicious goth decor. Goth artists have been featured in interviews, and there have been fashion models, like Donna Ricci, Lenora Claire, and Sky Claudette (of The + Section), and plenty of famous runway clotheshorses doing the "goth look." Haute couture designers have brought goth aesthetics to the forefront, for example, designers Rick Owens of Los Angeles ("Not one for color."Vogue, Feb. 13, 2002), and Olivier Theyskens, who incorporates goth decadence into his fashions. All of the major design houses have ventured into goth style at one time or another in the last couple of decades. Calvin Klein's print ads, and Levi's commercials have used goth clones, and Italy's Fiorucci filled the catwalk with faux-goth clothes. Cosmetic and hair-color companies got goth a few years ago, for example, MAC, and L'Oreal, which has a line of dark makeup. World famous Bloomingdale's in New York featured goth garb in at least one of their catalogs. TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dark Angel, among many others, use goth actors, and films, including 8MM and Underworld, hire goth extras when they require a gang of perverse and seedy clubbers. Whoopi Goldberg hosted the Oscars in 2001 and dressed goth, and many Hollywood movie stars do goth from time to time. Britney Spears's HBO special featured goth-imitation dancers in the opening number. Everywhere you look, it seems, the mainstream is mimicking goth.
It's a given that the mainstream, seeking to entertain, excite, and expand itself, will always uncover and eat the edge. It happens with every subcultural phenomenon. Oddly enough, the collective culture thinks it understands what goth is all about. It does not. But every goth can see the middle of the road for what it is. After all, goths may have been born goth inside their skin, but they have usually grown up in "normal" families, gone to school, been raised in a conventional religion, shopped at the local mall, maybe even married a regular person and had children, just like everybody else. It is probably this knowledge through experience that will save goth from assimilation. The status quo has not yet thought of a way to seriously capitalize on goth, although the chain Hot Topic manages to bring goth fashion to the massespresumably as long as it is profitable. But the minute exploitation takes hold in a big way, goth as we know it will be no more. The essence of goth is to be an individual, one who revels in the darkness that society usually fears and rejects. Perhaps that nasty, earthy, sensual quality of goth that lingers in the realm of entropy and dissolution will never appeal to the average citizen. We can only hope!
But will the increasing focus on goth spell the beginning of the end? Can we expect the fast-food restaurants at the mall to soon be serving goth cuisine, like black pasta? Will Wal-Mart be littered with poseurs? Are bag ladies going to be wearing discarded fishnet and hauling chipped gargoyles around in their shopping carts? Even if these dire occurrences come to pass, they will, as well, pass. And goth will remain, lurking in the shadows, waiting for the light to fade so it can come out and party in the cemetery. Goths have always existed. They just call themselves "goth" these days because it's amusing!
The dark side of dark
Unfortunately, from time to time goth hits the mainstream in a way that encourages a perception of it as evil. Sometimes it's laughable. In November 2000, Mayor Carolyn Risher of Inglis, Florida (population 1,400),nailed copies of her official proclamation onto posts at four entrance points to the city, declaring her town to be a "Satan-free zone." Risher claims she was targeting DUI drivers, child molesters, and "kids dressing goth."
THE + SECTION ON COLUMBINE
Vena Cava "Alienated, miserable, vengeful teenagers have existed as long as there have been high schools, but it was harder to slay more than one or two of your enemies before you could get Uzis."
Nevermore "They were two confused children. They claimed to be Nazis, yet one was Jewish, so what could be thought of any claims they might make on being goth?"
Billy Mod "They may or may not have been involved in certain aspects of the goth scene, but this factor is irrelevant, only coincidental at best, and definitely not a cause-effect relationship."
Individuation "Honestly, if those kids had been older and truly part of the goth scene, they might not have snapped."
Also in the fall of 2000, the U.S. Congress gave the town of Blue Springs, Missouri (population under 50,000), $273,000 for a Youth Orchestra Outreach Unit to "combat goth culture." Would that be the town's four peaceful and law-abiding high school goths, who hang out in the mall's parking lot?
But at least one event propelled goth into the headlines worldwide, unfairly, and with troubling ramifications. That horrifying incident happened at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two deeply troubled students, opened fire at the school, killing thirteen and wounding twenty-three. Harris and Klebold wore black trench coats, claiming they were members of a small group of alienated students who had formed the Trenchcoat Mafia at Columbine. After the shooting, one traumatized student incorrectly identified the two murderers as "goths."
As has been the case throughout history, and now more so with the media that Marshall McLuhan assured us create a "global village," first impressions may be wrong, but they stick. The U.K. newspaper the Guardian's article "Black Tuesday" is similar to other news reports around the world: Both boysone the son of a military manhad a strong interest in Nazism. It claimed they described themselves as Nazis, white supremacists, fans of heavy metal, and interested in the occult. The Guardian stressed the point that Nazi dictator and mass murderer Adolf Hitler had been born on the same day 110 years earlier, and obviously that date had significance for the two. The Guardian also specifically identified the Columbine killers as goths, although neither Harris nor Klebold defined themselves that way. The paper stressed that the boys listened to the transplanted-from-Germany-to-Seattle industrial rock band KMFDMthe band's logo was on the baseball cap of one of the killers; the two quoted the lyrics of U.S. shock rock group Marilyn Manson; they listened to the German industrial band Rammstein. The paper also quoted several "authorities" on goths, including Sergeant Cynthia Burgin, a Texas police detective who lectures nationally in the U.S. on cults, and who talked about splinter groups that embrace both goth culture and neo-Nazism."They are using mystical violence and mystical illusion as a way of intimidating other members in their groups."
