30 years of chronicling gothic subculture
“IT’s just a phase.”
These are words said when referring to obsessions that end up as a passing fancy.
But being a goth doesn’t mean you are depressed or rebellious, it just means you are more likely aware of, and from time to time, will acknowledge the darker, shadowy side of life.
Goths can absolutely have a sense of humor, and while the preferred uniform is black, one does not have to wear it.
Goths think a bit differently—they see a world that is not those of colors, balloons, butterflies, happy people jumping around, perpetually smiling—like they are trapped in an eternal game show or TV commercial.
This being a phase may be true for some people who are into the subculture. But 30 years later after discovering it, I still gravitate toward goth. Here are a few highlights of the journey so far.
How it started (1984-1986)
It all began with the music. In the early 80’s I was already a little girl into new wave. But came mid 80’s, my best friend Tricia let me listen to The Cure. They had six albums out but my first Cure record was the 1983 compilation Japanese Whispers with the classics “Let’s Go To Bed” and “The Walk.”
Then, Sisters of Mercy came out with their 1985 album “First and Last and Always” with the songs “Black Planet,” “First and Last and Always” and “Walk Away”—which I absolutely had to dance to when I heard it being played.
The Cult had a little goth phase in 1985 when their “Love” album came out with songs like “Rain,” and “She Sells Sanctuary.”
Basically, if the mobile group Social Distortion were spinning at a party, there was your guarantee that you wouldn’t be getting disco, you’d be getting dance goth from these bands and more—like Gene Loves Jezebel, and so on.
A lot of us also took style cues from these bands and their fans in the UK—a lot of what we wore, how we did our make-up and how we did our hair were inspired by these folks. Lots of black, messed-up long black hair, black eyeliner, skirts on men, etc. For a while paisley was OK too because Ian Atsbury of The Cult wore it.
Tim Burton’s contributions (1988-2014)
In 1998, director Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice is released. And who can forget Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz—her beautiful pale face, her penchant for photography, her ability to see the unseen, her elaborate black outfits and her big black hat and her journal scribblings philosophizing over being alone?
He does Batman the year after and then puts Johnny Depp on the map as an actor in 1990’s Edward Scissorhands.
Edward Scissorhands is pale, wears a suit of what looks like black leather scraps and belts, has scissors for hands and is totally beautiful and totally misunderstood.
In 1993 he produced the stop motion musical The Nightmare Before Christmas (this one was actually directed by Henry Selick), which celebrates Halloween and the freakish inhabitants of Halloweentown. Twenty years later—Jack Skellington merchandise is everywhere and the soundtrack continues to be the perfect thing to sing along to this time of year, for both kids and grownups.
Even the most colorful of Burton films have been directed have a touch of the freakish and goth. But to list the standouts: 1994’s Ed Wood has a group of freakish friends forming a little family; 1999’s Sleepy Hollow had gothic costumes, set design, mood and Depp being absolutely brilliant as “Ichabod Crane;” 2005’s animated Corpse Bride set in Victorian times traipsed the world between the living and the dead; 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was so deliciously goth and highly acclaimed in terms of art direction and acting.
Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ (1988 to 1996)
I arrived to the Sandman party late. My friend Joel lent me his Sandman comics in 1991, incrementally. “I thought you’d like it,” he said. Like it? I was hooked.
Thankfully there were 28 (of the 75) issues out to feed my obsession by the time I caught on.
In these comics, Gaiman explored shadow selves but also balanced this with so much wonder, magic, interesting mythologies, fascinating stories within stories and memorable characters. He gave us Sandman’s a.k.a. Dream’s a.k.a. Morpheus’ sister, Death—style icon and role model goth girls everywhere.
Then, there’s Fragile Things (one of his short story collections) and novels like Coraline, Stardust, Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book—those are but drops in a bucket of the entire Gaiman bibliography.
Anne Rice’s ‘The Vampire Chronicles’ (1976 to present)
While my fangirling over Anne Rice only lasted a couple of years, I would think most goth kids did read through at least three books in the “Vampire Chronicles”: Interview With the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat (my favorite because this is where Lestat becomes a rock star), and The Queen of the Damned. There are currently 11 books in this series. I stopped at the fifth.
Even if I fell out with her work, I still credit her for sparking a fascination with goth side of New Orleans—the old homes, the massive oak trees, the decadent history, the ghost stories, the magic in the air. She paints an incredible picture of this city not just with the Vampire Chronicles but with her other works as well.
Poppy Z. Brite’s books (1992 to 1996)
Poppy Z. Brite’s gothic and horror fiction phase was a brief one but I really liked Lost Souls, Drawing Blood and his or her short story collection “Wormwood.”
Poppy Z. Brite, now referred to as Billy Martin on Wikipedia, is currently retired from writing.
Like Anne, s/he is also from New Orleans.
The Crow (1994)
The 1994 film version of James O’ Barr’s comic book, The Crow, had lots of goth elements: from the goth, rock, industrial soundtrack, to the “wounded” hero coming back from the land of the dead, from his black clothes and mosh pit boots to the setting: one Devil’s Night (the day before Halloween) in Detroit.
Making the whole thing more tragic and poignant was the death of the lead actor, Brandon Lee (son of the legendary Bruce Lee), due to a firearm mishap on set. He was absolutely perfect and poetic as Eric Draven. He was only 28 and would have probably had quite a career ahead of him.
There were three sequels—City of Angels, Salvation and Wicked Prayer—all poorly received. The TV show The Crow: Stairway to Heaven with Mark Dacascos fared a bit better. There are reports of Luke Evans and Norman Reedus being involved in The Crow reboot to be shot in 2015.
Penny Dreadful (2014)
Showtime’s Penny Dreadful with Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Harrry Treadway, Josh Hartnett, Reeve Carney as Vanessa Ives. Explorer Malcolm Murray, Victor Frankenstein, Ethan Chandler and Dorian Gray is elegantly goth with it’s Victorian England settings, elegant clothing, and focus on the struggles with monsters without and within.
Goth flavor Filipino pop culture (the last decade)
The last time I made this list, I was called out by a reader for making “glaring omissions.” Even if I made a really long list, I’m still liable to miss one. So here are a few.
Beginning mid-90s, there were bands like Prominence of Cathedrals, Dominion and Iconoclast. In the 20th century, The Late Isabel, as well as Mr. Bones and the Boneyard Circus are two bands that are actually performing tonight at Saguijo, Makati.
In the books and comics scenes, Memento Mori—done in black and white—came out in 1994. All the material involves one sort of dark and brooding character or another.
From 1994 to 1998, Gerry Alanguilan’s “Wasted,” a dark treatise on love and loss, it is the chronicle of an intense pain from a broken heart, came out. The art work is not quite goth but the subject matter and mood are.
From 2005 to present Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo’s Trese shows us another side of our decadent city—things in the shadows, nooks, crannies and places we would rather not look. Alexandra Trese—in an oriental goth outfit, solves supernatural crimes in the world in a Manila so very much like our own.
Finally, there is Yvette Tan’s Waking the Dead and Other Horror, 2008, is collection of stories I found very similar to Brite’s “Wormwood.”
This list could go on and on. I could sit here all day but I have to go get some free candy.
Have a wonderful Halloween and may you find the most wonderful treats from The Great Pumpkin.