Lately there has been a lot of talk about how goth music is political, which in turn would mean that the subculture is political as well. When it comes down to it is the subculture actually politically minded?
Everybody reading this knows that the goth subculture was birthed out of the punk subculture. The punk subculture has always been political to varying degrees. There are famous punk musicians such as Jello Biafra and Dick Lucas who have always talked the talk and walked the walk. When they write songs about supporting equal rights or about how evil corporations are they mean it. They aren’t being political to gain ‘scene’ points, they are being political because they think that speaking against injustices is important and something that must be done.
Do goth bands speak up about injustices? Sometimes, but not as often as their punk cousins. Sex Gang Children have recently put out the most politically charged album that I have ever heard come out from under the goth umbrella. It’s called Oligarch and it speaks up against corporations, religious hypocrisy and fascist politicians. I honestly hope that other goth bands listen to it and are inspired to make their own politically charged art. Christian Death is another band that has openly made politically charged music through the years. Both the Rozz and Valor versions of the band have done this. Then there are modern anarcho deathrock bands such as Mystic Priestess and the Creeping Terrors who make music with a political bent. With one foot in the punk subculture they are carrying on the tradition of speaking up against what is wrong in society.
If you spend any amount of time in online goth communities you will see people ask if they can be right wing and goth at the same time. The goth subculture has always leaned left because of the acceptance of those who society sees as the ‘other’. Are there racists within the subculture? There have always been those in the subculture who think that a person has to be white in order to be goth, which is a load of shit of course. Do some people wear white foundation and try to look as pale as possible? Of course but you don’t have to look like a Victorian ghost to enjoy the music. You don’t have to be a certain weight, a certain colour or dress a certain way to take part in the subculture.
All of this could be called political, but do people in the subculture actually stand up for the rights of others when it comes down to it? I would like to argue that there are some that do, but they are heavily outnumbered by those who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. The most important thing about being politically minded is standing behind what you say, even if it inconveniences you. A huge example of this are all of the people in the subculture who will be attending the Cruel World festival, even though the person putting it on is a proven homophobe. They will post about how they are for the rights of those who identify as LGBTQ, but they don’t want to be inconvenienced by missing a show. It’s hypocritical to not stand behind what you say.
Back thirty years ago the subculture was largely not political at all. To the point that Nazi skinheads would attend the clubs and nobody would lift a finger to boot them out. Seriously, I witnessed this shit myself. Back then I weighed 100 pounds and I knew that it would be impossible for me to do anything physically about it. However, there were several times back then that I told Nazi skins off because I didn’t like the crap that they were saying. I did all that I could do back then but when it came down to it there were definitely others who just didn’t care. As long as they could dance to their favourite songs everything was hunky dory.
When it comes down to it the goth subculture can be political, but there are many people in it who need to learn to stand up for what they claim to believe in. Supporting the LGBTQ community online is good, but if it is not followed through with some sort of physical action then that support becomes meaningless. Go to marches and events that are against racism and homophobia, and don’t attend events that are put on by racist or homophobic promoters.
Within the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in anything having to do with the 80’s. Everything from endless posts about mediocre 80’s ‘post-punk’ bands to people asking questions as to how to directly copy the look of ‘trad’ goths litter the internet. Then there are the truly special individuals who constantly talk about how cool the decade was and how they wish they could have lived back then. They should never wish that. You want to know why? Because for the most part the 80’s was a hellish landscape of conservative neo-liberal politics mixed in with a highly conformist society that punished those who were in any way different.
I was a teen in the 80’s and graduated high school in 1989, so I spent pretty much the entirety of my teen years in that decade. I was very politically aware during that time and paid attention to the world events going on around me. For example, I went on a trip with some classmates to Washington DC in late 87 that was called Close Up. Teens from all over the US go every year to learn about politics. You get to meet your representatives and talk about important issues with others. We got enough free time to wander about the area exploring and one day two friends and I were walking near the Capital Building when a motorcade appeared. During that week Soviet officials were there to draw up the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty along with officials from Reagan’s cabinet which included the Secretary Of State George Shultz. I hated, and still hate, Reagan with the burning heat of a thousand suns so I was obviously not a fan of anybody serving under him. The first limos going past us had Soviet flags attached to the front, rolled down windows and Soviet guys waving at us with smiles on their faces. Seriously, it was as cool as it sounds. We smiled and waved back of course. Then the limos infested with the lice off of Reagan’s head rolled by and not one of them rolled down their windows. However, it was easy to see through the tint that one of them contained Shultz. I started yelling to him that he sucked and gave him the finger with both hands. Yes, I told a high ranking US official to basically go fuck himself. My friends were panicking telling me to stop but I wouldn’t. To this day I am still proud that at the age of 16 I had the balls to do something like that.
