What a whirlwind. Friends, it’s been too long. But I’ve been on a trip. Not the work trips I took to Europe this summer but the trip of watching something I made with my friends go around the world. Here’s a long story of how that happened……
Way back in March now (on International Woman’s Day, actually), some of my favourite ladies got together to make 40 Years of Goth Style. It’s a concept I came up with my long-time bestie, fellow Siouxsie lover and ace make-up artist Andrea Heldman. To take the fashion history timelapse video and give it an alternative make-over. Do our own version, celebrating the darker styles we’ve always loved: 40 Years of Goth Style in under four minutes.
I wanted to make this an all-woman production. And so I enlisted other talented colleagues, like my hairstylist Karen Wallington of Modlocks, to make authentic cyber dread falls; Ashley Davies and Mina Smart from House of Etiquette became my stylists and confidantes; pin-up model Kassandra Love, a not-so-secret goth and sweet gal. We hired Lisa Lightbourn-Lay as our Director of Photography. And several kind friends helped with all the little things that you can’t do without. I borrowed clothes from all over town — pulling vintage velvet dresses and corsets from the closets of my pals, extra grateful for those who have become designers, like Plastik Wrap and Totally Waisted, and who generously lent us things from their collections. Thrilled especially that these items were coming from local, independent, female designers who were actual members of the goth and alternative subculture. Purchased the rest from what my budget would allow. This was a completely independent production, funded by me, and even with all of the favours, it wasn’t cheap to make. I say all this only because some critics of the project have called us out for being too costumey, and of having no idea what goths actually dress like. They couldn’t be more wrong about me and this team.
We spent two full days crammed into a studio trying to make this all work in time—extensive make-ups that tested just how much a person can have intense black eyeliner applied and rubbed off over and over; a black light sequence that proved more difficult than it first seemed; discovering that I hadn’t accounted for adding platforms and giant hair when fixing the time-lapse frame, etc. In the end, the experiments all worked out. Not everything perfectly as in my dreams, but certainly something to be proud of. I secured music tracks from three great local independent bands — Johnny Hollow, Amy’s Arms, For Esme — and after many late nights with Mina and even more favours from several talented women I know who work in post-production, the edit was done.
June 21 I uploaded it to YouTube. We had already posted a teaser on Facebook, which attracted media attention. Kim Kelly at Vice offered to premiere the video on Noisey, so that was a really cool way to launch into the world — she called us “spookily perfect.” The Daily Mail did a feature. I was interviewed for the Washington Post. And we were profiled on Buzzfeed. (We were also pirated a lot; it’s infuriating how many people think they can just download shit from the internet and upload it to their own sites without credit. GRRR.) The views rocketed upwards — 400,000 in the first week. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time watching Google alerts and hitting the refresh button. It was super exciting.
Then came the critics. An avalanche of negative comments that basically boiled down to “This has nothing to do with goth!” To many, the video was a travesty, yet another clickbait made by people who know nothing at all. The Lolitas were particularly enraged — cultural appropriation, one Tweeted at me — that we misrepresented them. I tried to explain that this wasn’t a video about Lolita style history, but rather acknowledging that moment in time where Goths discovered Japanese street style and adopted it into their looks. It’s not actually supposed to be authentic or pure Lolita! Ditto Steampunk. But Goths of the Internet wouldn’t have it! No Death Rocker has blonde hair! Pastel Goth is a cancer to the culture! Nu Goth is offensive to pagans and real witches! For a few days, it really bummed me out, and I honestly tried to dialogue in YouTube comments. (Spoiler: it doesn’t work.) Even though I know very well that arguing about Goth is one of the core tenents of Gothdom. (I called the intro to my book — an actual encyclopedia of Goth! — “What is, ‘What is Goth?’”) I gave up after reading one too many comments from (presumably) kids so upset that we had a punk look — because punk and goth have nothing to do with each other, in their view. How can you care so much about Goth that you are freaking out about a video on the internet but not enough to know its basic history? Le sigh.
At the same time, I welcomed and relished the manyresponsevideospopping up. They too had critiques, but fair ones, I thought. I found it flattering actually to be acknowledged by my favourite Goth YouTube personalities and bloggers. There were blog posts from around the world. And many positive comments, which came more often as the weeks went on. Yeah, even from Pastel Goths. I adore hearing that people are falling in love with the songs we used, discovering new music. Almost every time I went out in Toronto, someone else told me they saw and liked the video. It started to feel good again.
Last week, 40 Years of Goth Style reached 1 million views! That’s kind of crazy. It’s a pretty significant milestone, and I’m extremely proud of that. At the same time, it’s just the beginning. We are planning a Male Goth Style follow-up. (Yes, there will be Tripp pants.) And I have a “director’s commentary” type video almost ready to go up that explains more about our rationale and research into these different looks used. Because I genuinely do care about this subculture, and I want people to learn more about it, to appreciate this thing of beautiful subversion that captured my imagination all those years ago, and still does.
