Goth is in the Heart (with aplogies to Deeeelite!)

When is a goth not a goth? What makes a goth? What makes a real goth?

Everybody’s favourite answer would be that a goth is the miserable one over there in the corner dressed in head to toe black, draped with silver and with that fresh-from-the coffin-pallor.

Not neccessarily.

I have been having this argument with Mr Spicy Cauldron for about 15 years now. I keep telling hi that he’s a goth, and he answers that it’s impossible, he still likes the Pet Shop Boys, he dresses in pastels, that he never wears black……. He’s still a goth. It’s not in the outward appearance, it’s in the heart. It’s an interior quality that shines through. Spicy Cauldron is a born goth. Put him with a table full of goths, and he likes all the same books, films, culture….and then cries…”but I’m not a goth!”. Give it up! It’s in your being and any amount of baby-blue hoodies won’t disguise it……haven’t you noticed how many of your friends are goths. Exactly how many times have you watched ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’? Do you or do you not possess the full collection of Buffy? And all the dolls for both the above??? Didn’t I notice that you’d even been listening to a fair bit of Siouxsie and the Banshees on the sly………

Goth is an attitude, a way of living and being. True, if you want to you can dress in black, wear vast amounts of silver and effect a cadaverous air…this just makes it easier for other goths to find you, it goes with the music and our natural arcane tastes, and also tmakes it easier to blend into the walls at the Slimelight or the Electric Ballroom….. But it truly doesn’t make you into a goth.

There are starnge individuals who believe that doing this makes them into an instant goth. Buy copious amounts of black, PVC and fetish clothing, stockpile white make-up and black lipstick…et voila. Add Absinthe to go….a packet-mix goth. But they are missing the point. Goth is not an external carapace, to be put on when you like. It emanates from inside. These sticky-back-plastic Blue-Peter made goths are just missing the point. They can sit there in their pan-stik and black lipstick with their piercings and dyed hair, yet the whole ethos goes right over their hollow little heads and hearts…..

There are many things that make up goth, and clothes maketh not the goth (though they are quite nice to possess). There are elements of many things- art, culture, music, fashion, philosophy, to mention a few. Get a table full of goths chatting and they won’t be discussing inanities. I once questioned a room full (16 people), and there was only one of us in the room not technically able to join MENSA- but being goths, none of us actually were……

Mr A is a case in point- he doesn’t ‘look like a goth’ 90% of the time- but he is, unquestionably, a goth. He wears shorts. He goes out in the sun, and gets a tan (shock horror!). He wears colours other than black! He doesn’t have loads of piercings, he doesn’t dye his hair strange shades……But none of this really matters because has that goth feeling, the goth etiquette if you like, just a goth way of being. It’s not something that’s learned, you just have it or you don’t. It can be further developed, true, but not if it’s not there in the first place…….

My friends Jack and Peggy in London- the least gothy looking Goths I know….One cool-Elvis lookalike, and one naughty Irish pixie, but goths all the same.

The moral of this story is that the guy with the black hair and lipstick may be nothing but an ersatz goth…but that bloke who looks like Tintin in the powder blue hoodie on the other hand……………………


21 Responses to “Goth is in the Heart (with aplogies to Deeeelite!)”

  1. I think she’s hinting (well if you call hinting whacking someone around the head!!!) at something here, Mr SC – I also think shes got a point 🙂

    Maybe Goth isnt the right word to describe “us” – To be honest I’ve been trying to find something that sums me up for years – I’m not a typical goth myself – I would never have described myself as that in the 80’s.

    I love Gothic clothing and I have a thing for Vampires, Dragons, Pirates, Graveyards and Gothic Architecture

    However musically my tastes are more of a Glam/Sleaze metalhead with quite a large helping of New Romantic and 80’s Electro-pop thrown into the mix – but then you start looking at my tastes a bit closer – I do however own a large amount of Goth classic albums (on vinyl no less)

    My children have been brought up to show respect for other people and their possesions and the difference between right and wrong but not blind obedience, to question authority if it is being an arse.

    Maybe we are something else – The attitude and outlook on life Khlari is talking about is very prominant in the Goth scene but is not exclusive. It is not based on education levels although many “Goths” have been very well educated. It’s not based on Religion – though you will tend to find a high number of Pagans in there. Its not based on Politics – though liberalism and green issues are a high priority for many.

    I think we are a post-60’s post-bohemian post-beatnik post-Thatcher sub-culture with as yet no clear “label” – A 21st Century generation trying to learn from the mistakes of the past without loosing the good ideas and values – waiting in the wings to take over the reins of power when the time comes.