Now that you have learned a little bit about me I will now tell you a little bit about what it was really like to live in the 80’s.
THE COLD WAR AND THE CONSTANT FEAR OF NUCLEAR ANNIHILATION
I don’t think that younger people right now quite realize just how close we came to all being killed in a nuclear war. This fear was largely due to the constant posturing of Reagan. He would call the USSR the evil empire and threaten them on a very regular basis. Frankly I was way more afraid of Reagan back then than I was of the USSR. To the credit of the USSR back then they didn’t give in to Reagan and start a war. I honestly think the professional war mongerers who stood behind Reagan wanted an all out war with the USSR because they would have made billions from that. Both empires fought a proxy war in Afghanistan when the USSR invaded the country while the US backed and trained the rebels. By the way one of those rebels was Osama Bin Laden.
Nuclear war was such a possibility at the time that two powerful tv films were made about it happening. Threads in the UK and The Day After in the US. Since I was living in the US at the time I saw The Day After when it was first aired in 1983 when I was in the 7th grade. It freaked my friends and I out so much that we went to our vice principal and asked about whether the school had a nuclear fallout shelter. Think about that for a second. Imagine being a young teen and having that kind of fear hanging over your head on a constant basis. It sucked. A few years ago I finally saw Threads and it shows the reality of a nuclear war; people being burned alive and the unsanitized reality of what would happen after a nuclear conflagration. If I had seen it back in the 80’s I would have had full blown nightmares.
IF YOU WERE IN ANY WAY ‘DIFFERENT’ YOU GOT CONSTANTLY SHIT ON AND CONFORMITY WAS A WAY OF LIFE
I always see younger people in online goth communities say that they wished that they could have experienced an ‘alternative’ subculture back in the 80’s. With confidence I can say that the vast majority of them wouldn’t have been emotionally equipped to have handled all of the shit that they would have gotten from others. It wasn’t just the ‘normal’ people that you had to deal with back then, you also had to deal with intense pressure within the alternative community to fit in by liking the same bands and behaving the same way. Woe onto you if you actually acted happy or liked a band that wasn’t considered cool. People think that ‘gatekeeping’ is bad now? They have no idea.
There was a huge amount of pressure back then by society to fit in. Reagan constantly preached about how America was better in the good old days, which were actually not good for anybody who wasn’t wealthy and white. If you didn’t go along with his not so hidden racist agenda you were seen as unpatriotic and a traitor. I am not exaggerating. You had to hate the USSR, be scared of black people, and look just like everybody else. If you didn’t have a perm, didn’t dress in the trendiest clothes and didn’t listen to the latest pop bands you didn’t fit in so you were considered fair game to tease and even physically attack. Luckily I was never physically attacked but I know that lots of people were. Far more violence happened back then than now. However, I had things yelled at me on a constant basis, for doing such things as simply walking down a street. In high school I was even told by a teacher that I wouldn’t have as many problems if I just dressed like everybody else.
IT WAS DIFFICULT AS HELL FINDING OUT ABOUT BANDSAND SHOWS
There was no functioning internet back in the 80’s. There were some bulletin board type communities but computers were expensive as hell so most people did not have them. There were thee ways of finding out about bands back then. You could be one of those lucky people that lived near a radio station that actually played alternative and punk music. These were usually college radio stations, but sometimes pop stations would play less popular music in the the middle of the night. There was a pop station in my area that did this. So much so that by the very late 80’s they became an ‘alternative’ station. However, by that time they played more radio friendly bands than experimental ones. However, I did learn about some bands by listening to them. Another way to learn about bands was by getting mix tapes from your friends. In early 86 I got one from a guy, who then ghosted me. There was no track listing written down so it took me literally years to figure some of them out. However, I had another person introduce me to Joy Division by handing me a tape with Unknown Pleasures on one side and Closer on the other. The last way to find out about music was by cold buying it. You would see somebody cool wearing a mysterious band shirt and you kept a log of those band names in the back of your head. I actually cold bought November Coming Fire by Samhain using this method, and more times than not I had really good luck.
