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.
I’m at the back of a Greyhound bus between Barrie and Toronto. It’s winter, so it’s dark. We are four high school kids travelling to see Depeche Mode play Maple Leaf Gardens, and by the tiny bus light I am reading aloud to my friends across the aisle: “‘Evil is a point of view,’ he whispered now. ‘We are immortal. And what we have before us are the rich feasts that conscience cannot appreciate…….’ I have recently discovered this book, Interview with a Vampire, by Anne Rice, in my hometown pubic library, and it is changing my life. Like The Outsiders once did. Like Othello once did. I have not yet read Dracula, or any other vampire novel. But I have seen The Lost Boys, and I have decided I am thirsty for vampire stories. This story, about the oh-so-beautiful Louis and Lestat and Claudia, this story, about magical, mystical New Orleans, of longing to understand one’s place in the universe, of mortality, and morality, and blood. As told to a journalist. This is my new favourite book, Anne Rice my new favourite author.
I paid $10 to come and see D.O.A. and some band called Death Sentence play the Siboney Club in Kensington Market. All the cheap wooden tables are pushed against the walls to make room for moshing and whathaveyou. It’s a club so it’s dark. I live in Toronto now, with one of my best friends from Barrie. By not enough light I am sitting crossed-legged on top of one of these tables, back against the wall, reading TheVampire Lestat by Anne Rice. Because I don’t care about Death Sentence nearly as much as I care about vampires. I may have been wearing a cape. My best friend, and our mutual punk rock friends, will make fun of me for this for quite a long time.
I stand in line for hours to get my copy of Queen of the Damned signed by Anne Rice at some Toronto bookstore. I remember this not because I have a signed hardcover copy of Queen of the Damned, but because I was captured on the local TV news coverage. I am wearing a black-and-white fun fur motorcycle jacket that used to be my favourite coat. I only remember this because 10+ years later someone I find incredibly annoying pulls out a VHS tape and plays it in front of a bunch of people I’m with. (Thankfully it is dark and noisy and no one pays him any attention.)
It’s Friday night of not-Halloween weekend and I’m sitting in the front seat of a car wearing fake plastic fangs. I may have been wearing a cape. Four of us are speeding through the city trying to go see the new Interview with a Vampire movie. This is not the era of advance movie ticket buying. This is the first time I have encountered “sold out” at a cinema. We end up somewhere North, like Eglinton maybe? When we finally get seated I realize you cannot eat popcorn with fangs. A lot of people, Anne Rice especially, are angry that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are in this movie, playing Lestat and Louis. I think they look fabulous. The film is orange and red, so full of fire and blood, velvet and lace and ashes. I want to live in this world.
Prince Lestat, the first new story in the Vampire Chronicles in 11 years, is released. I got an advance copy in the summer so I could interview Anne for Rue Morguemagazine. In this book, all the characters are swooning over Lestat’s return…much like the readers. The action takes place in several places I’ve been to, and I’ve had a relationship with these characters for more than half my life. If it wasn’t about vampires it might feel like a travel diary written by a friend. (Memo: Vampires are not real.) I had a chance to write about the book, first for Rue Morgue but also to review it for Macleans. It’s difficult to fit into short spaces, my thoughts. What I want people to know is that it’s an important release in genre, that Lestat is second only to Dracula in the vampire kingdom (sorry, Edward), that it’s a easy read (for those who gave up on the Chronicles when they got super dense and detailed) that is clearly designed to bring us all up to speed so that the Chronicles can resume in book and most likely TV series form. That it’s it’s not a great book, but it’s a very good book.
I sat down tonight intending to write about Anne Rice. About why I’ve been reading Anne Rice for so long. Forgive me for getting side-tracked. To close, a few practical notes:
My interview with Anne Rice appears in the October 2014 issue of Rue Morgue, which is not on-line but the print issue can be ordered here. Since I could only use a small portion of our conversation for this assignment, I hope to publish the Q&A in full here or elsewhere soon.
“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.”
“Skinny Puppy’s music used to torture prisoners.” This news has been going around my social media all week since Cevin Key told the Phoenix New-Times about how the band wanted to invoice the US government for the use of their music at Guantanamo. Now, if you read Cevin’s whole interview it’s not like the band mailed Obama a bill. But it’s the kind outrageous, touchy situation that makes for good headlines so it’s been widely reported and retweeted. (By no less than the UK’s Independent, who, sadly, referred to the industrial icons as a “metal” band.)
I actually wrote about this last year, when I interviewed Ogre about the then-new album Weapons for Rue Morgue. Since RM doesn’t put their articles on-line, you’ll have to read it the olde-fashioned way, in a back-issue. But in the interest of adding more first-person information to this interesting story, I present here excerpts of my conversation with Ogre about the situation. Skinny Puppy has always been vocal about social justice issues in their music and interview. (I went vegetarian as a teen in large part because of VIVIsectVI and “Testure.” ) I’m thrilled that the band continues to exist/record/tour, and talk about the things that bug them, from animal welfare to Fukushima fall-out, to gun control and Guantanamo Bay. Music is a weapon, indeed.