    Having said all that – I still think you are a Goth at heart – Mr SC – I saw you drooling at those black pentacle candlesticks which were just crying out for some dribbly candles!!!!!

  2. Just felt liking winding up Mr SC! I say he’s in denial personally, that man with a house full of dragons……

    I did define myself as a Goth in the 80s, but then my musical taste stretches through punk, post-punk, ska, saccharine-sugar-pop, 80s new wave and electro, 60s surreal, 70s glamand embraces such arcane stuff as Cab Calloway and Doris Day (Whip-crack away there!) and musicals……. Never got into the metal myself, but hey!

    I think the thing is that we have had the courage to give our children the liberty to believe in what they feel is right as well as knowing empirical right and wrong, and the ability to reason these ideas out for themselves.

    I have wondered if a new sensibility is evolving, a post-everything direction-seeking generation on whom I have put Goth as a label, because you tend to find many of it’s exponents in Goth-World and its fringes….though they are by no means all Goths….It’s definitely an expanding group as well, though which direction they are going in remains to be seen…… It’s about time someone with half- a brain held on to the reins of power as well!!!!

    And Mr SC…..what about your make up in ‘dead not indifferent’ now???!!!!

  3. Ms Khlari, what a wonderful post! Enough said!


  4. Yup I’d agree with you on the denial front – If that man isnt Goth I don’t know who is – He’s got nearly as many dragons as I have, a DVD collection most “Goths” would die for, a blog thats all dark and spooky. He’s writing a childrens book of Monster poems and likes Tim Burton films and has a distinct flair for the dramatic

    (His ears are probably burning as well atm – I’m waiting for the denial post!!!! 😉 )

  5. Ladies, I beleive that you might be trying to ‘out’ someone!

    Watch this space

  6. Not so much denial as explanation and contemplation of the topic… You’ve forced my hand, made me think quite carefully about all this….

    First, let me say: I do NOT wear pastels! My clothes invariably come in bright colours, white and occasionally black – though the reason I don’t wear much black is because of four cats being able to turn any black clothing mohair in a second just by looking at it! 🙂

    Second, I think it’s wonderful that my goth friends like me so much they’d like me to be goth, whether I am or not. I take the post above, and the comments, in very good humour and see clearly the affection, which is gratefully received and lifts my mood today. So thank you.

    Righty… I think there’s confusion here over what constitutes ‘goth’ and what constitutes ‘pagan’ – hence the interest in pentagram candlesticks and dragons etc. You don’t see me looking longingly at skulls, vampire get-up or singles by The Damned in record shops. As far as I know, I’ve never had the desire to have long black hair tied into a ponytail and the last time I backcombed it wasn’t my hair but a senior citizen’s back when I was hairdressing in Blackburn around 1985. I once tried to dye my hair black and it looked so awful I went white (not through shock but bleach!).

    Many pagans work with what is called ‘dragon energy’ and I am very interested in that. I’m also not into vicious-looking dragons but those I consider fluffy and often female (not that all females are fluffy but you know what I mean). I believe Jo shares the same dragon tastes for the most part. She was admiring my purple one when she came over at the weekend (dragon, that is, before the world sniffs scandal). And Khlari will remember my pregnant dragon wall mural in London – which she will no doubt agree did not look remotely ‘goth’ in any sense but more aboriginal or Mexican in artistic terms!

    I’ve got a witches’ cloak made by my sister that would probably not look out of place at a Mission concert. I’ve got a cauldron for my spiritual/magickal work that would look great on a goth’s mantlepiece next to the plastic skulls but it WOULDN’T be serving the same purpose, it would be an aesthetic rather than, as far as I am concerned, practical device for use in devotions. And while you’ve got goths who are solely about the look, even those goths who are about much more still have, understandably, a keen interest in the look as well. My goth accoutrements aren’t about the look and their deeper meaning is connected to my spiritual outlook as opposed to the goth subculture.

    I should add, one thing goth is not about is spirituality unless we count dabblings by fools with ouija boards while reading Edgar Allan Poe. That’s surface, that’s love of being spooked, rather than being indicative of a deeper view of spiritual things. But many goths, too, ARE spiritual and nearly all of those who are, are pagan in one form or another. They are very different to those idiots who run around in black and think in doing so they mess with the dark side…

    Many goths ARE pagan, true. It’s not a requirement. Some are nihilistic. Some just don’t think about such matters as spirit, destiny, the afterlife. Some, like HWWNBN, aren’t what I see as goth OR pagan but merely insecure people adopting labels for comfort and as a means of trawling the net for friends because they’ve nothing else going for them. His was skin-deep, all of it. What mattered was beer and cigarettes and control.