It’s Thanksgiving in Canada right now. As I type this, I am surrounded by the smell of sweet potatoes and roasted beets and a view of trees turning burnt orange and red. It’s a day to think about gratitude. Well, I’m thankful for a lot of things this year but none as much as the ladies who helped me make this video, as well as the people who helped me get the word out, and those who watched it, all 1, 114, 732 of you, and counting.
Thank you always for reading, for caring about what I do, for being you. Now it’s time to light a candle and get back to Work.
May 21, 2016
World Goth Night at the Movies presents
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE
Join me as once again I host our the third annual World Goth Day movie night at the Royal Cinema in Toronto. In keeping with my love for vampires and gothic beauty in cinema we’ll be screening 1992’s classic Interview with the Vampire. The feature starts at 8 but come early: I’ve put together a pre-show reel of outrageous, hilarious archival videos and then we’ll be premiering my 40 Years of Goth Style short film. There will be prizes. And me. Come.
No Bowie, no Bauhaus. No Low, no Downward Spiral. No Ziggy, no Manson.
David Bowie wasn’t a Goth. It would be ridiculous to claim him in that way, like he belonged to any one scene. Hell, he barely belonged to any one planet. But without him, well, it’s hard to imagine what Goth/Industrial music and style would look and sound like, if it existed at all. That’s why, after so many words have already been spilled since the announcement of his death, [Seriously, everyone and theirdentist has weighed in already], and it’s taken me a while, I still wanted to write this. To remind myself, and those who share my love for the subculture, and perhaps some who don’t know the connections at all, why Bowie was so important to this dark corner of the world, too. It’s by no means exhaustive (how would one begin to track 100% of Bowie’s influences on any genre?) but I hope comprehensive enough.
We’ll get to The Hunger in a moment, naturally. But first, let’s start at the very beginning….
1972: Blowing minds on Top of the Pops
One could say, with all earnestness, that the seeds of the modern Goth subculture aren’t really Walpole’s gothic horror novel Castle of Otrano, as bookish types like to claim, but Bowie’s far out July 6, 1972 appearance as Ziggy Stardust on the British music show Top of the Pops. This is where one Daniel Ash, who would later co-found the world’s first proper gothic rock band, first glimpsed this strange creature. He was just shy of 15. Her would later tell Vice:
DANIEL ASH, BAUHAUS: “Morrissey and Marc Almond and Boy George and George Michael, they all talk about Bowie doing “Starman” on Top of the Pops where he puts his arm around Mick Ronson, and it’s looking like, ‘Is that a girl or a guy?’ You know, that whole magical thing. That changed everything for my generation. … I remember going into town in the back of my dad’s car, and I went into the store and bought “Starman” and before I bought this 7” vinyl a voice in my head said, ‘If you buy this record, your life is never going to be the same. Do you want to go down this road?’ Of course I bought it.”
Ash was hardly alone. The whole lot of future British Goth icons were watching that TV night. Robert Smith, Andrew Eldritch, Ian McCulloch, they’ve all spoken about being transfixed and transformed by that performance.
Susan Janet Ballion watched it from a hospital bed. The girl who would soon transform into a Bromley punk then Goth goddess Siouxsie Sioux told Bowie biographer Dylan Jones,
SIOUXSIE SIOUX: “It was the first time I felt that it was music made for me. … He was incredible. The skinniness, the alienation, the otherworldlinesss. …. It was definitely the man/woman of the future. It was a brave new world, a springboard to accentuate your own individuality. But I was never a Bowie lookalike. I found it odd that so many people were content to merely copy.”
Siouxsie hits on something here of great import to this story. Every generation has a new pop or rock star that blows the gates open for the kids, often through a TV appearance. That’s not news. Often they even inspire new fashion trends amongst fans. But this isn’t Beatles haircuts or a KISS make-up on Halloween. Bowie that night, in going beyond stage costuming into a fully formed alter ego, (in fact, several alter egos) inspired those who would most influence what the goth subculture would become to create personas for themselves.
In the essay “Playing Dress Up: David Bowie and the Roots of Goth,” authors David Shumway and Heather Arnet describe it thus: “Bowie’s theatricality freed punk rock performers to indulge their own impulses to dress up. Inspired by Bowie, they would create their own performance masks, costumes and stage personae. As a result, their fans, rather than merely imitating, would go on to create their own world of disguise—goth.”
Exactly. Goth has always been a culture of metamorphosis and masquerade. (Or, as Hebdige might say, style as subversion.) Not every goth puts on their boldest every time they leave the house but there’s a certain commitment on a daily basis to transforming yourself that is as intrinsic to the scene as the music and other culture consumed. Goth fashion traces itself way back past glam rock, of course, but there’s a good chance no teenagers would be walking around in Victorian funeral attire in 2015 if it wasn’t for Bowie, and his influence on the early Goth rockers — they gave us all permission to be strange in bold daylight, to re-imagine ourselves as scary monsters and super freaks.
