The Diary of an Elder Goth Part II
The first instalment in this diary explored the sonic journey that brought me to a love for the broad spectrum of dark, alternative music. Music, from traditional gothic rock and post punk to post-industrial and futurepop, I think forms the cornerstone of the gothic community. However highly I place the music in my list of priorities there is more to being a goth than just moping around or stomping to your stereo.
It began, as you might expect, in my early youth. Take your TARDIS to way back when I still lived in Colorado. Like many children, I had a fascination with monsters. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing vampires in crayon, the proper Count Dracula-styled vampires with cape, broach, and a pronounced widow’s peak. The appeal of the vampire hit me earlier than seems appropriate. Many of us recognize the vampire as a psychosexual manifestation. It penetrates with its fangs. It consumes your essence by drawing bodily fluid in the form of blood. It owns the night. It lures you with a meaningful gaze and with poetic promises. I think I owe my early love for the vampire to a watered down version crafted for child consumption. Count von Count of Sesame Street first comes to mind, though vampires in cartoons like Scooby Doo certainly helped. Yet, I saw even through this neutered image of the vampire the romantic figure he represented. I may not have fully grasped the concept but nonetheless I glimpsed the arc of vampiric power over the opposite sex. In my later years I extrapolated from that arc the full circle of sexual metaphor.
I developed a strong connection with Frankenstein’s monster, a character who was childlike and innocent, yet powerful and intimidating. The draw for a diminutive child like me is clear; I sympathized with the monster, knowing how it was to be so innocent and afraid of the world, yet so easily misunderstood by the community. I, too, never quite fit into a circle of friends. The neighborhood kids were like alien creatures to me who, at any moment, might gather pitchforks and torches and run me out of the cul-de-sac.
And speaking of growing up, the werewolf never quite fully appealed to me until I entered puberty. As the story of a furry, hormonal beast trapped within an ordinary fellow closely mirrored what was happening in my own body, this seemed only natural. That control over the beast was next to impossible also rang true as I found myself at this time doing things that, quite frankly, were irrational. Lurid thoughts haunted my mind as if the wolf was always there, hiding and ready to pounce. I owned a ripped up pair of jeans that I, at the precipice of puberty, wore as I pretended to be a man beast in our backyard.
My attraction to the monstrous has been with me for as long as I remember. The first drive-In film I recall ever seeing was King Kong. When we first got home after the film I demanded some scrap paper so that I could draw and color the magnificent, giant ape. I drew a lot of monsters back in the day. In my college years, I doodled strange Lovecraftian beasties in the margins of my notebook. Even at church, when I still went to church, I sat during sacrament meeting and drew monsters in my little notebook. I stopped going to church largely because The Addams Family was shown at that same time Sunday morning.
If you doubted my love for monsters you need only to have looked at my toys. A toy that occupied the lion’s share of my time was a simple, laminated cardboard representation of Dracula’s castle. This castle came with a number of stickers, each representing one of Universal Pictures’ famous cavalcade of creepy creatures. I could slap said stickers anywhere on, in, or around the castle and peel them off again at will. There were to my recollection a dungeon, a laboratory, and a graveyard. I spent most of my time playing alone, on my own but never really lonely. A child with a richly populated imagination is rarely bored. Monsters kept me company.
One of my favorite board games at the time was a whodunnit styled escapade called 1313 Dead End Drive in which you played a number of guests at a mansion, each invited to the reading of a millionaire’s will. The game board is in three dimensions. You set up the walls to the estate, each charmingly drawn with bits of cash sticking out of sconces, portraits, and the like. Next come the booby traps of a tilting ladder, a falling chandelier, and a carnivorous fireplace. Rolling the dice you could choose to move one of your characters toward the exit or to move your opponent’s character toward danger. A rather macabre game for a pre-teen certainly.
One Christmas my grandparents bought me a model kit of Boris Karloff as the Mummy. Speaking of Christmas, a friend of the family made Christmas ornaments of the monsters from one of my favorite children’s books. My mother would on occasion take me to the local K-Mart when they sold action figures of the Universal monsters. In elementary school my lunch box proudly displayed the visages of the Count, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman. I had a coloring book containing the greatest monsters of cinema, even going so far as to include the Morlocks from The Time Machine. My mother painted some paint by numbers portraits of Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula that long hung on my bedroom wall.
Sadly most if not all those childish things are no longer with me. Fortunately, I have since found a replacement for 1313 Dead End Drive. Still, monsters stayed with me. I stayed up late to watch creature features like Invaders from Mars or Plan 9 from Outer Space. I enjoyed double features when they were still hosted by some madcap presenter - yes, even the busty Elvira. I took delight when my Saturday morning entertainment like Balderdash explored the world of Edgar Allen Poe. When we eventually got cable I wasted away the hours with Vincent Price films on the American Movie Classics channel.
Hammer horror was something I had never really explored until recently. The very Britishness of it made it foreign to me, especially if you look at how Americanized other films based in Europe had been for me up to that point. That is not to say I dismissed all that was British. I watched Benny Hill when I was far too young for that sort of comedy. Yet it and Monty Python, outside of HBO stand-up specials and Saturday Night Live, are the foundation for my sense of humor. British horror just kept me at arm's length for a number of years. As an adult, however, I can appreciate the gothic horror Hammer has to offer, particularly when the films star the great Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. Perhaps waiting to see these films is best for me as it seems they appeal to a more adult palate.
While a love for monsters is not the exclusive right of the gothic community, surely a large number of self-described goths can admit to having an appreciation for the monstrous or horrific. Personally I lump in my love of monsters with my identity as a goth. Considering that fact, when a song references these monsters I garner a sort of double enjoyment factor. Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde is a good example but nothing quite compares with the original Monster Mash.
So with that may the creatures of the night continue to populate my imagination for many years to come.