Ogre from Skinny Puppy, April 2013:
The actual concept for Weapon came about on the Ohgr tour in 2011, based on meeting a Skinny Puppy fan who ended up being a guard in Guantanamo. He went from being Military Police to a two-week training to getting shipped over to Guantanamo to guard prisoners, high-risk prisoners. There, he heard of Skinny Puppy being used no less than 4 times to torture people. So the original idea, based on our interviews with him, was to do an album to torture people by. To make our album into a weapon.
At that time the Ohgr tour manager—who was a Renaissance Woman who is also a carny on the side— had the idea to get some of these sideshow people she knows and do interrogations on stage. But that concept got really bloated and obtuse.
When we were originally conceiving the Weapon record, I considered having bits and pieces in the native language of whoever was being tortured—Pashtun or whatever—of reassuring messages, saying things like “Even though this music sounds horrible and it’s being used to torture you, please know that in this country it’s used to fight the very thing that is torturing you right now.” Calming mantras. We were going to do that.
So one idea with Weapon is to actually do Freedom of Information requests about the music for torture, and do interviews. We were going to get information on the frequencies used, as much as we could compile, and based on that also give an instruction manual. But for now we’re not doing that.
The project was about going as far as we could, then to present to the US government, or whoever we could find that was responsible for torturing people with our music, an actual invoice for what they owe us for using our music. We would make the cover art the invoice. The idea of a free society to me, is not one that tortures people. I can’t live with that, and not call it out.
Here is my schedule. Hope to see you there. I don’t bite. (Much.)
HOW TO KILL A VAMPIRE BOOK SIGNING! ECW Press Booth #842
Thursday, August 22, 6 pm Saturday, August 24, 11 am
FEMME FATALES: THE WOMEN OF THE GENRE I’m moderating a discussion with THE SOSKA TWINS, JENNIFER BIEHN, ALYSSA LOBIT and PATRICIA CHICA about their work directing, producing and acting in horror. Saturday, August 24, 12:30 pm Room 713
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT VAMPIRES BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK I get an entire hour to talk about my favourite creatures of the night with moderator Monica S. Kuebler. Come. Ask me anything.Saturday, August 24, 5:45 pm Room 705
SO YOU WANT TO WRITE ABOUT HORROR? A how-to session on breaking into the non-ficion horror writing biz with me, CRISSY CALHOUN, BRAD MIDDLETON, LIV SPENCER and SOPHIE COSSETTE. Moderated by Monica S. Kuebler.Sunday, August 26, 2:45 pm Room 713
Festival of Fear/Fan Expo is done and buried for another year. I attend not for shopping or autograph hunting but to see old friends, make new ones, and interview actors I admire as moderator for the celebrity Q&As. This year, I was also a Guest Author, promoting Encyclopedia Gothica, signing books and talking Goth on panels. But the highlight was surely hosting the Q&A for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve done these before but never with James Marsters, who played Spike — my long-time TV crush.
It was Standing Room Only, with hundreds more turned away outside. James and his co-star Juliet Landau (who I interviewed at FoF 5 years ago) were funny and engaging and at the end quite appreciative of my efforts. It was super fangirl fun. Juliet even liked my book, which it that much more special. Apart from that, I tried to keep my mind and eyes open to new things. Here’s what I took away:
Spike and Dru are like Sid and Nancy. Or, more accurately, Nancy and Sid. Juliet Landau, who plays Drucilla, claims she’s the snarling safety-pinned one. Her on-screen vampire lover James Marsters admits his character’s bleached blonde locks do make him closer to Nancy. I just like the fact I got to talk about punk rockers with them. Watch the entire 45-minute session below.
Nelsan Ellis is shy. The actor known as flamin’ short order chef turned medium Lafayette Reynolds graciously stepped up to do the True Blood celebrity Q&A alone when co-star Sam Trammel had to cancel his con appearance, and in front of the fans he was warm and funny but he’s actually a quiet Christian man who says he deliberately let his physique slide a bit so the show’s producers would not write in a nude scene for Lafayette. He was nice enough to call me a “bitch” though. Watch an excerpt of the Q&A here:
T-shirts are made by dudes: For the third year in a row, I’ve struck out trying to buy a Batman logo T-shirt that fits a girl. I mean a grown-up woman. With boobs. There are T-shirt vendors with booths the size of my apartment building jammed with thousands of shirts and…nothing. I would have happily settled for the glow-in-the-dark Count von Count shirt I saw from an indie vendor but that too was the dreaded “youth” style girls’ T. I came home and put on my faded Dollywood shirt. Now, her people know how to design a shirt that fit girls with…girls.
