I could also have titled this post “why I love goth”.
I do love spontaneously arising subcultures that allow people to live an alternative lifestyle, and be who they want to be, especially when those subcultures turn out to be persisting. They say that the creative adult is the child who survived, and I think that is very true. Maybe that is why people in their teens and 20s tend to be pioneers of that little bit of the spirit, if not exclusively so. There is something dispiriting and conventional though about “youth cults” which I mistrusted even as a teenager. Part of the meaning for me was always that you could do such things throughout your whole life, and I always thought it was cool seeing older people doing their own thing openly. I think teenagers are under-appreciated though, as it is a time when a substantial number are at their most insecurely conformist on their way to adulthood, but also a time when others are at their most sensitive and receptive to the wonderful and the otherworldy, at their most questioning and creatively individual.
Like many people, I always loved the ghost stories at Christmas that were on the TV in the 70s, and the Friday late night horror movies. Always interested in the paranormal, and I did have a real interest in the occult. Even pulp occult was good (actually it was camply glorious), in a way which went really well with the glamour of decadent nostalgia that formed a little bit of my 13 year old soul. By the time I was 14 or 15 I had my tarot cards and incense, my black candles, and my silk scarves from India Craft (where I also got my incense, a copper bangle and little metal discs for making talismans). I’d put on nail varnish in my bedroom, and take it off before emerging, but what I really wanted was black nail varnish. Now that would be decadent (the watchword of the early to mid 70s, sepia toned, art nouveau’d, smoke mirrored). A while ago I was chatting with my sister about that time:
“And it was the really early 1970s, when no one knew what the 70s were going to be, and the bright 60s were going purple and brown and beige, and it was kinda down and dreamy at the same time, and yet it was also the last of the 60s I remember, lots of magic in the air, innocence mixed with decadence, but like listening to a radio station that kept on fading in and out. If I could have done I would probably have looked like a male, dark haired Stevie Nicks, hippie with a touch of goth, and stars woven into silk scarves, and dark nail varnish, and peace signs and pendants, and it wouldn’t have been drag, it would have been a boy hippie look, just in my world”
And actually that boy hippie is still alive in me.
I don’t know when goth became a thing, but there’s a lot I find recognizable in the unreported imagination of the immediate post punk period. Punk has such a full tilt, spiky reputation, but I remember the time quickly devolving to a slacked out, darkly imaginative, highly eccentric place where interest in magic and the beat writers coexisted entirely naturally, and we’d listen to Jim’s post mortem Doors album American Prayer raptly, along with The Cure and Joy Division, Public Image Ltd, a sunburst of Jimi Hendrix, followed by whatever someone was crazy about at the time. I must have worn a lot of black, dyed my hair a few different colours (including an unexpected but quite welcome black-green), made a few discreet forays into black eye make up and trusty old nail varnish. I once got called “fucking Dracula” on my way home, so I guess that would be a compliment?
I love seeing goths now. I feel they are, if not our spiritual children and siblings, at least in some way blood related. Certainly in part at least, they are the progeny of a strange time that formed a part of me also, or of something somehow similar, though they will have their own reasons, their own influences, their own personal story; I think it’s important that it is always a very personal story. There is soul and poetry in goth, and that is why I really like it.
But not everybody does. In fact some people truly hate the non-conformity and altered aesthetic that young goths embody. Almost seven years ago a girl called Sophie Lancaster was killed for it, defending her boyfriend against a vicious attack by a group of teenagers in Lancashire, seemingly due to the couple’s appearance (they were goths). From that appalling event the Sophie Lancaster Foundation was set up. The aims of the charity are:
- To create a lasting legacy to Sophie.
- To provide educational group-works that will challenge the prejudice and intolerance towards people from alternative subcultures.
- To campaign to have the UK Hate Crime legislation extended to include people from alternative subcultures or Lifestyle and Dress.
I really, really support their cause, and I think it is absolutely way past time to recognize alternative subcultures as worthy of protection, and to recognize both discrimination and hate crimes against alternative subcultures, and put a stop to these things.
Of course that means recognizing that people have a serious right to belong to the subculture they identify with, and have that respected. And that means changing the way we think about conformity and non-conformity, and the harm we do in allowing a conformist social culture to assert its privilege. But recognizing attacks against members of subcultures as hate crimes is something we can do right now.
Change doesn’t always come from someone standing on a barricade (in fact I sometimes wonder how much real change comes from that kind of thing). Sometimes change comes from the vulnerable, the creative, the introverted and the quiet. Sometimes the change is already there, and we just have to protect it, call off the dogs, ask why are things like that anyway?