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

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