The paper also mentioned that Harris was addicted to the computer game Doom, and "The U.S. Marines used Doom II to train on." Oddly enough, the article did not blame the makers of Doom II, the U.S. Marines, the makers of baseball caps with band logos, or Army surplus stores for contributing to the killings! But the Guardian did blame goth. And theirs was far from the only media report that did.
The killers were not goth. But in the midst of the initial shock and fear generated by such a violent event, and the desire to understand the reasons behind it and find someone or something to blame, the world labeled the boys as goth. With time, and new information, that assessment altered considerably. But chasing down reality has never been a strong point when newspapers are going for circulation and television stations are fighting for ratings. Retractions and corrections do not make good news.
Many goths, particularly on the Internet, have taken a stand on Columbine, and tried to do damage control. One goth band, SEVEN 13 of Massachusetts, wrote the song "Outcasts" specifically about Columbine. Most goths would agree with Emily Brontë: "There's nothing poetic or beautiful about murder." And empathize with Calhoun: "I am goth, and the thought of harming anyone in that manner sickens me."
Unfortunately, it is not just in the United States where goths are unfairly blamed for crimes they did not commit, and Germany, for example, has had several killings where, because the murderers wore black, they were considered "goth" by the media.
All anyone can say, really, is what Samael repeats for all of us: "They were not goth!"
rinaedin "So what if they were [goth]? I'm sure lots of murderers are Christians."
50 ft. Queenie "goth provides the mainstream with a handy scapegoat and whipping boy whenever something like Columbine happens."
VampirMike recalls another recent murder in Germany, wherein a couple who dressed in black and identified themselves as Satanists stabbed their friend to death with sixty-five knife wounds in order to use the blood in a vampire-like ritual. "TV here in Germany made it a big story. They claimed we have thirty-thousand Satanists in the country! People began to think that goths are Satanists because they don't know the difference between a goth and a Satanist. When I would drive into town in my goth attire, people began giving me the finger and crying, 'There! There's a Satanist!' It's so silly."
goths were children, too ...
To be goth, or gothic, or gothically inclined has always meant this in terms of the larger world: You are outside the norm. Misunderstood. Sometimes abused. Goths are keenly aware of this.
Most goths are goth because of a refined sensitivity to life, and an ability to view and tolerate the shadowy elements that much of society is busy ignoring, like death. "Goth," says White Raven, "is in the shadows of the real world."Goths know that death is a sad business. As Azazelle put it, "Goth to me is an attitude that seeks to make death and pain aesthetic. In so doing, perhaps one can accept these unacceptable things."
Nadia "It strikes me as a curious twist of logic that, when trying to explain these murders, some people overlook free access to firearms in favor of those boys' (supposed) taste in clothes and music."
Tristan " ...years of interactions with their parents and education systems had a lot more impact on them than what, in all probability, was an attempt to get someone to notice how deeply troubled they were. I don't see that as goth, I just see it as incredibly sad."
When anyone takes on the grim business of shouldering the shadow for those who refuse to bear their own portion of the darker part of life, it's no wonder the pain of such an endeavor can feel unbearable at times. Personifying the elements that much of the mainstream is trying to avoid means rejection.
But are all goths selfless? Is every goth conscious of this monumental task of carrying the burden of despair on his or her velvet-draped shoulders like Atlas holding up the world? Are all goths paragons of virtue? Of course not. As cypher says, "There are idiots everywhere!"
But overall, goth is part of the struggle for true independence within the homogenized collective psyche, and individuals are always at odds with the conventional.
Dismal by nature?
Life viewed in these terms is distressing. And while almost all The + Section would agree with the sentiments, most of them do not consider themselves dismal. Goths, in fact, are some of the most vibrantly alive beings walking the planet, largely because they are not afraid to face personal and collective demons.
Apart from growing up in circumstances that often encourage depression, sensitive young people universally have a hard time coping with their teenage years, with the intense emotions that can nearly overwhelm them, and with the depression that often surfaces due to the feeling of being misunderstood on a deep level. Goths for the most part direct their anger and turmoil inward, and it's not surprising that half of The + Section reported self-destructive behavior, usually in their teens, frequently involving cutting or other self-attacking actions.
About 90 percent of The + Section have seriously contemplated suicide. But contemplation is not action, and Lestat de Lioncourt speaks for many of them: "Although I love the allure of death, I love life more. I am too much in love with life, and would give anything for immortality."
Close to 25 percent indicated they have tried to end their own life on one or more occasions. For the overwhelming majority of those, their attempts were in the distant past and had to do with specific situations, or with ongoing bouts of depression that have dissipated with time. Almosteveryone who has made a serious attempt at suicide has altered his or her behavior and thinking, and being goth seems to have made a positive difference in most of their lives.
gothic survey www.nightmachines.com/gs
How to be Goth in Less than 1 hr www.gothic.net/gothnicity/
Encyclopedia Gothica-history of goth www.waningmoon.com/gothica/
Lenora Clair www.lenoraclaire.com/
Sky Claudette www.skyvlad.com/
SEVEN 13 www.seven13band.com
THE + SECTION ON SUICIDE
Madame X "I tried several times, but I haven't been in that frame of mind for over four years. I don't want to go back there and I honestly don't think I ever will. I have learned to enjoy and love myself. Life may not be fair, but it's definitely worth living."
Malinda "It was when I was younger, and mostly before I was fully into the goth scene. I suffered from clinical depression, and still do, but control it without medication. Since becoming active in the goth scene, I have found a love of life that will always keep me from such actions. I have so much fun now, I want to live to be one hundred and ten!"
THE GOTH BIBLE. Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Kilpatrick. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.