An Animated History of Goth

Is your teen goth­ic?” Don’t laugh, it’s a seri­ous ques­tion. If your teen is a goth, there are a few paths avail­able to you, and not all of them good. Let’s con­sid­er some, shall we? You might, in the course of some research, come across a resource called the Par­ents Uni­ver­sal Resource Experts—or P.U.R.E.—which is not a par­o­dy Evan­gel­i­cal band invent­ed by DEVO. You will learn things like “the pre­dom­i­nant col­or of goth­ic cloth­ing is black” and “the goth­ic atti­tude is one of sad­ness and depres­sion.” So far, so total­ly unhelp­ful. This much is obvi­ous, but what should you do?

Sur­pris­ing­ly, P.U.R.E. goes high when oth­ers go low, and coun­sels that par­ents should accept their teen’s goth lifestyle, “espe­cial­ly if it is not harm­ing them.” Good advice. Even Oprah took the high road, sort of, in 1993, let­ting goth teen guest Jim calm­ly “shut down haters” who called him “depress­ing and weird,” one of the haters in ques­tion being his mom. Don’t try to change your goth teen, get to know them by learn­ing about the his­to­ry of goth your­self. Reach back to the his­tor­i­cal and lit­er­ary ori­gins with this video, dig deep in the crates with this under­ground playlist

…or just get a quirky gen­er­al out­line of the basics in the Pitch­fork ani­mat­ed video above, which cov­ers the genre from its begin­nings before the inter­net, when it had a very spe­cif­ic set of ref­er­ences unlike such lat­er iter­a­tions as “90s Talk Show Goth,” “Mall Goth” and “Cyber­goth” (a sub­set which, on sec­ond thought, prob­a­bly war­rants an inter­ven­tion on the grounds of aes­thet­ic abuse). In the sev­en­ties and ear­ly eight­ies, goth meant Siouxsie and the Ban­shees, The Cure, Bauhaus, The Damned, Joy Division—the biggest but by no means only names at the begin­ning of a dis­parate move­ment that arose nat­u­ral­ly from punk.

The Pitch­fork playlist above offers a thor­ough musi­cal overview of those ori­gins, reach­ing back to a true orig­i­nal, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, whose campy hor­ror schtick in “I Put a Spell on You” opened doors for Peter Murphy’s vamp­ing in “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Lux Inte­ri­or’s spooky psy­chobil­ly deliv­ery, and for­mer gravedig­ger Dave Van­ian’s the­atri­cal per­sona. (The dead­pan teens in the video at the top cite Siouxsie Sioux and her band as the first goths, but many a fan will tell you it was The Damned). With­out the next cuts from the Doors and the Vel­vet Under­ground, we might not have had the Cure or Joy Divi­sion, among a few hun­dred oth­er goth and goth-like bands.

Then it’s the usu­al cat­e­chism of clas­sic goth rock any edu­cat­ed goth teen can rat­tle off at a momen­t’s notice: The Birth­day Par­ty, Soft Cell, Swans, Killing Joke, This Mor­tal Coil, Dia­man­da Galas, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Coil. But per­haps your teen has only picked up the baton where the playlist leaves off, with late­com­ers (and arguably not-goth-at-all-but-ew-emo band) My Chem­i­cal Romance, or with the post-goth (if you will) Karin Driejer’s project Fever Ray? If so, con­sid­er imme­di­ate­ly sit­ting your teen down and play­ing all of these key tracks. They may hate you in the moment, but will sure­ly thank you lat­er. (Miss­ing here is Nico’s Mar­ble Index, an album so bleak, most goths can’t even sit through it).

But per­haps you are your­self an elder (I kid) goth par­ent of a bud­ding goth teen? If “suddenly”—as Elec­tron­ic Beats’ Daniel Jones writes in “Find­ing the Right Albums for Your Goth Teen”—“there’s this hor­ri­ble, weird ver­sion of you who’s slight­ly taller and dis­plays enough of your own par­tic­u­lar quirks that you can nev­er quite tell if you’re being sub­tly made fun of”? Well, first, let me just say to you, hap­py 42nd anniver­sary of goth! You’re wel­come. Next, you should fol­low Jones’ advice. Bypass the 80s and 90s, he says: “Just give that teen some Cocteau Twins and Coil and tell them nev­er to be like Mor­ris­sey.” We’ve got it cov­ered above (no Mor­ris­sey to be found).

Then you must intro­duce your teen to con­tem­po­rary goth art like the sin­is­ter dada cabaret work of for­mer 60’s heart­throb Scott Walk­er, the har­row­ing noise of Pruri­ent, doomy, sludgy met­al of Neu­ro­sis or Sunn O))), and the cav­ernous­ly scary riffage of Ash Bor­er (“Can you imag­ine being a teen and hear­ing the beau­ty of ‘Rest, You Are the Light­ning’ at the exact same time you get your peri­od or first pubic? Prob­a­bly you’d grow up to be a pro-skater.”) Go on, embrace your goth teen, but prob­a­bly not with your arms. Do it with Walker’s “The Day the ‘Con­d­u­ca­tor’ Died (An Xmas Song).” Show your teen you mean busi­ness, and, as one YouTube com­menter sug­gests, “put this on next time you have a din­ner par­ty and just stare at your guests.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“A Brief His­to­ry of Goths”: From the Goths, to Goth­ic Lit­er­a­ture, to Goth Music

Three-Hour Mix­tape Offers a Son­ic Intro­duc­tion to Under­ground Goth Music

Watch The Cure’s First TV Appear­ance in 1979 … Before The Band Acquired Its Sig­na­ture Goth Look

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.