Thursday, September 18, 2008

This morning on the train I was standing behind a fit Asian businessman. I couldn't see his face, but I could read what was playing on his iPod, which he held up to examine as he flipped through songs. He settled on Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People." Serendipitously, today Jezebel's Dodai covered Cintra Wilson's Times piece on the long life of Goth culture. All of this made me very happy.

I was never a proper goth, but I wanted to be. Starting in seventh grade I felt pangs of jealousy when I spotted one at the mall. Where did they get arm warmers and black lipstick? In eighth grade I started listening to Marilyn Manson (who I know is not the arbiter of goth, thanks) after seeing the video for "The Dope Show" on MuchMusic. My love of his music grew through lucky finds of Manson's earlier albums and EPs, and on April 20, 1999 my dad took my best friend and I to see Marilyn Manson at the Rosemont Horizon. He was supposed to be on tour with Hole, another favorite of mine, but Courtney Love had dropped off the tour and we saw Nashville Pussy instead, which was probably the only enjoyable part of the show for my father. When I got home, proudly clutching my brand-new size large shirt emblazoned with naked, sexless Manson, Columbine was all over the news.

After that I acquired a spiked leather color and a pair of close-fitting shiny black pants. They weren't vinyl, not yet; instead they were made of a sort of crunchy track-pant acrylic. The summer after that I discovered Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls, as detailed below, and learned about what would always be thrown in my face as "real Goth": the Cure, black lace, orange lipstick, relentless mopiness. At this time I also became deeply involved with Jhonen Vasquez's comic book Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and its fandom, but that's another blog post for another tie. Suffice it to say I found myself deeply sympathetic with variously "gothy" things, including a host of comic books, endless vampire erotica, and a strong desire to be more depressed than I in fact was.

Then, at the beginning of ninth grade, I discovered online shopping and Hot Topic. By mid-September I was outfitted in skintight black vinyl cigarette pants that laced up with a suede string; various "corsets" that zipped or lightly laced up, in red brocade and pink vinyl; shoes that even I couldn't pretend didn't look like part of a Sexy Pilgrim Halloween costume; a miniskirt airbrushed with the image of bats flying out of a belltower, and very dark unappealing lipstick. I bleached my hair, then I dyed the tips purple, then I dyed it bright red. I owned a black velvet minidress that came to about the middle of my thighs with purple inserts behind black netting and bell sleeves.

At certain times older and more experienced alienated teenagers would look at me and inform me that I wasn't really goth - I was a kindergoth, a kinderwhore, some strange amalgam of raver and bored-looking suburbanite. Thank god the term "emo" didn't exist yet. My parents didn't really care; my mom even had some fun with the whole thing, going to Express with me and helping me suss out the most-Goth items on display.

From sixth grade on I owned a Sony Discman that gave me an entirely other life, one in which I was the protagonist of an incredibly cool movie scored to my favorite music. No matter how pathetic my tentative stabs towards romance were, no matter how harshly I fought with my parents over my relationship with my new boyfriend, no matter how hard I struggled in Math class, I could always escape to a world where "Rock Is Dead" was playing. "Set the Ray to Jerry" was on next, and both songs were just for me.

Marilyn Manson is an easy target. Neither his music nor his posturing could ever be called terribly original, and his hopefully-fauxmance with Evan Rachel Wood doesn't endear him to me, either. But I miss the days when he was on MTV, when he was present enough to offend people. It's not that popular culture has hardened to shock tactics like the ones Manson used; instead, some marketing genius over at Disney realized that if you grab the kids younger, when they don't like to be scared, they'll have brand loyalty to whatever dreck you pump out for them for the rest of their lives. It's part of the death of the record industry, too, I understand; right now the only people who can be counted on to buy albums are under 21 years old.

But there was a time in my life when nothing was more satisfying than the easy-to-swallow transgression that Manson served up. Everything about it was palatable to me at age fourteen: the queasy depiction of his escape from South Florida presented in his autobiography, the constant crowd roar effect he used in his songs, and his look.

I don't really care for the aesthetic any more, but when I was a Manson fan the way he looked made me feel thrillingly free. He was and is often awfully, brutally ugly, but with such style that it seemed okay. I was surrounded with images of what beautiful teenage girls were supposed to look like, and all of them were a far cry from anything I could or would be:

It was nice to have permission to be a little ugly and weird.


Kibblesmith said...

This was an awesome article about how pretty Rachael Leigh Cook is.

Good work, Lise!

Garden said...

who is that last girl in the post?

also, i think that gothdom must have been pretty cool in your age. all i get is Emo bc goth seems to have gone extinct.

L. said...

The last girl is Jennifer Love Hewitt in Can't Hardly Wait, a movie from 1997.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

piracy affects porn but it's still winner during the crunch