THE GOTH BIBLE: A Compendium For The Darkly Inclined
St. Martin’s Griffin
~review by Mick Mercer
Michael Johnson made a comment recently on uk.people.gothic that he didn’t feel like he needed another book on Goth right now. Now on the one hand that’s such a Goth attitude to have - I Require No Outside Input, Thank You! – but it’s also what I would imagine is a pretty common viewpoint. There have been a lot lately.
That, I would like to suggest, would be to miss out on a very charming book, and actually the very first charming Goth book. We have had a few Goth epics in recent years, from my Net-based tome, to Paul Hodkinson’s academic study, Gavin Baddeley coming from a Metal perspective, and Dave Thompson rummaging through the eighties. What is unusual here is that Nancy Kilpatrick hasn’t any ego-driven agenda, and has actively sought out Goth opinions to decorate each chapter with. 95 Goths answered 125 questions each to form an alternative spine to this work and it makes it a very different book to the rest. While it lacks any trenchant criticism (which most Goths seem unable to cope with anyway), and may seem light, it also sets itself a strange task, with its real desire to inform. Nancy is best known as a Horror writer but she is a Goth, and clearly delighted to be writing the book, as she also wants this book to help others understand Goth.
Personally, I can’t imagine a non-Goth really reaching for such a book, thinking, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to know more!’ but that doesn’t undermine the gracious way she goes about her business, or why this book is valid. The personal input of Hodkinson’s ‘Goth’ book was there to fulfil certain necessary criteria. In this book is all more all-consuming, about passions. Sometimes it’s annoying - I wanted to more than mere statistics on Goth Pets when it turned out one has a seagull! – but there s so much in here you can’t really quibble. You get serious contributions on sex/relationships/Fetish/marriage/Goth children/Corporate Goth/Goth homes, Art and Literature (Old and New), and it ends with a chapter on the Future, even if that felt a little skimpy.
I could review each section, but I won’t. Basically, she goes through things that effect Goth life, from clothes to accoutrements, to relationships, religion, cemeteries, architecture, music and all the expected areas, with quotes and photos from her Goths interviews draping pages like curtains, as their comments go down the outer columns to most spreads. Those interviewed within the chapter text tend to be business-related individuals pertinent to the topic in question. So, in the Fashion or Lifestyle sections you have many a Goth contribution, but also meet Morpheus of Siren, R. Hunter Gough of ‘Gother Than Thou’, Fred H. Berger of Propaganda, Terri of Ipso Facto, Natasha of Meltdown, Steven Of Gothic Beauty, Trish & Snooky of Manic Panic, Sonia (Hair Police), AntiSally (Goth Rosary), the Alchemy boys, Batty (Azrael’s Accomplice), Mirabai (Tenebrae) Doktor Joy (Pennangalan Dreams), piercer Pierre Black and those lovely X-tra-X people. You can find a proper analyses of Absinthe, then on a similar vein find the weird story of how Michael Marchet finally got Vampire wine onto the market. Out of one area another little bubble will pop, making it a very pleasant read with unexpected dalliances emerging.
The only disappointing part of me was a curious lack of musical coverage. There are six artists included who answer identical probes – Bella Morte, Fear Cult, Seven 13, Masochistic Religion, Umbra Et Imago and Sere De Morte but they seemed odd choices. Similarly, when covering the history of Goth music a Canadian DJ gives his verdict on the UK’s development and announces, somewhat boldly, that the Banshees’ ‘Scream’ “is officially the first full-length release in the genre of Goth” when it was actually as Punk record long before Goth, and both he and Thomas Tyssen give Joy Division an influence which may have been true in their own countries, but never actually affected UK Goth. Gloria Mundi, Ultravox, Adam & The Ants and UK Decay get little, if any, recognition. Joshua Gunn, who has had academic work issued, also drags up Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as a credible proto-Goth artist, then fails to mention The Cramps, which is just bizarre.
Oh Hell, you get Clubs, and zines, net.goth, net habits, comics, gardening, Goth sub-species, and so on. It’s a big book, commendably detailed in its travels to the heart of Goth and it is, without doubt, the most naturally jubilant, Goth-friendly, book which has so far been printed.
NOW FOR THE SCIENCE. As you can read on Nancy’s website, she encountered severe problems with this book from the book trade itself, which hadn’t been expected. The main distribution which helps books in the States (and, I presume, Canada?) has to be Barnes & Noble, but their representatives were more than a little sceptical that Goths would even consider buying something from them, while happy to imagine them stealing, and those attitudes need to be shown to be false to help other writers and books in the future. By all means buy an autographed copy direct from source (see Nancy’ website for that) but if you’re in America or Canada please go into a Barnes & Noble, with the ISBN number, title and author details and order a copy.
It might seem a small point, and request, to make, but it isn’t. In correcting bigotry and stupidity, just a few hundred people ordering a book there will automatically boot the book high enough up on their Lifestyle titles for them to do a complete re-think and take the subject very seriously indeed.
If you care about Goth please don’t bother about saving maybe a dollar or two via Amazon. Go to the shops, and do Goth itself a favour.