On top of all of this there was a code of silence that the uber goober type people would pull when you would ask them about what bands they liked. Seriously. There was some sort of strange code that some weirdos lived by that made it very uncool to share musical knowledge with anybody. It was as if they were going to be killed by an evil cabal if they dared to utter the sacred names of bands. These were the same types who would try to dictate how you behaved in clubs.
Wanted to see your favourite band play a show? Good luck! Most of the time the only way you would find out about shows was at club nights, but if you were under 18, and sometimes 21, you weren’t allowed in them. I actually went to one that let you in of you were 17 or older and another that was all ages so I was lucky when it came to that. However, that didn’t mean you would find out about all of the shows because venues were usually total shit at advertising shows unless they were some of the better known ones that also hosted metal shows. There were some ‘alternative’ weekly papers where I lived so I would find out about some of them that way, but there were two times that I accidentally saw bands because I thought it was going to be a regular club night. I saw Meat Beat Manifesto and The Call that way which looking back on it was pretty darn cool.
Well, that’s it for today. I realise that I have probably broken some hearts and crushed some dreams but the amount of misinformation about the 80’s really needs to be balanced out with a reality check. I don’t look back at that decade with rose coloured glasses, even though I lived through those years. It could be fun, but it was also really difficult. If I had the ability to go back in time to those years I wouldn’t.
For years this album has been my go to when I am pissed off because every song is pretty much about rejection, failed relationships and just wanting to destroy things in general.
My favourite Black Flag era is the one fronted by Rollins because the band experimented with their music and didn’t sound like a stereotypical hardcore band of the time. I think that’s the reason why some people don’t like this era of the band.
I first heard this album around 1990 and it taught me that it’s okay to be pissed off about shit that is out of my control. While at the same time it also taught me that it’s okay to be pissed off at the situations that I put myself in. I actually used to sit in my car singing along with the lyrics trying to calm myself down when I needed space.
I love all of the songs on this album, but the one that really encapsulates all of the feelings brought forth by it is Bastard In Love.
‘Bastard in love, there’s no turning back Punish your lover, and then turn your back Punish your future to spite your past Love turns to hate with every spell you cast
You keep waiting for the love that you wanna feel But you’d never believe it when they tell you that love is real You keep wishing, but my love is real, my love is real My love is real, my love is real
Bastard in love, they push, you shove There’s no point in asking; you’ll never know why You run and don’t listen; I sit home and cry My heart sinks further with each of your lies
You keep waiting for the love that you wanna feel But you’d never believe it when they tell you that love is real You keep wishing, but my love is real, my love is real My love is real, my love is real You keep waiting for the love that you wanna feel But you’d never believe it when they tell you that love is real You keep wishing, but my love is real, my love is real My love is real, my love is real’
To this day this album means a hell of a lot to me and the lessons it taught me are still with me to this day.
This brand , called Murder Apparel, was featured in my Facebook feed this morning for whatever reason and I had to do a double take at their True Crime And Wine shirt because they have lifted the image directly from The Misfits Die Die My Darling 12″ album cover. Did they actually think that people wouldn’t notice this? I mean seriously, how lazy and lame do you have to be to openly plagiarize a famous punk band’s record cover artwork? I owned a shirt with this cover over thirty years years so this brand sure as hell can’t claim that they were the first to use this image.
I normally think that Jerry Only is an ass, but I honestly hope he sues the hell out of them for copyright infringement because it is just that obvious. If this ‘dark’ brand wants to sell ‘edgy’ clothes then they should be more original than openly copying a famous punk image. Plagiarism isn’t ‘dark’ or ‘edgy’, it’s boring as hell and not in any sort of way original. EDIT: I have contacted the company in question, asking them if they know that their shirt is a copy of a famous Misfits image. I will update this if I hear back from them.