Much has been written about the influence of Bowie’s gender bending style on all kinds of communities. But perhaps nowhere was it so impactful as goth, where boys in skirts continues to be de rigueur, where fishnets are considered unisex apparel. And consider that goth’s most famous face, Robert Smith of the Cure, is almost as well-known to the general public for the bright red lipstick smeared wildly across his face as for his music. And where did Robert get the idea? That same five minutes of TV.
ROBERT SMITH, THE CURE: “I saw Bowie on Top of the Pops and immediately put on some of my older sisters’ make-up. I loved how odd it made me look, and the fact that it upset people. You put on eyeliner and people started screaming at you. How strange, how marvelous!”
1977: Warszawa becomes Warsaw becomes Joy Division
Although it’s the Bauhaus/Bowie connection that’s the axis on which an entire universe would soon spin, one cannot overlook the Bowie influence on Joy Division, the first group that ever had “goth” tagged to their sound. Their first gig was May 29, 1977 under the name Warsaw, taken directly from “Warszawa,” a haunting track on Bowie’s 1977 moody masterpiece of post-punk, Low. The name was Ian Curtis’ idea. Curtis was an early fan of Bowie, and was particularly switched on after seeing the Ziggy Stardust tour in a club in Manchester, twice, at age 17. It’s easy to imagine him as he appears in the fictional biopic Control, striking his best rock star poses in his bedroom mirror to the sounds of Bowie’s “Jean Genie,” finding in that music, himself.
Curtis remained a fan his entire short life: the Iggy Pop record The Idiot, produced and co-written by Bowie, was famously found spinning on his turntable the day he hanged himself, May 18, 1980, at age 23.
It’s in Joy Division that you really hear the influence of Bowie’s lyrics on the early goth songwriters. Curtis took Bowie’s obsession with alienation to a new level of grimness, drilling deep into themes of paranoia, madness, and other psychological horrors. Forget the romanticized rock star from Mars—Curtis was much more interested in loving the alien within. And while you could say that came from Curtis’ own psyche as much as hearing “Space Oddity,” when you add in the sonic similarities between the Joy Division debut Unknown Pleasures and Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, well… Listen again to “I Remember Nothing” and tell me that wouldn’t fit just as well on Heroes?
1982: Bauhaus’ “Ziggy Stardust” cover hits the Top 20
Six years after buying “Starman,” Daniel Ash co-founded Bauhaus with his three school mates, including singer Peter Murphy. It doesn’t take much more than a glance to recognize how much Bowie (along with Iggy) influenced Murphy. He took Bowie’s androgynous alien make-up, drag-like costuming and mime-inspired dance moves and meshed them with his love for German expressionism and horror—like colourization in reverse, Murphy pared Ziggy down to stark, black-and-white, becoming a thin white duke for for the death chic set.* It’s right here, in Peter Murphy’s hollowed out cheekbones—glam becomes Goth.
Like Joy Division, Bauhaus borrowed its sound in part from the darkest corners of Bowie’s early catalogue. And they’ll admit it. Peter Murphy once declared, “The Man Who Sold the World was the first true goth record.” I double dare you to listen to that 1971 album’s “After All,” a sombre, minor-chord whisper that references occultist Aleister Crowley, or its “All the Monsters,” and not hear the influence all over Bauhaus’ 1980’s debut In the Flat Field, or “All We Every Wanted Was Everything,” from 1981’s Mask.
It all became so bleeding obvious when Bauhaus released their version of “Ziggy Stardust.” Originally a throwaway recorded for BBC Radio, a bit of a poke back at those calling the new band Bowie rip-offs. The 1982 single became Bauhaus’ first hit, and the only time they would hit the British Top 20 charts, even getting their own Top of the Pops appearance out of it. This, and a music video, helped bring Bauhaus, and the world of Goth, to the masses.
For me personally, it was several years later that I first caught the “Ziggy Stardust” clip, on TV in my small town. Being an ‘80s kid, for me Bowie was the “Let’s Dance” guy. Supremely cool, yes. Punk rock? Goth? I had no idea. I’d never seen the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell to Earth, Ziggy Stardust. Which means I’d also never seen anything like Peter Murphy in this video. Slithering, shimmying, shirtless, across the stage striking his Jesus Christ Pose. Not so much singing to his audience as attacking them. This video also took me inside some low-ceiling, sweaty brick basement filled with glassy-eyed post-punk kids in leather jackets and eyeliner, it showed me Daniel Ash wearing fishnets for a shirt and Murphy singing from within a dog cage. I was already falling in love with the Cult and the Cure and Love and Rockets, all on heavy rotation on MuchMusic back then. But this was my first visit to an underground goth bar. I imagine I’m not alone in deciding that day I was going all-black and never back. It was only later that I discovered this was a cover, and that this Ziggy fellow was in fact David Bowie, he of the sharp suits. Mind blown twice.
