The Goth and The Glory
A look back at those pasty-faced folks in black that once roamed the Earth
I can honestly say I've never met a Goth I didn't like. I may not fully understand it, but I have no negative feelings about those who participate in the lifestyle. In fact, my Goth buddies were great people who just had crappy parents-that's the connection I found between them all. Not enough love + a penchant for dark eyeliner = Goth. Sure I'm generalizing, but this is the Goth world as I experienced it.
My focus today is remembering the phenomenon known as "Going Goth" which started in the late 70's & 80's, but really flourished in the late 90's. I've done the research of the history and it's all debatable, so I've decided to share my memories of the movement in relation to the entertainment world and pop culture.
If I was writing my own "Gothistory" I would start with a movement called Horror Punk and the granddaddy of them all The Misfits featuring Glenn Danzig on vocals. The Misfits was a New Jersey punk band that came onto the scene in 1977 and was for all intents and purposes "dead" by 1983.
With song titles like "Death Comes Ripping", "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?" and "Die, Die, Die My Darling" their dark lyrics of death and destruction excited their devoted fans called the Fiend Club.
It was the visual appearance of The Misfits that really cemented their place in the Gothistory. Danzig was known to wear a skeleton bone body suit or at least skeleton gloves on stage, but rarely any make-up. Bassist Jerry Only wore black circles around his eyes, while guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein washed out his face with white makeup and both of the brothers wore the signature "Devilock" hairstyle.
Though The Misfits promoted a much more violent attitude than most Goth folks of later years adhered to, their extreme fashion choices paved the way for the often ghoulish sense of style that permeated Goth culture.
Though the band broke up in 1983, eventually The Misfits were "resurrected" in 1996 without Danzig as simply Misfits (no, "The"). Original band members Doyle and Jerry headed the group and vocalist Michale Graves brought an even more extreme image to the band often wearing full skeletal face paint and extremely long bangs in addition to skeleton shirts, etc., though this would probably be considered less Goth and more Horror. I just love the Misfits, Goth or not-they rock!
During most of the 80's Goth remained an underground movement in Europe, mostly in the music scene of various countries. It wasn't until the mid 90's that pop culture started to pick up on the idea and Hollywood brought some Goth ideas out of the shadows.
Director Tim Burton brought a lot of Goth style to his films like Edward Scissorhands in 1990 and the stop motion animated classic The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993. All the Goth folks I know love this movie!
This seems like as good a place as any to talk about "Bats Day at Disneyland". For quite a few years now, one weekend a year at Disneyland is designated for the Goth people of the world to congregate at the happiest place on earth.
I originally stumbled upon this about 4 years ago on a random visit to the park. Upon entering I began to notice that there were a lot more pale people in black wandering around than usual. It has become one of my favorite events for "People Watching". The fashion on display is amazing and you are likely to find scenes like the one below:
I highly recommend looking online for the scheduled date, usually it's the weekend before Labor Day, but this year (2008) they are doing Mini-Bats day from November 8th-9th and doing a much larger scale invasion in May of 2009. Check it out. Now back to the Gothistory lesson at hand.
Neil Gaiman introduced two very popular Goth comic book characters named Morpheus and his sister, Death in a book called Sandman for DC Comics Vertigo line. The series ran during the heydey of the Goth scene from 1989-1996.
In 1994 a Goth action hero was introduced to the world in the film The Crow starring the late Brandon Lee. Basically a musician and his girlfriend are murdered, but the musician is brought back as a white and black faced hero to avenge their deaths.
Based on a Goth comic book, this was a defining film of the 90's and definitely led to a rise in the popularity of the dark clothes and pale skin look. It may have also led to a rise in taking ravens and crows in as pets by people looking for spiritual guidance, but I can neither confirm nor deny that.
Goth fashion eventually spilled over into the world of professional wrestling as formerly flat topped, neon face-painted wrestler Sting took on a Crow-like persona and began hiding in the shadows before matches.
In 1996 film, The Craft, Fairuza Balk made a Goth turn as the head of a coven of female witches. It can be said that this was more an image of evil look, than an attempt to be goth.
