Happy (?) World Goth Day

Bela Lugosi’s dead. The bats have left the bell tower. The victims have been bled.

Today (22 May) is World Goth Day – a very sombre occasion if observed correctly. And observe it we must! *Vampiric cackles*

Whether one is a full-blown bride of Frankenstein or merely a dabbler in the dark arts, like myself, you’ve got to agree that the gothic aesthetic is unique. Part of its uniqueness stems from its long evolution. It started out with pointy bits on churches, before morphing into scary scenes dreamed up by the minds of Edgar Allan Poe, Sheridan LeFanu, Bram Stoker et. al. Nowadays, the word ‘goth’ has become an umbrella term for all sorts of micro-trends popular with teenagers, like ‘pastel goth’ and ‘cyber goth’.

Goth culture, as mired in the past as it is, even it goes through changes, so Goth when I was growing up is not what it is now. When I think of Goth culture as it is at the moment I think of mall culture.

Jhonen Vasquez, cartoonist

Somewhere in between things went a bit awry and goths became associated with satanism, especially during America’s ‘Satanic Panic’ years. That’s the reason lots of people don’t like it. They see black lipstick and they have a conniption. I think that’s an unfair generalisation as most aspects of goth culture (ie. not the devil-worshipping, people murdering, animal sacrificing, sex-cult-weirdness) are perfectly acceptable. Unless you think black fishnets are tacky – and you’d be wrong there; it’s all about context.

But mostly, goth is about mood and atmosphere. Dressing ‘gothily’ is not just a ‘look at me, I’m dressed as a reanimated corpse and I’m here to scare the bejaysus out of your granny;’ it’s a way of communicating one’s sensibilities to a world that fetishises happiness and wellness. Sometimes it is okay to be “silent and grey,” to paraphrase Morrissey. Plus, dark colours are universally flattering.

Arguably more important than dressing like a goth if you’re a goth, that is, is listening like a goth. It’s a universally acknowledged truth – on this blog anyway – that goths and their guitars go together like black goes with more black. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of my favourite ‘goth’ artists: The Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Echo & the Bunnymen, Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Smiths, Evanescence, Rammstein, Kate Bush, Slipknot, Korn, Lou Reed, Lana Del Rey, Editors, Placebo, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, The Jesus and Mary Chain…

I believe that if you listen hard enough you can find a bit of a goth in Britney, even. Well, maybe not. But Madonna, perhaps. Like A Prayer is a bit moody in places. I think I lost the purists somewhere at Lana Del Rey and the really, really hardcore purists probably would object to even Echo & the Bunnymen being called goth but they can climb back in their tombs.

Interestingly, when I was looking for goth quotes I found this from reluctant Gothfather himself, Robert Smith, who is more of a New Waver/New Romantic than anything:

It’s only people that aren’t goths that think the Cure are a goth band.

So, what is goth then? Most people seem to know what it isn’t, but most seem reluctant to define what it is or indeed to identify as ‘it’ themselves. Even Robert Smith doesn’t want to be a goth it seems. Someone should tell his face, perhaps.

Most of us self-identified goths don’t look half as goth-y as Robert Smith and Marilyn Manson and all those ghastly looking fellows, but we call ourselves goths, often jokingly, because we’ve got a penchant for black, bats, old books and other portents of gloom.

As the bass player in the best goth-band-that-didn’t-look-goth of them all said:

Nobody is the same. If we were all the same it would be bloody boring.

Peter Hook

Let’s celebrate the sepulchral.

Undead. Undead. Undead.