    What I’m saying is surely motivations and purpose are more important to focus on than the actual tools? Many pagan items are ‘tools of the trade’ but can also be appropriated, and have been, by goths both genuine and contrived, as you indicate yourself in your very amusing rebuttal of my self-declared ‘not a goth’ status.

    I read recently on the BBC news site that goths start off as disaffected middle-class kids. If that were true – and I must say I don’t think so necessarily but I’ve yet to see working class goths in significant proportions to the middle class contingent – then I’m not a goth because I come from a working class family. It’s contentious but I do see most goths I’ve met as having come from not only decent but considerably better-off families than my own was during my childhood. We can’t be precise about origins and labels ever but if I hadn’t been born queer and intelligent, I would likely be a grown-up chav by now. Most people on my old estate are! But I escaped the life I could have had and didn’t want. I was the ‘smalltown boy’ of the Bronski Beat song. I recall when I was doing my A-levels I hung round with goths because they were, put simply, accepting of my being gay and a good laugh too. They had brains. And, importantly, they were subversive and therefore natural allies in the political climate of all things queer being repressed.

    These days, of course, queer is a term used to describe more of us than just those who are gay. Back then, queer was gay but the goths knew they were queer, too. Now I can say I’ve more straight(ish) friends than gay but we’re all queer together!

    I think my perceived gothiness (?) is down to my being intelligent, too damn sensitive, easily depressed, respectful, kind, loyal, willing to accept others as they are, into great literature especially poetry and the classics, inclined towards moody music as well as other types, have spiritual beliefs which invariably have some darker aspects, and love intelligent, often avant-garde films with dark underlying philosophies.

    Sure, these are all goth. But they are good goth, whereas some goths are surface-only and lack many of these traits and as you know, don’t get seen as ‘real’ goths. But while these traits are held to by ‘proper’ goths, they are also traits of decent, open-minded, liberal people everywhere. Do not judge by appearances, that’s the main thing.

    Tim Burton – well again, there’s more fluffyness to all that rather than macabre or depressed or dark. The Corpse Bride features Joanna Lumley – linking to my liking of Ab Fab – and is a very, very funny film. I don’t see death as something scary. I do see violence and blood and horror as scary, which is why I can watch psychological horror but never the 18-rated gore-fests that do the rounds. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a beautiful animation filled with fantastic songs. Wouldn’t most agree who have seen it? You could say I have gothic sensibilities but they’re not fixed in so far as I have tastes and interests which are anything but what you’d say is goth.

    I’ve enough labels to contend with. Witch, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, psychic, poet… All of these enable not only self-definition as a means of empowerment but also pre-conceptions that have the potential to fog the real me from view.

    The thing I like about the people I call my friends – including most of those at the Brigantii Moot – is they see beyond labels. That said, it wouldn’t make much difference to add ‘goth’ to the list but I don’t – not because I don’t like goths (you know I do, on an individual basis rather than collectively en masse, which would be foolish0 but because I know I’m not. Having a sensibility, an affection, is not the same as a wholesale devotion to the cause of a subculture. I’m goth-friendly, no doubt about it; I’m also a Piscean chameleon who, when I choose, and without contrivance or pretence, has the ability to fit with groups of people I choose. And I choose to be friends with you, Khlari, always have, not because you can dress up like Crystal Tipps on acid and scare small children – though I love it when you do – but because you’re real and funny and honest and trustworthy. Same with Jo, Martin et al. I love ya ’cause you’re good people; it ain’t the goth in you that does it, it’s YOU. You’re nice people and ‘nice’ is not a word most would associate with goths (the uninformed, particularly the elderly, I think might rank you alongside Hell’s Angels or punks).

    Dead Not Indifferent – Oh, Khlari, come on now! That was a dark play about the politics of the day killing people off before they actually die, commented on by a narrator who had died, sure, which is why I was wearing white make-up! Was that goth? I thought it was more an exploration of philosophy, spirituality, love and Margaret Thatcher! Are skulls inherently goth? Is ‘Danse Macabre’ goth music? Was Merlin a goth? Does everyone become a goth whenever they attend a funeral or a wake because they wear black and look sad? When Carol Ann Duffy writes a poem about skulls, is she a goth? No.

    So your next post, Khlari, should seek to answer the question I know others have tried and have found to be impossible: what is a goth? I think goth is perhaps one of the most difficult of labels and, to a large extent, the more sincere the goth, the less fitting the term. It’s the same with gay – the further removed I am from plastic, shiny gay subculture – the drugs, the focus on bodily perfection, the skinny tee-shirts etc – the less I am ‘gay’ and the more comfortably, happily, truly gay I am. Does that make sense? I have neither forsaken my sexuality – how could I given the Watford beauty sharing my bed every night and my absolute non-responsiveness to womanly wiles – but neither have I allowed my personality to stay subservient to a cultural creed which narrowly defines what I am supposed to think and do and feel.