I got into both punk and goth music at around the same time, and there have been years that I looked more ‘goth’ and other years that I looked more ‘punk’. Actually, I should replace the term ‘goth’ with the word ‘alternative’ since before 91 the term ‘goth’ wasn’t used in my area. No matter what I looked like I always still held the same beliefs. I heavily disliked the GOP and the Tories, thought all conservatives were assholes, and that neo-Nazi skinheads sucked and didn’t belong in either of the subcultures.
I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area back then. That area has always been known for being very left wing. However, there were some very conservative pockets, most of which were in the East Bay. This included Fremont, which back then, was mostly white and middle/upper middle class. I went to high school there and I would say that at least 80% of the students there during the 1980’s were white. I could literally count the number of African American students with only one hand. No joke. This was in stark contrast to my experience of being a child in San Francisco where most of my friends were Chinese and other people of colour.
Since I openly disliked Reagan I never fit in at all. If you weren’t conservative in the 80’s you got fucked with pretty much on a daily basis. How dare you not like Reagan, that means you’re not American!!! So, since I politically didn’t fit in it wasn’t a huge step for me to start embracing punk and what is now called goth music. I bought Beating A Dead Horse by The Sex Pistols and Specimen’s Batastrophe in 1986, That quickly pointed me into the direction of The Dead Kennedys, 7 Seconds, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Cure, U2, etc… I loved the Pistols, 7 Seconds and The Dead Kennedys because of the political messages and Specimen and Gene Loves Jezebel because the music sounded different and cool.
Thirty years ago I would go to Gilman, a volunteer run punk club that is still around in Berkeley, one night and then a goth/alternative club called The Twilight Zone in Alameda the next. Looking back on it there was maybe a handful of us who would do this so I never felt alone. The punk community embraced this way more than a lot of people in the emerging goth scene. There were quite a few people who called themselves goth back then who looked down their noses at anybody who didn’t dress a certain way. It didn’t matter that you loved goth music, to them everything was about how you dressed. People think there is gatekeeping going on in the subculture right now? It was ten times worse back then. I did my own thing and just ignored them. A lot of them ended up as either meth or heroin addicts so I think I ended up with the better end of the stick.
I didn’t do that much clubbing during the 90’s, I would only go to clubs maybe a couple of times of year, which I actually don’t regret too much because I avoided a massive amount of drama. During that time I saw the original line-up of Danzig and other acts such as Adam Ant so I didn’t miss everything coming out of that decade. After 2000 I moved around a lot and did some DJ work spinning everything from punk to goth, where I encountered a massive amount of sexism. Not that many people stood up and argued against it it back then because I think some people were afraid that their ‘goth’ status would be revoked. This would have never been accepted in the punk subculture. If a band said sexist crap on stage at Gilman they would be banned from playing there. People in the punk subculture would stand up for each other, while in the goth subculture twenty years ago people would work against each other, fighting for status.
Thankfully, it really feels like things have changed. Right now there are quite a few deathrock and goth rock bands who are openly political that question societal norms. I don’t feel that every single band in the goth subculture has to be political, because after all not every single punk band is political. However, along with this new awareness comes a downside. Some people, who are jealous of the success of certain bands, attempt to blacklist them by calling them racist even though there is no real proof of this. It’s petty goth subculture bullshit belittling the term and using it for self absorbed reasons. When I saw it happen to a band recently my punk side came out and I fought like hell against the witch hunters, because it was obvious that it was being lead by musicians/djs who were jealous twats. They expected me to go along with their hive mind mentality and were shook when I didn’t. Sorry kids, but the Subhumans taught me to think for myself. By the way, I have screenshots of all the shit that went down because I know that those twats are going to be the type to deny all of this within a year or two.
I am very, very grateful that I never stopped listening to punk music, even when pressured to by the uber goobers at goth clubs. The music taught me that it is okay to question authority, be it a politician or a ‘leader’ in an online goth community. It also gave me the confidence to speak up when I know a situation is not what it seems. It also taught me that listening to my inner voice is more important than worrying about my social status. In the end I’d rather be able to live with myself than gain imaginary goth points. This is the reason why I have always had a foot in the punk subculture.