This would be a good place to point out that despite the macabre appearances, Witchcraft isn't necessarily an element in the Goth lifestyle as far as I know, although I'm sure that is a common misconception.
Robert Smith of the Gothic Rock band The Cure cultivated the gloomy introspective side of the Goth ideal. Songs like "Friday I'm In Love" were performed with desperate, almost sobbing vocals and moody keyboard tones.
Smith also supported the fashion side of things with heavily sculpted hair, dark clothes and pale skin. Robert Smith may have also served as an inspiration for our next entry in Gothistory, this time coming to us "Live from New York..."
By the late 90's a larger portion of youth culture was embracing the Goth look and attitude. You couldn't walk through a mall or your school campus and not see at least one guy in a trenchcoat and make-up or a girl in dark dresses and striped stockings.
Saturday Night Live performers Chris Kattan and Molly Shannon decided to spoof the growing movement in a series of hilarious skits called Goth Talk. Basically like Wayne's World with more make-up.
Kattan took on the persona Azrael Abyss, Prince of Sorrows and Shannon was Circe Nightshade. The main topics of discussion were always dark and mournful with Azrael talking in a whiny voice about his day job working at Cinnabon. Usually the show would be interrupted by a rowdy visit from Azrael's meathead brother, Glenn who would taunt him for wearing make-up.
Though funny, the skits actually brought up an interesting point about the Goth culture and its commercialization. You see, being Goth is not like being Swedish, it's a choice. No one can honestly say, "I was born Goth, this is who I am", there is no Nation of Goth (anymore). To a certain degree Goths are Posers, but so is everybody else. Really any devoted fan of Heavy Metal, or Star Wars or Soccer is just using these forms of entertainment as a way of identifying themselves (my opinion, of course). I noticed this mostly with the Goth kids I knew in High School.
A perfect example is my buddy Bobak. He was Persian, not Goth (although come to think of it there is no Nation of Persia anymore either, hmmm?) and he knew it.
But he wore the trench coats and dressed in all black with really wild hairstyles. Bobak loved to talk about the funny side of death. For example, when he would eat a hamburger he would hold it up like a puppet and say, "I used to be alive". Stuff like that.
Then there was Lily and Mae-Mae, two Chinese twins that were the Princesses of the Dark. They always had their long, black velvet dresses and fishnet stockings on when they arrived for the school day. What was funny to me was that for them it was just fashion, they were very bubbly and sweet-they just looked somber and disturbed with their dark eye-liner and blood red lipstick.
On a side note: One day I got to school early and so did the twins, but they were arguing. All of the sudden they were slapping each other and swinging patent leather purses like Maces. A Goth catfight with twins-it was very surreal.
Finally there was Erica and Kelley, who actually were somber and disturbed. They were always telling me how terrible their home life was and talking about sick stuff during class just to get a rise out of me. Their idea of the Goth look was less Victorian and more MANSON!
Dark eyeliner, light foundation and Manson shirts. Yes, Marilyn Manson was their main man, although I'm never sure if Goth folks take offense to Manson being identified with them. Sure he had the pale make-up and dark persona, but I've always felt like he was kind of off in his own little category. At the height of his popularity he was probably considered King of the Goths by the concerned parents of the world though.
Erica and Kelley were in actuality Posers as was soon evidenced in the changing wind of society's fringe groups and what was considered "underground". The Goth side of life faded out of popular culture by late 1999 and gave way to a new fad: The Raver.
Those girls jumped off the Marilyn Manson bandwagon so fast it was ridiculous. Within a week they had switched to wearing giant pants and pacifiers, with no sign of their past identities. But it wasn't just those two, soon all of the darkness was being replaced by rainbow colored visors and glowsticks. Not an Azrael Abyss to be found anywhere.
At least we'll always have Bats Day. Oh and if you are wondering if I was ever Goth myself, the answer is sadly: No. The closest I ever got was my time as lead singer for my high school garage band, Natural Fear. I basically just grew my bangs out really long and wore a lot of black. But we were Heavy Metal and everybody at at school knew I was just a Poser.