    I believe folks like you and Jo are in transition, from goth to something that is more-than-goth-which-has-no-name. Maybe that’s a form of growing up, too, like my own journey from defined gay to less-defined gay. I think Jo put her finger on it by talking of us all being ‘something else’ and then you went on to talk of a ‘new sensibility’. Neither of you are the goths you once were; both of you have lost nothing but that which was never important anyway and have gained so much more. Calling you goths (or me gay) is like giving someone your postcode and not the full address.

    So, if you’ve become next-gen post-goths, you can hardly call me goth now, can you? 🙂

    At the weekend, I said to Jo she could call me a ‘techno-goth’ if she wanted, as it’s different and it’s funny in a self-knowing way. I think the challenge is, as has been said, to help people realise labels are flimsy things and that what’s important is just being you.

    You’ll notice my blog doesn’t scream gay or goth or much of anything other than an overall look and feel which I think reflects the totality of me as expressed thereon; I could instead scream gay all over it, maybe called it The Queer Cauldron but others do that, better than I ever could or want to. The reason is I seek to include and try not to alienate others. When it comes to alienation, we know what that feels like.

    I’m not virulently against being called goth; it’s not like I see it as insult or libel, how could I? But I don’t love ALL goths. I only love special, very special, goths. I CAN see I have goth sensibilities but I STILL don’t feel that makes me goth, only goth-friendly. I don’t have to be goth to belong to YOUR club, anymore than YOU have to be gay to belong to mine.

    In the words of many a diva, I love you all. And now I’m off to link to this post on my own blog to see if others can be dragged into this interesting debate started off by a friend who, next time I see her, I will have procured a paddle from Morecambe Bay with which to smack her arse and thus deprive Andrea of the pleasure of doing it himself, although he’s welcome to take the paddle home after I’ve dished out the punishment! 🙂

  7. Righty. I’ve invited the spicycauldronettes to come on over to take part in this debate. Go check out the entry! I hope at least one or two do make it over here; it’s not only a fun discussion but one with implications for labels as a whole. x

  8. It was an affectionate dig darling, I see us as ironic post-modern goths……we can laugh at ourselves!

    It was an affectionate label, not an attempt to definiteively categorise any of us really…I am no more totally goth than you are totally queer, it negates the rest of our personalities…..

    That said, as gay is something that makes part of your personality, ( nods to the Watford bombshell!!!) goth is something that makes an important part of mine, something that has enabled me to see things differently and develop differently….. It doesn’t mean I have to always live shrouded avoiding the sun, but it adds a certain dark piquancy to life…….

    As you said, back in the dark dim days the goths were as queer as anyone gay…we all hung around in weirdo corner together. We have all, in some way defined ourselves as the ‘other’ in life, have opted out of mainstream sensibilities. I do know a lot of working-class goths though- and for them education and the promise of gothic glamour were a way out, from the place in which they didn’t belong either. Come on, if I’d stayed in Hackney I’d be a Chavette married to someone called Kevin attempting to move up in the world to Romford…….but Goths have always had that sense of being a changeling, not belonging to the places they were from………….

    I have never chosen my friends for the way they look, but for who they are, I have some gothy, some not……to only have goths for friends would be to be a packet mix goth who only had friends who were identikit living-dead doll twins……

    The ‘Dead not Indifferent’ quip was a joke….if you remember I did your make-up anyway…… seemed to sum up the nihilism of the times……

    But I will take up the gauntlet to try and define gothicism and post-neo-gothicism, Mr SC, and see what I come up with! Don’t let Mr A see that last comment…it might (most definitely will) give him ideas!

  9. Oh, I know the DND bit was a joke – and the whole was an affectionate swipe! Don’t worry, I hope I made that clear in my rebuttal! 🙂

    Maybe we should start a new movement – The Others?