1983: Bowie Becomes a Vampire
David Bowie’s portrayal of the immortal John Blaylock remains one of the best vampire portrayals in modern cinema, in one of my Top 5 vampire flicks of all time. (Surely, I can’t be the only goth girl who shows The Hunger to new dates as a matter of ritual?) It would be uber Goth even if it didn’t start in a goth bar. But it does: Peter Murphy’s spikey silhouette emerging from the shadows, staring down viewers through a metal cage, the haunting rhythms of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” ticking a death march as Bowie, as a slick, sunglass-wearing Blaylock, and his vampire lover Miriam stalk the dance floor, coolly hunting the club-goers for prey. It’s possibly the gothiest 5 minutes ever put to film. By all accounts, the band had a passing run-in with Bowie while shooting the scene, possibly their only real life encounter.
The Hunger closed the Bowie-Bauhaus loop (the band would break up shortly after its release) but it was hardly the final chapter in the man’s sphere of influence.
1994: Hey Trent Reznor, how Low can you go?
Since Bowie’s death, few have been posting “’The Hearts Filthy Lesson’ changed my life!” or mentioning Earthling in their obituaries. Fair enough, it’s hard to compete with “Rebel, Rebel.” But it was in the ‘90s that Bowie made his greatest contribution to gothdom— as a direct influence on the two artists that would take this scrappy scene for weirdoes and blow it wide open to the mainstream.
Trent Reznor, industrial music’s most recognizable icon, has gone on record many times about how David Bowie was the most important creative influence in his life, citing Scary Monsters and Hunky Dory amongst his all-time fave albums, and Bowie’s general freakishness as key to his artistic development.
TRENT REZNOR, NIN:“To a kid growing up in rural Pennsylvania, out of reach of college radio and on the wrong side of the Internet – in isolation – to see this alien creep in, this larger-than-life character who was smart… he’s been a consistent reference point as somebody who is uncompromising.”
If any one thing can be thanked/blamed for goth turning up at every mall near you in 1994, it’s Nine Inch Nails’s record The Downward Spiral. Multiplatinum. Top 5. Grammy nominations. Heavy rotation on MTV. For a noisy concept record about nihilism, addition and self-destruction. And it wouldn’t have happened (or not in the same way) had Reznor not heard David Bowie’s 1977 album Low, a benchmark in Bowie’s own creative evolution and the key to Trent unleashing his most experimental side.
TRENT REZNOR, NIN: “David Bowie‘s ‘Low’ was probably the single greatest influence on ‘The Downward Spiral‘ for me. … I instantly fell for it. I related to it on a song-writing level, a mood level, and on a song-structure level…I like working within the framework of accessibility, and songs of course, but I also like things that are more experimental and instrumental, maybe.”
I’m not suggesting that industrial music started with DWS, or that many goths hadn’t already discovered Bowie’s Berlin triology, Krautraut, ambient and other electronic oddities long before it hit the charts. But this album was a juggernaut, that rare beast that changes the game. It transformed Nine Inch Nails from a synthpop club act to stadium rock stars. And the Bowie connection couldn’t be more clear. Aside from the Low factor, Adrian Belew (who’d played on Lodger, another Bowie album from the Berlin Trilogy) played guitar. And the big hit single, “Closer” rips its opening drum beat from “Nightclubbing” by Iggy Pop — a song written by …. David Bowie.
1995: Bowie the Industrialist
Bowie, being the observant culture vulture, didn’t let this go unnoticed. His 1995 release Outside, subtitled “A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle,” was a dystopian concept record with multiple voices and enough dark electronic beats to be embraced by goth/industrial clubs, even before Bowie tapped Trent for a remix of the single “The Hearts Filthy Lesson.”He then invited Nine Inch Nails to open on the tour.
It wasn’t a typical opening slot: they designed the Dissonance tour to have a seque between their sets, where they would perform together. Bowie sang on “Reptile”; Trent on “Scary Monsters.” It was an experiment that met with lukewarm to bad reviews. And when you watch it today, it doesn’t really click (the way, say, Peter Murphy of Bauhaus singing “Reptile” with NIN does.) But it presented Bowie to a whole new generation. And more importantly, it gave the Bowie stamp of approval to this music, a great validation for us at a time when NIN copycats and bros screaming “I want to fuck you like an animal!” at sports bars, Bowie’s seal of approval reminded us everything was cool, and elevated NIN and industrial music to the place in the history of rock music that it deserves.
[Fun aside: of all people, Andrew Eldritch of the Sisters of Mercy interviewed Bowie around this time, for Rolling Stone Germany. He referred, in typical Eldritch fashion, to NIN’s muddy performance at Woodstock as “an ephemeral eighties band of the most despicable kind.”
Bowie replied: “Those people would be wrong. I think it was the emergent voice of a new direction.”
