In high school I hung around with a group I now recognize as goths, although they never called themselves that. They were just kids who dressed all in black, some wore the classic white makeup and heavy black eyeliner, and they were mostly focused on art classes. I hung around with them, but never became one myself. Instead I listened in fascination to their stories of being arrested at the mall, going to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and leaving halfway through to go have sex in the parking lot, playing keyboard for a local band at a local club, or just hanging out. One of my goth friends (I think I can call them friends) was also named Chris. The name Chris, in my generation, was so common he liked to joke that going down the halls of the school and yelling, “Hey Chris!” was like going to local goth hangout Elliston Place on Saturday and yelling, “Hey, you in the black!” He never adopted another, more goth name, but perhaps being goth was, for him, a way of separating himself from the pack.
As reviewer Mikita Brottman explains in Goth’s Wan Stamina, her review of Contemporary Gothic by Catherine Spooner (Reaktion Books), and Goth: Undead Subculture, edited by Lauren M.E. Goodlad and Michael Bibby (Duke University Press) goth culture has been around at least since the 1970’s, although “goth” dates back to, well, the Visigoths, those barbarian hordes who gave the Romans headaches.
Why did I never go goth? I don’t know. I could blame my parents, especially my mother who never allowed me to buy my own clothes, but there was more to it than that. I understood nihilism before I knew the term, and I understood that it wasn’t for me. I was literary and brooding and shy, like most goths, but didn’t understand the fixation on vampires. I hung around with outsiders but kept to myself, a fringe element to a fringe element. However, in her article, Brottman says, “Although they may look scary, goths tend to be unusually tolerant and peace loving…Goth’s consistent popularity does not mean, as some curmudgeons assume, that young people today are becoming increasingly nihilistic and alienated. Anyone who feels that way doesn’t understand the essence of goth, which is really all about self-acceptance, self-expression, and creativity.”
Maybe that’s it: I already had what goth culture could offer without having to put on black and wear makeup. Actually Brottman doesn’t say so, but her description of goths makes them sound, well, pretty ordinary, and when you’re a rebellious teenager, an outsider, a loner, the last thing you want is to be like everybody else.