    And Mr A would get ideas because he’s a perv first, goth(ish) second… and we all love him for it (though, obviously, you love him the most, haha!) x

  10. ‘The Others’ – sounds like a club I might just want to be a member of!

    and evidently I love Andrea for his ideas, gothic and ‘other’wise….(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  11. Bring it down to gutter level – Yeah something I understand

  12. Maybe we should become The Others Coven….

  13. Jo, honey, you know as well as we do, we’re all paid-up members of that gutter club. They know your name on the door and roll out the, um, black carpet when you turn up… 🙂

  14. What’s a goth? Might as well be asking Khlari to write an essay to answer “What is a woman?” It’s not about appearances (obviously) but about merely a description or a label put on you by someone else. It’s their frame of reference, applied to you. This sounds very much like a subject I am somewhat familiar with: gender identity. Am I a woman? A lot of folks think so, but more importantly, I think so. Do I look like a woman? A lot of the time I do, but ultimately, I don’t care. I know who I am and though neither I nor others may have a label for who I am, that alters me not one iota. Andy, methinks thou dost protest too much. Be happy that your friends think of you as one of them, regardless of what label you slap on it.

  15. Hi Jami. Yeah, I know but that’s the point, of course: if you’re going to say someone is something, then you have to define what that something is… At least, that’s the challenge I laid down for Khlari! 🙂

    You’re absolutely right, I for one hadn’t considered that comparison but yes, it has a lot of parallels to questions of gender identity. I’m protesting but not with any real outrage; they don’t need to think I’m one of them, though, to know that I am with them and love them for themselves being honest and true. x

  16. Guess that I am many things really, Goth, mother, woman, straight (ish), writer, artist, lover, worker, student…..all of these labels define me really, but I guess that Goth is the one that I choose to accept as it is one of the few that I have chosen for myself…..

    In that way it is almost like ‘gay’, I have taken possession of it and used it in a positive way on myself. Like Jami says, I know who I am, that’s the important thing.

    Mr SC just doesn’t want to be in any club that would have him as a member!

  17. Spicycauldronettes?? A label just for me-thank you Andy!!

    I agree that Andy isn’t goth. Although I work the outward trapings issue from the other end. I would say that being goth has a certain aesthetic sense, a view of how the outward world should be ordered by the individual in order to integrate the self into the world in an intended way. So appearance is part of being goth, not because it’s an “a” that gets you to point “b” as khlari points out, but that “b” directs you to point “a.”

    Part of affiliating with a certain subculture is the desire to blend yourself into that group. Say you move from one location to another, and you change groups of friends. Even on a small level, you change things in order to blend into your new group of friends and belong. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a natural thing (although just like honeysuckle it can still get out of control). So if you aren’t feeling the desire to start “joining” a subculture by mimicking it’s behavior (which includes codes of dress and conduct) then you aren’t really part of that subculture.

    Saying that some part of one’s attitude or tastes being the same makes you part of a subculture that you don’t feel compelled to join or identify with sort of defeats the idea of a subculture, which is part of a culture that defines itself away from the predominant form. Anyway, as a pagan like Andy, I always find the idea of who is and who isn’t an interesting topic. I have a very definate opinion on who isn’t and who is pagan, and like above I think it takes more than an unusual similarity. Cheers!!

  18. No, it’s not that I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have me for a member – I can see where you get that, knowing me as you do – but it ain’t true. I’m complimented by positive associations – goth being one of ’em – but I’m goth-friendly rather than being goth. It’s that simple. Of course, you could substitute ‘goth-friendly’ for people-friendly but I’d rather not as most anyone who says they’re a people person is anything but… 🙂

    Olive, yeah – spicycauldronettes – I kind of figured Motown numbers, shiny dresses and choruses of ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’! Those are really good points you make. I appreciate the aesthetic – heck, I’m even known to wear black when the cats aren’t around – but then, pagans wear black too. The lines can be really blurry. I agree that I have definite ideas for myself as to what is and isn’t a pagan outlook/approach. For example, my own pet prejudice is when I see pagans dropping litter or having no eco-sense; to me, that’s just so NOT pagan although at the end of the day you have to kind of accept and move on from the fact that people are free to call themselves what they will. x

  19. hi im always wearing black im [black rocks]i hate girl stuff i wear chains black jackets tops eye liner black lipstick im very young so i cant fit half of goth clothes like chain boots capes pants i have to find black stuff all over the place anyway i love black it rocks do u? g2g bye

  20. i love black it rules if the world could be black then it would be heavean i think that is annoying when u are a goth but when ure older you think its annoying how wen u were younger u had all this pink stuff and bedroom is invested with black u think wat the heck were u thinking before its way annoying as i think black is my life it rules my life it is the life of goth i think i like punks they rule aswell so if u have any comments say it BLACK ROCKS LIFE!!! BYE XXX

  21. […] You can read Khlari’s entry here and please, if you visit her site, do join in the discussion whatever side of the debate you come down on. Jo’s blog, which, incidentally is supposed to be that of a purple dragon but at times can be seen to be borderline pink, can be found here. […]

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