For the Love of Goth
A good 20 years after the inception of the gothic movement, San Francisco remains home to 13 goth clubs -- Death Guild, Shrine of Lilith, Roderick's Chamber, House of Usher, Sanctuary, Catacombs, Masquerade, Back Catalog, So What, Matrix, Arkham, Backlash, Gomorra -- a few Cimmerian retail establishments -- Gargoyle and Blackened Angels -- and the demented comic book artist -- Jhonen Vasquez -- who created Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Squee. With all the rain, fog, and other gloomy conveniences in the Bay Area, a goth could settle quite depressingly into (relative) old age.
Many of them have done so.
Even old friends -- very gothy goths who maintain their dark, anti-social stance into their mid- to late 30s -- have to admit that the tortured poetry they wrote at 16 seems a little silly. Although they continue to laud the aesthetic virtues of candles, skulls, dried flowers, and black lace, they are able to take an objective view of their lifestyle and giggle just a little (without anyone seeing, of course).
This trend toward gothic self-examination may be at the root of Brer Goth's online column Gothnicity: Damn, We're Spooky, which offers six easy steps to becoming a goth in an hour and an automatic angst-riddled poetry generator ("Oh woe, Night Crawler of the closet," began mine). It might also be the genesis of R. Hunter Gough's creation Tamagothi, a cyberpet that must be ignored when it craves love and affection.
And the trend definitely has a connection to Gothilepsy, the one-night seminar that promises to release the tormented inner goth lurking in everyone.
"This is not a joke," says 35-year-old Maerie Queen of Hurts. "It's an opportunity for people to explore their dark side."
Those making the exploration are asked to choose a goth name (something spooky from the animal kingdom, such as Rat, Raven, or Bat, or something from a fairy tale, avoiding the pedestrian Lilith). They are also asked to bring black clothes, eyeliner, lipstick, shoes, safety pins, fishnet stockings, white foundation, and props, among them fans, dead roses, dead pets, and lace handkerchiefs.
The haunting strains of Bauhaus pour out of a warehouse space in Oakland. Two young female goths stand at the screen door, peering into the gathering gloom. They open the door hesitantly, frowning at the baggy pants, striped T-shirts, and pink sweaters that stand before them. In the main room, strewn with flickering candelabras, The Nightmare Before Christmas flashes on a color TV screen. Maerie and her co-hostess, 29-year-old Hellspaun, stand in the middle of the room, looking dark but welcoming. DJ Sage moves through a candlelit loft overhead, casting long shadows on the ceiling as he blends songs by the Misfits and Sisters of Mercy. A crew of uber-goths -- two dressers, two makeup artists, and a hairstylist -- is already busy transforming a pair of perky brunettes into chilling children of the night.
"I'm interested in exploring as many aspects of my personality as possible," says 36-year-old Loretta Hintz, a film student with a shoulder-length bob. She slips into a dressing room under the stairs and comes out wearing basic black.
Maerie passes her into the hands of Elizabeth Myrddin, a doll-like woman who produces the online mag Suffering Is Hip, and Terrence Graven, a meticulously made-up prince who runs the butoh troupe Collapsing Silence. Their age and goth status, I am told, is "ancient."
They open a large, black trunk and fit Hintz with a corset, a billowy skirt, and some scary dangling bits. She is then given to 30-year-old Monique Motil, a retired corsetiere with violet eyes, who paints Hintz's face powder-white and draws thick lines of kohl across her eyelids. Hellspaun adds the final touch: a long, black wig that is teased to a height worthy of Hintz's new goth name, Eleanora.
Twenty-nine-year-old Kari Hong, a Berkeley paralegal who thinks her shy nature might befit the goth image, undergoes a similar transformation, as does a 34-year-old videographer, a 25-year-old juggler, a 27-year-old accountant, and a 32-year-old social studies teacher, among others. Some of the aspiring goths (or underlings) being dressed tonight have frequented goth clubs, but for most, this is an entirely new experience.
"I grew up in Minnesota," says Hong. "As such, I only learned to be wholesome. I think it's very important to find balance."
Most of the crowd feels liberated from society's incessant demand to be cheerful. Oreos, the black-and-white goth cookie, are eaten listlessly. Cigarettes are lit one after the other. Some underlings practice their goth dance, others stand around and sulk, or stare blankly at strangers, or express long-repressed inner angst in the form of poetry. It becomes difficult to tell the true goths from the new goths.
Then, I spot two girls sitting quietly on their own. They look truly depressed. They'd arrived at the warehouse thinking that this was a proper goth party, rather than a workshop for the uninitiated.
"This could really be taken the wrong way," says a 27-year-old artist who drives a hearse and won't give her name in this context. "This [scene] isn't a joke. A lot of the people in it are poets, artists, and dancers."