And then, more from Andrew: “Now, I hold myself personally responsible for Nine Inch Nails (among others), but not for the fact that they look like Alien Sex Fiend. This makes Mr Bowie laugh some more. ‘I liked Alien Sex Fiend. It’s a fucking great t-shirt.’”]
1997: I’m Afraid of Americans
Straight up: “I’m Afraid of Americans” is the Bowie track most often heard at goth bars, because it’s essentially Bowie’s version of a NIN song. He again tapped Trent for a remix, and to co-star in the video. In the clip, a paranoid Bowie— complete with hoop earing and ‘90s era goatee—is running through the streets of NYC, chased by an apparition of Reznor. A comment by an aging rock star seeing young ‘uns biting at his creative heels, as well as a pointed critique of American gun culture? Seems like it.
1998: Manson — the Mechanical Ziggy
While Reznor was enjoying his bromance with Bowie, conducting audio/video experiments that were very of the moment, his protégée Marilyn Manson was about to indulge his own obsession with Bowie’s glam rock past. The rock star born Brian Warner first got turned on to Bowie when he saw the video for “Ashes to Ashes” (a clip that starred, not co-incidentially, Steve Strange of Visage, one of the earliest figures on the new romantic club scene). He’d name-dropped the Thin White Duke often, and in 1997, released a cover of Bowie’s 1974 funk-soul hit “Golden Years.” But it was 1998’s Mechanical Animals that he let his Bowie fixation fly.
The record is widely acknowledged as Manson’s take on Diamond Dogs, the follow-up to Ziggy Stardust. Thematically, Manson plays two characters who will be quite familiar to Bowie fans: a doped up glam rocker, and an androgynous alien who falls to earth and joins a band. The single and video for “The Dope Show” makes an overt nod to Bowie’s performance in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth (and much more). Already a star on the American pop culture scene, this was Manson’s highest charting period—the song earned several MTV and Billboard Music awards, and a Grammy nomination, and it was his most commercially successful record. For a whole new generation of spooky kids, Manson—with his crazy coloured eyes, prosthetic boobs and asexual genitals—became a gateway to the weird world of music and art and David Bowie. With the internet fully exploded by then, it was easier than ever to follow the clues he left, to travel down the rabbit holes of the songs, the personas, the art and the artifice.
2016: Ashes to Ashes
When David Bowie died, on January 10, 2016, there were many expressions of grief posted by the music artists who adored him, tiny flakes in the avalanche of tributes worldwide. One that circulated widely was a letter by Marilyn Manson, printed in Rolling Stone, titled “David Bowie Changed My Life Forever.” An excerpt:
MARILYN MANSON: “Every song of his was a way for me to communicate to others. It was a sedative. An arousal. A love letter I could never have written. It has become and remains a soundtrack to a movie he painted with his voice and guitar. He sang, “Hope, it’s a cheap thing.”
I don’t need hope to know that he has found his way to the place that equals his untouchable, chameleon-genius beauty. The black star in space, that only HE belongs. This crushing moment of fear and loss can only be treated the way his music has affected everyone who was fortunate enough to hear and love it. Let’s NEVER let go of what he gave us.”
More than one fan of this music has wondered wherefore art thou Trent Reznor? He’s been notably silent. I like to think he’ll respond with art, with music. I like to think he’s in a studio somewhere, doing the things that Bowie always inspired him to do. And that he’ll drop his response in his own time.
For me, what lingers in the days and weeks now since that shocking news in the middle of the night, is just how Bowie orchestrated his own end. He wrote his own obituary with his final album, Blackstar— from the lyrics to the videos to the artwork, all clues to be interpreted. Articles like this andthiswill continue to be written for years to come, analyzing the clues he left in that last work, revering him for dying the way he lived, artfully. Some will believe that he faked his death, others that he’s responsible for that new planet out there. It’s all possible though, isn’t it?
What do I think? That his influence, on goths and other darkly inclined individuals and artists will only grow after death. The man who fell to earth is now myth, one who left us in a cloud of stardust, of ashes, with a requiem to soothe that loneliness. There will never be another David Bowie. But there is sure to be an infinite number of people who, because of him, continue to turn and face the strange. Bowie is dead. Long live Blackstar.
On several nights over the past few weeks, I’ve sat down and attempted to write out my feelings about Healthgoth. Yeah, that thing. You may have read about it recently, in Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The Guardian, and even Esquire for goth’s sake. And if you know me you probably forwarded me the link saying, “check this out!” and “thought of you” and “heard about this?” Yeah. I heard about it…. sometime in 2013, when I first saw the HealthGoth Facebook page. I thought it was a joke. I still do. Only now, titans of media are anointing it as a legitimate thing. And that Facebook page has, like 20K followers. Every time I saw a new article, which seemed to be popping up daily, I would guffaw. Don’t these reporters realize they are being bamboozled, ala Lamestain scandal of 1992? It’s just a couple of friends obsessed with black athletic wear and some sarcastic goths having a larf with hashtags, non?
