As the spookiest time of the year draws near, my mind naturally turns to all things gothic. Books, music, the way the Spanish moss drips from the live oak trees, the deep russet sunsets fading to darkness as the days grow shorter, all combine to paint a vivid portrait of the world that lies just beyond the veil.
To see me now as an unremarkable 50-something who spends a lot of time being a beach bum, you might never believe that I consider myself a goth. Unless, of course, you glanced at my music collection, then, perhaps, you might believe me.
In retrospect, I can see how I gravitated to the original goth movement. As a nerdy pre-teen, I read the great gothic classics, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights several times before moving on to Dracula. My parents and I had watched the 1979 film version of Dracula together and something in it really stuck with me. Of course, the film and the book also equally frightened me, and I can remember sleeping with my rosary beads, just in case a vampire might find his way past the air conditioner which occupied the window of my Philly rowhome.
But, ultimately, I was attracted to the original goth movement because of the music. When MTV started in 1981, the videos of English New Wave artists captured my imagination. Beginning with Duran Duran, I listened to all of the post-punk music I could find. I bought imported British music magazines and poured over them so often I developed an encyclopedic knowledge of the wider post-punk scene. And, it was in one of those magazines, that I first learned about a band called The Specimen who held court at a place called The Batcave.
I loved everything about the Specimen, but they were by no means my first introduction into the goth world. I was already actively listening to The Cure, Siouxsie and The Banshees, and Bauhaus. In fact, I watched Tony Scott’s art house vampire film, The Hunger, repeatedly just to see the opening credits featuring Peter Murphy writhing around in a club, arms outstretched like a bat while “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” played in the background.
I desperately wanted to hang out in a nightclub like that. High school dances held in the cafeteria with DJ’s spinning Top 40 tunes and preppy Catholic kids doing a variation on the Gator to the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” wasn’t really my idea of a good time. And being 16 pretty much meant that I was shit out of luck for another five years. Or so I thought.
In 1984, my friend and I convinced our parents to let us go and have a grand adventure in London, by ourselves. I had already been to London once on one of those school-sponsored trips abroad. And, since my friend basically lived by herself with her elderly grandmother on the upper west side of Manhattan (her parents had moved to D.C. and she was finishing school in New York), we figured we were street smart enough to be able to handle a 2-week trip alone.
We had a bucket list of places we had to visit: Carnaby Street, the BOY of London shop on the King’s Road, the British Museum, the Camden Town Market, record shops, and nightclubs. Throughout our two week-stay we went to several venues: the Hippodrome, Heaven, and Foubert’s.
Of those, I remember very little about the Hippodrome other than riding the late bus back to where our B&B was located near the Gloucester Road tube station. And, I only remember that bus ride because two 30-something drunk guys hit on my friend and I, remarking that we had “the effervescence of youth.”
We went to the famed gay club, Heaven, for its Thursday night session called The Asylum and on our way to the club, we ran into another group of young Americans who, like us, had managed to get their parents to let them loose on 1980s London. But, I have the fondest memories of Wednesday night at Foubert’s because that was the night The Specimen hosted the Batcave.
My friend and I spent quality time preparing ourselves to head to the Batcave and this I what I looked like:
After dancing for a bit, we made our way to the bar where Olli Wisdom and Jon Klein of the Specimen were chatting with visitors. Both Olli and Jon were very gracious, and very welcoming. They asked where we were from and if we were enjoying the club. Upon hearing that we were Americans, a woman with brightly colored hair who was sitting nearby joined the conversation. It was legendary German singer, Nina Hagen. She told us in her heavily accented English, “Ronald Reagan is the beast. Six, Six, Six. Don’t you vote for him. Vote for me!” Of course, neither one of us bothered to tell her that we weren’t old enough to vote anyway.
Every year during the spooky season, I think back to that summer when I went to the Batcave and this year is no different. But, this year, the memory is bittersweet because on August 23 of this year, Olli Wisdom passed away. Requiescat in pace, Olli. And thank you so very much for creating and hosting the Batcave, being a goth pioneer, and for being so kind to a couple of young Americans who visited the Batcave one summer night, long ago.