What is Goth?

Goth is a legitimate subculture that can be traced accurately and historically to two lineages. First, the unfolding of the Punk movement in the US and the UK.  Where punk in the US was more about anti-social norms instilled in the Boomer generation, the UK version was more sociopolitical. Several musicians of the early Goth period who grew up in the 1960s-1970s in Britain would record how the bleak environment, the post-World War II housing, the austere upbringings as if they were still at war, and many, if not most, who came from low or middle-class Roman Catholic educations, contributed to the birth of 

Goth. Second, the roots of Goth are to be found in the Romantic and Gothic literature of the British Isles, the Gothic literature of the French, more specifically the poetry of Rimbaud (the first Punk), and the works of American writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving.

In other words, Goths were originally highly intellectually stimulated individuals who felt like outsiders from the more established cliques in public, private, or parochial schools. If one now comes to the South Florida area between 1979 and 1987, this is the timeframe usually associated with the appearance of the Goth subculture in Miami, for instance. I want to clarify what I mean by "highly intellectual." Not every student interested in Goth was a stellar student, but their natural brilliance and interest in the arts were more than understood. Goths came from musical, writing, and theater backgrounds. The vast majority of Goths were voracious readers of poetry, British literature, horror graphic novels, and music. Perhaps of all things associated with Goth, the music was paramount. Music was the way Goths identified each other, as many didn't have the money to purchase extensive wardrobes. Army-Navy surpluses were stormed for their used combat boots and variety of black military garb. More on music later.


What is more than important to showcase herein is that Goths were never associated with fascism or any form of totalitarianism, right or left. In fact, Goths were accepting of all, and this is why a significant number of people who were struggling with gender, sexuality, a crisis of faith, or other issues of identity found a home among Goths. Today, one would assume it wasn't that way, as some people who identify with "being Goth" are not accepting or affirming the very same concerns I aforementioned. Moreover, the nature of the Goth was also associated with being emotionally nimble and intelligent. This is why some people who are referred to as "EMO" are grouped into the Goth category or vice versa.


It seems interesting how a small, fringe group wants to self-identify as "Goth," yet they have no history in the subculture, have no idea what the subculture was or is, and believe that dressing in black, having some piercings or images related to death, and going to watch The Cure suggest they're Goth. All the while, they're on the fringes of political radicalism and have more in common with skinheads than they do with Goths. Let me be clear: Goths were bullied by skinheads precisely because they were not associated with the politics of Margaret Thatcher or the Conservative Party in the UK. So, all this to say that Goth in Miami was never about a plastic pink flamingo with black makeup around its eyes or trying to remix "She's in Parties" by Bauhaus to a reggaeton beat. The definition on this site serves a purpose—up to a point—as it doesn't address the actual and accurate origins of Goth in Miami.

 Goth, more accurately referred to by some pop cultural observers as an "aesthetic," does include a second generation of Goths who were highly inspired by the works of Neil Gaiman. I would dispel that approach and suggest it is a subculture with its own aesthetic, which is paramount to its being identified globally as well as serving as a means of identifying those within it and those outside of it. In terms of dress, there is no question that the portrayal of Death in the highly successful series "The Sandman" had a significant impact on the dress of "goth" females. Morpheus was styled after the Godfather of Goth, Peter Murphy, who, as the lead singer of Bauhaus and later as a very successful solo artist, continued to demonstrate how genuine Goth addresses questions of love, life, and faith in deep, penetrating ways and not in the superfluous ones that artists of Bubble Goth attempt to.


The socio-historical information I am providing here would certainly fall under "Trad-Goth," that is to say, the original, traditional Goth experience. Like everything, Goth has evolved; there are amalgamations, and each new generation seeks to make it their own. I believe this is natural and, to a large degree, a good thing. But we live in a time where a thriving, international subculture like Goth must be reminded of where we came from in order to be better prepared to stop the unfortunate influence of radicalism, hate, and even distorted religious constructs that have no real place in the subculture. 


Goth music - Origins

Well, one must certainly begin prior to the Post-Punk bands. In other words, late 1970s UK music Bands like the Sex Pistols are essential, but so are the Damned. David Bowie, Iggy Pop & the Stooges informed the bands that would later become associated with Goth. Artists like T-Tex were consumed by the likes of Robert Smith, Budgie, and Peter Murphy. Progressive music, in particular the German band, Can, would also provide a musical point-of-reference to what is going to come after.


Surely thereafter, bands such as Joy Division, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshee, and the early Cure would be a well-rounded place to commence. From there, follow the paths taken by these bands and see where they lead you. I will say the early albums of Siouxsie and the Banshees are underrated but critically acclaimed. 


The first album by Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures, remains the gold standard of what will become Goth, and the early bass lines by Peter Hook became THE bass lines copied from the Cure to the Jesus and Mary Chain. Then there are bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and New Order, which began to carve out their own musical landscapes beyond "Goth," as it were, but did remain with one foot in the tradition to one degree or another. Today, She Past Away is probably the best example of musicians seeking to remain true to the original form while paving their own well-earned and crafted path.


No genuine Goth band starts off with samples per se. The idea of a real band is still considered sacred amongst goth artists. However, the use of electronics, including DJs, is not seen with disgust or anything like that. Locally, I would recommend listening to H-OM (available on Spotify), a local, original alternative indie band that incorporated elements of Goth as well as other major influences from 1970s–1980s UK post-punk and alternative music. Original bands and artists keep the tradition alive. Cover bands are seeking to play at gigs where the late 50- to 60-year-old crowds are really seeking to bond with nostalgia and care little about the health or future of the subculture. 


Is Goth dead?

By no means. It is a particular expression of a global subculture. And yes, the Southern Gothic experience is part of it, as are the references to Caribbean and New World spiritualities. However, like all things, we must honor the traditions of others with authenticity, not as if it were Halloween. What I mean by that is as follows: we are to consider the mystical and spiritual realities of people who truthfully sought that as the way to commune with the essence of all being—the universe—and even God. We shouldn't make light of that.  


This is why this preoccupation with Satanism is troubling. Satanism never had anything to do with Goths. Perhaps, with the exception of the band, Killing Joke, the nature of the search was not on the side of darkness or evil. In fact, this wasn't even an issue among most artists. For some, the whole Goth thing was a show, and there are some local bands that use the whole Goth image on stage but don't truly live by the theatre they portray on stage. Some truly see their sense of identity as being Goth, while others, like me, have embraced the aesthetic referred to nowadays as "Dark Academia," which is a natural extension of Goth. 


I hope this helped.

Peace -

Pastor Daniel


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