Then on December 17 I got an email. Subject: THE OFFICIAL HEALTH GOTH FITNESS MANIFESTO VIDEO RELEASE. Now, apart from the fact that any press release that uses ALL CAPS is generally promoting the worst music/product ever, this one was particular hilarious. To start: the accompanying photo, of a gang of randoms wearing black and posing at the gym. It looks like a spoof, some skit on Portlandia. Then this:
“Black Nike 5.0’s? Check. Black Under Armor long sleeve shirt? Check. Black Mesh crop top? Check. Welcome to Health Goth, a lifestyle trend that combines dark sith lord purveyors and the health conscious into one.”
Lifestyle trend. Riiiiight. I did not click on the video. But a lot of people did, many of whom kept forwarding it to me. I was starting to feel really angry about this. Because to me, this had absolutely nothing to do with Goth, that thing I love. But then I thought, who the hell am I to decide what can and can’t be goth? Sure, I did literally write the book on it, but I’m hardly the St. Peter of gothdom, judging who can get in through the gates. Although, I’m pretty bloody sure most of my Goth pals would agree that hiring a publicist to pimp your work-out video and promoting Nike is most definitely Not Goth.
OK then, deep breath. Let’s spend some time with this. Maybe I have it all wrong. I quickly realized that there were two distinct factions in this Health Goth story: Johnny Love, the Chicago DJ who also uses the name Deathface, is the “tastemaker” and “figurehead” (in the wording of that press release) behind that video. He maintains the site healthgoth.com, where he mostly sells T-shirts that appropriate logos of big corporate brands into more “goth”-friendly messaging (Example: I Just Can’t) and promotes taking back the gym from bros. Then there are three guys from Portland who run that Healthgoth Facebook page. Mike Grabarek, Chris Cantino and Jeremy Scott are artists obsessed not with benchpressing but the aesthetics of sleek, shiny, futuristic fashion, mostly black but sometimes white, sometimes work-out gear but sometimes not, plus some kink I’ve never heard of — wearing your nice new tracksuits/shoes into the shower or pool and filming yourself getting soaking wetfor other dudes who are into that. OK. Each camp claims to have invented this Health Goth thing. And they hate each other, of course.
At this point I’m pretty sure this has absolutely nothing to do with Goth culture as I know it. So why does it bug me so much? I went back to this great book I had read a few years ago when I was trying examine my bias against hipsters. Hip: The History by John Leland taught me plenty about black culture in America, and how hip and race are intertwined but not so much about why I got annoyed by the PBR-swilling beardos in my neighbourhood, beyond a reminder that the standard “get off my lawn” posture, which signals nothing if one’s own futile attempt to cling to hipness by dismissing everyone else as fakes, is as old as hip itself.
I try to keep those feelings in check, in general. And in terms of Goth, I’ve never been one of those “Elders” who gets mad at the younger generation for not bowing down to the same records I grew up on, or having the same interests. Take the Goth Lolita girls. On the surface, we have very little in common. They don’t listen to goth rock music at all. I don’t see them out at horror movies. So they prefer to consume anime and aren’t afraid to wear tutus? I’m cool with that. Because I see in them, in their home-made outfits, in their world of elaborate tea parties and extreme girlieness, a polite resistance to the dominant Western youth culture. (Not to mention I appreciate their obsession with Victoriana, which is Goth Style 101.) They are creative, DIY, outrageous, and committed to making the world a more interesting place. They do more than just sit at home and regram other people’s photos, in other words. Or the GHE20G0TH1club scene in New York. It’s not my scene, but it is a scene, with real creative people doing something in the real world. I feel less kind towards the crap bands operating under the Goth banner the past 10 years. (You know, that awful synthpop that’s like the power metal of goth – a joke some people take waaaaay to seriously.) But even they don’t make me angry. I just choose to listen to other things. So, again, why are the Health Goths pissing me off?
Because it’s not punk rock. That’s why. Both Love and the Portland trio are fetishizing products. And that’s it. That’s not culture. That’s not any kind of lifestyle I can get behind. What are they actually creating, or contributing? (Both parties do make music, but it seems unconnected to their HG pursuits.) One guy is just a fitness nut who is promoting himself and his cheap shirts with shockingly bad graphic design under the guise of anti-corporate rebellion. The others are just providing a steady scroll of eye candy on Facebook. Granted, the high-tech, far-out fashions and design they post are pretty drool-worthy (I’m all for more people dressing like we live in the Matrix/the Grid/that awesome Interpol video for reals) but how does posting/liking/sharing photos to corporate brands (however artfully composed) make a “community” worth celebrating in the New York Times? In this interview, they expound on Health Goth as “a hybrid of aesthetics we’re plugged into, including elements of biotechnology, sportswear, fetish culture, extreme cleanliness, dystopian advertisements, and rendered environments.” I should like these guys. They’re promoting clothes that are sexy and far-out and men who shave.But oh, look, Grabarek, Cantino and Scott have had meetings with Adidas. Because you know, that’s for sure about art.
