Today, May 22, is World Goth Day, a day to celebrate and extol goth music (in all its derivations) and the goth subculture. I came upon a post on the Instagram page of The Darkness Calling (https://www.instagram.com/darknesscallingofficial/?hl=en), a page dedicated to goth/darkwave/electronic music. The page is itself the passion project of Jae and raises money for the Trevor Project (https://thetrevorproject.org/) by securing various bands to contribute songs to compilation albums ( https://darknesscalling.bandcamp.com/)
In the post Jae revealed how the goth movement provided a welcome home and refuge for a non-binary individual. And, those comments spurred me to think about what the entire punk, post-punk, and alternative movement has meant to me (goth is an offshoot of this wider movement) and beyond that to anyone who just doesn’t check all the socially expected boxes.
As a young teen girl in the early 1980s who adored literature, classical music, and teddy bears and who had zero interest in getting stoned, looking at teen fashion magazines, being a cheerleader, or lusting after jocks, the music we now identify as post-punk resonated with me on multiple levels. The synthesizers sounded like violins, the bands wore interesting clothes, and there were deep, profound lyrics.
You see, I was that weird kid who read literature all on my own without prompting. Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Shelley, Stoker, Christie, and then later Waugh, Forster, Camus, Orwell, Cooper, Hawthorne, Orwell, and Huxley were just some of the authors I read independently. Of these, gothic novels were among my favorites. I read Jane Eyre and Dracula several times before I entered high school.
As such, when I first came across bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and the Cure, I easily recognized that many of the songs engendered the same kind of “feeling” that gothic novels did—otherworldly, eerie, spooky, unusual. As time went on and I began to study literature more seriously, the connection between post-punk music and literature only grew stronger. “Don’t Stand so Close to Me” and Lolita; “Killing an Arab” and The Stranger; the Queen Mab’s speech in the video for Duran Duran’s “Night Boat;” post-apocalyptic themes in “Black Planet” by The Sisters of Mercy and an obvious reference to Eliot with the Mission’s “Wasteland.”
But, the entire punk and post-punk movement contained far more depth than just literary references. At times, it was revolutionary, discursive, digressive, destructive, and groundbreaking as well as thought-provoking. You see it truly had something for everyone, most especially people who “knew” that they just didn’t fit into a mold. From the Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” to XTC’s “Making Plans for Nigel” to Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized,” to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax,” the songs (and often videos) challenged, overturned, and questioned every single societal, political, and cultural norm.
The punk and post-punk movement certainly wasn’t the first movement to challenge social, political, and cultural norms. The romantics, cubists, flappers, beatniks, and hippies all had their moment in the sun. There’s something a little different about the punk and post-punk movement, though—it wasn’t simply about questioning authority and norms, overturning a social order, protesting injustice, or expressing feelings and identities. The punk and post-punk movement cherished and honed authentic individual experiences. It allowed space for guyliner, drag, straight-edge, nihilism, anger, frustration, despair, unbridled joy, religious and spiritual sentiment, experimentation, and so much more. It allowed people to be themselves, whatever or whoever that might be and told the rest of society to not-so-politely go f*** themselves in the process. That is why it has endured, that is why it still inspires, and that is why I am the way I am.