There is coffee made from animal poop. I hosted Knoxville Girl April Snellings, who works for Rue Morgue and helps run the Knoxville Horror Film Festival at my lair during the weekend. She’s sweet and sassy and brought me Cherry Limeade and I miss her already. She also told me hipsters down South drink overpriced specialty coffee made from feeding the coffee to some animal then collecting/washing the beans in its poop. This is not a joke! It’s called Kopi Luwak.
Chivalry is alive and well in Frenchmen: When’s the last time someone carried your book bag? That’s not the only reason I was delighted to meet Fabien Delage, who runs Rue Morgue France on Facebook and was in town for the con. But it didn’t hurt! Fabien is a visual artist and videographer who also designs fonts, shoots photos and made a ghost-hunting TV show called Dead Crossroads, which explores haunted ruins and castles and such across France, coming soon on DVD. Vive Rue Morgue international!
Frankenweenie has a vampire cat: I’ve long bemoaned the lack of art on the convention floor. Yes, of course, there is artist alley but for the most part it’s all about selling plastic crap and obnoxiously loud gaming displays. But tucked at the back was a rather impressive exhibit promoting the upcoming Tim Burton film Frankenweenie, featuring original drawings, production notes, stop-motion doll parts and three actual stop-motion sets from the film. It’s the kind of thing you certainly don’t see up close everyday. For free no less. My ears perked up over a small illustration of a vampire cat! So of course I looked that up and behold, Vampire Cat is a character in the film. My attendance on opening night, October 5, is secured.
Thanks to everyone who attended my Q&As (even if you didn’t come for me), asked me questions on my goth and vampire panels, came by the ECW Press booth to get an autographed Encyclopedia Gothica, my pal Nice Cat Carol for the True Blood crib notes, make-up artist Kat Von Pire for Gothing up my eyebrows, and to Rue Morgue for putting on the best horror gathering in this city yet again. See you in 2012.
How do I know summer is over? No, not when the CNE opens, or when my local dollar store puts out its first Halloween toys. (Although that did happen today.) It’s the arrival of Festival of Fear, the annual horror convention that Rue Morgue Magazine presents as part of FanExpo, Canada’s geek central. This weekend, August 23 to 26, will signal the end of beach parties (um, OK, I only did that once) and the countdown to dead leaves and autumnal treats. As always, besides the FOF’s horror junkies, the Fan Expo will sure to be jammed with anime loving cosplayers, stormtroopers and streampunks. But for me this year, it’s all about the vampires!
I’ll be appearing at the Festival of Fear all day Saturday doing panels and a book signing. I must have been a very good goth this year because I’ve been asked to moderate Q&As with stars of True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And of course, it’s a great pleasure to be promoting Encyclopedia Gothica with Gary and ECW Press. Please come say hello. I won’t bite. (Well, maybe a little.)
For some people in Toronto, the end of summer is heralded by the opening of the Ex. For me, I know it’s about the time to dust off the autumnal velvets by the arrival of Festival of Fear, the horror convention presented by Rue Morgue as part of the massive FanExpo con. It’s where fans of all things spooky or gory queue up for hours/converge to buy stuff, get said stuff autographed by cult heros of the genre, geek out with others about the stuff they just got signed. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of this kind of frenzied consumption, but I am very pleased to be involved in some of the programming that is not just about buying shit. This year more than ever, I have a bunch of FoF activities to crow about for those coming out to the show. Because of the Encyclopedia Gothica, I’m even listed as a “Guest.” Neat! (Sadly, copies will not be available for sale, the book is still at the printers.) Here’s where to find me:
FRIDAY, AUGUST 26
Q&A with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark! You read that right… I’m going to be interviewing one of the universe’s most famous vamps. No, I will not be competing with her cleavage. Yes, I will be asking her about the pinball machine. 1pm (Hall G)
My own signing! Well, alongside Ghoulish Gary Pullin. We’ll be promoting Encyclopedia Gothica with posters and handshakes and kind words written in blood. Also swing by Gary’s own booth for exclusive prints from the book. 4pm (ECW Booth 219)
SUNDAY, AUGUST 28
Horror Non-Fiction: From Passion to Paycheque. On a panel with vampire/Goth Bible author Nancy Kilpatrick, vampire diaries expert Crissy Calhoun and Nikki Stafford, moderated by Rue Morgue’s Monica S. Kuebler. We’ll discuss how to “make it” as a fan-turned-professional. 1pm (Room 715B)
Steven Severin’s Music for Silents. A perfect way to end your weekend, with art and ambience. Severin you may remember was co-founder of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and thus, a bonafide original Goth music legend. He’ll be performing solo, a live score to Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet, followed by a Q&A interview by myself, and a meet/greet. Come early for the dark drones of Toronto duo Kalte. 9pm (Drake Hotel)
So please, once you’ve braved the queues and the crowds, do come say hello in person, as I do not bite much during the daylight hours. Much. You can also follow my adventures from home as I will be tweet tweeting throughout the weekend.