Goth, for all its permutations, was never about buying shit. Certainly not expensive designer shit. Which is why all those tabloid headlines screaming, “Rihanna/Jennifer Lawrence goes goth” are so ridiculous. (I particularly love the Lorde goes goth ones. Lorde IS goth, people.) It’s not a costume. It’s not a commodity. It’s not a trend. It is a subculture. It is a lifestyle. One with dozens of different looks and outlooks. You want to adopt the G-word to sell a product, to promote a business. Go ahead. I’m not the boss of you. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t make me throw up in my mouth a little. As for all those media outlets jumping on Love and his fitness manifesto? Screw you for playing into the idea that Goth by its very nature is somehow opposed to being healthy, making Health Goth such a surprising and titillating topic for you. Goths are just people. Some like to work out. Usually in their ratty Joy Division shirts or ill-advised Converse or maybe even some new Adidas their parents got them for Christmas or, most likely, the same boring work-out clothes everyone else is wearing. Some of them even play team sports! Whatevs. #notnews [Edit: As my friend Stephanie, a goth who runs, put it: “I find the whole health goth thing annoying because it perpetuates the stereotype that goths are so precious and pretentious that we can’t even work out without draping ourselves in lace, rivets and eyeliner.” Exactly!]
When I started running, I certainly wished there were more black shoe options. But after finally watching that “OFFICIAL” goth fitness manifesto video, I think I’m fine with my pink runners, thanks. Gonna lace those up, crank some Nitzer Ebb and go shake this whole HealthGoth thing off. Peace.
While travelling recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Natasha Scharf, author of the excellent subcultural study Worldwide Gothic, and a journalist of high repute working in the goth/alternative music community in England. We met in the studio of her London publishers to record an interview to promote her beautifully exhaustive new book, The Art of Gothic.
To hear our conversation about the history of Goth imagery, the importance of aesthetics to the culture and of course, her take on “what is goth?”, click here!
I then moved on to Paris, where my friend Fabien of Rue Morgue France took me to the private museum of eccentric vampire historian Jacques Sirgent to record an episode of Rue Morgue Radio France. If you can forgive my rusty French, listen to the three of us muse on the origins and importance of the nosferatu and our favourite films here.
As much as I’d love to just point you to my post below on great books to give a goth at Christmas, not even Goths can live on books alone… so I present to you now my picks for lovely objects I’ve come across that would make wonderful gifts for the Goth in your life. (Or yourself!) As with last year, I’ve generally avoided clothing and other things that need to be sized to fit, and rank them from modestly priced items into more luxurious splurges. And there is definitely a focus on high-quality gifts for adults. Because do we really need more cheap plastic crap?
Merry Christmas and may all your holiday wishes come true….
Take those pointy stiletto nails to the next level with these silver rings, tipped with tiny red “blood drop” jewels. But don’t wear them to the vampire movies because they’re not very good at picking up popcorn.
Because the sands of time don’t stop at Christmas. Bring back this classic piece to your desk, den or anywhere in your home you’d like to be reminded that life is short. 2015 is just around the corner – make every moment count.
Who has been naughty? Then you deserve a wicked present. In years past I have compiled and posted my Goth Girl Gift Guide. Last year I was asked to add one for the Goth Boys and that was fun. But since in my world men proudly wear eyeliner and women buy records too, this year there is no gender split. Instead I’ve added a dedicated Gift Guide post just for books. Because it’s the one thing I’m always happy to get, and I find great pleasure in giving them to others as well. Goths by nature tend to be a bookish lot, so I hope this selection of new titles helps you find something for the avid reader on your list.
British journo’s follow up to WorldWide Gothic is a gorgeous hardcover brimming with essays and images from throughout the history of gothic music and culture. For music aficionados who like to geek out over memorabilia.
You don’t need a secret knock to enjoy specialty cocktails anymore. Just make your own concoctions from 500+ recipes by New York’s celebrated speakeasy Death and Co. Hefty hardcover in fancy matte black. For the budding bartenders and serious drinkers.
This companion piece to a travelling art exhibition is full of curator talk about the history and importance of heels in fashion. But you’ll want this hardcover for the drool-worthy big glossy photos. For the shoe fetishists.
Who Killed Mr. Moonlight? Bauhaus, Black Magick and Benediction
The eternally cool David J strolls down the dark corners of memory lane, covering his career in Bauhaus and beyond. A paperback to curl up with while spinning Bela Lugosi’s Dead. For the babybat who could use a history lesson.
Perhaps you’ve heard: Anne Rice has resurrected her vampire chronicles. Lestat’s Back. For everyone whose lives were changed by Interview with the Vampire and/or needs their faith in bloodsucker storytelling restored.
Enter the world of the Fae. Shadowy Toronto author Nancy Baker’s long-awaited return to novels switches vampires for fairies, but her delicate, devious way with genre storytelling remains a delight. For the dark fantasy fan.
The original horror hostess, style icon to goth girls everywhere, is commemorated and her influence on society analyzed by macabrely minded American professor W. Scott. Poole. For the scholarly monster kids.
“The day that Skinny Puppy’s “Live Shapes for Arms” tour thundered into Toronto, February 18, 2014, the music news world was focused on the fact that date was the 40th anniversary of the release of the first KISS album. No doubt that debut was important to rock ’n’ roll. But when it comes to celebrating the impact and longevity of a group, I am personally much more excited that next month marks 30 years since Skinny Puppy released its first cassette, Back and Forth.”
Ah, exhale. The end of another year. It feels that way tonight, surrounded by snow and twinkling lights and bits of shiny paper on the floor, with only a few squares remaining on the 2013 calendar. Time to plot the future. But first, a look back at the music, books, films that inspired me, excited me, provoked me, made me think, laugh, dance, rock out, dream, scream.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I find conflicts between my passion for all things tagged “goth” and “horror” and the reality of what I enjoyed and thought was good quality. I have never been a super fan of blind faith in terms of genre. Tell me a good story. If there be monsters, all the better. Sing me a song. If it’s sad and romantic and melodramatic, I shall sigh and swoon all the more. But I still get excited by many, many other genres of music, from folk to disco and beyond, as well as poetry and documentaries and all kinds of things. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Like what you like.
In 2013, I put out my own book, which impacted how much other stuff I could seek out, and really absorb, to recommend. But for the sake of posterity, and in the interest of spreading the word about what I find worthy and wonderful…. a few of my favourite things…
Live shows were more exciting to me than records this year. Probably because I saw Nick Cave perform two nights, back to back, and it was a much more satisfying experience than listening to his latest release Push the Sky Away on its own. First in Montreal, at the always amazing Metropolis club, than at the even more amazing Massey Hall, where I managed to push myself up to the front of the stage. There were strings and children’s choirs making the new songs sound great, and St. Nick doing “Stagger Lee” and “The Mercy Seat” with as much vigor as ever and my friend and I giving he and Warren flowers like lovesick teenagers and all I really remember is thinking how if I could see only one act in concert ever again for the rest of my life, it would be him. Hands down. Have I purchased tickets for his summer 2014 tour already? Hell, yes.
There were other live shows for the books, many of them verging on nostalgia trips — Rocket from the Crypt rocking my Riotfest, two intimate sets of triumphant, glorious Patti Smith at the AGO, Nine Inch Nails proving they can add funk and back-up singers and still blast out the industrial hits. But also some new favourites: The XX beautiful in the rain at Echo Beach, Iceland’s Legend at a basement bar, Majical Cloudz making my NXNE with his intense solo performance.
Like everyone with a pulse, I also gleefully danced to “Get Lucky” way too many times.
Only Lovers Left Alive! Jim Jarmusch’s arthouse vampire movie, starring Tilda Swinton, is exquisite, and was a highlight of my TIFF 2013. Sadly, no actual release date in sight. Ditto Horns, the most excellent adaptation of the Joe Hill novel, transformed into a superior dark comedy/horror/fantasy. Watch out for those next year. I join the chorus celebrating American Mary the indie Canadian horror flick about body modification, for being smart, sexy, nasty and driven by kinky, crazy, outrageous female characters. Thanks Soska Sisters for bringing back Katherine “Ginger Snaps” Isabelle to the big screen. And I really dug the sweetness of Warm Bodies. A zombie who plays vinyl records for a girl is my kind of zombie. As for documentaries, I had much to ponder about violence and appropriation of voice after watching The Exhibition, about an artist painting women killed by Robert Pickton; and I couldn’t be happier to see BlackFish changing perceptions and policies about whales and dolphins in captivity.
Or, this is what I was doing alone in the dark when not obsessing over Klaus in The Vampire Diaries and The Originals.
It was a great year for me to see some of my favourite writers in the flesh, and hear them read aloud. After many years of adoring Anne Carson from afar, she came to town for the International Festival of Authors. My favourite living poet, she claimed in her humble introduction to lack charisma. Hardly. Her words make other worlds possible, and when she brings them to life in her own voice, even the most obtuse things became completely clear. (This particular event provided me the opportunity to experience a woman shhhhhushing a man for taking notes because she found the sound of his pencil on paper too loud. Seriously. ) Carson is a strange woman. The very best kind. I cannot recommend her books more highly. Also, did I wait several hours to talk to Neil Gaiman at the Toronto stop for his Last Tour Ever for Ocean at the End of the Lane? Indeed I did. His reading was marvellous, the Q&A hilarious, the long queue well worth it to chat with him after about my own new book. He continues to say very kind things to me about Gothica and it’s such a blessing to have these interactions with someone so beloved, and so generous.