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THE SCENE

Modern Gothic : Clothes, Clubs Celebrate Theater of the Macabre

July 08, 1994|ROSE APODACA JONES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's enough to send parents into a frenzy.

Almost overnight, their sweet, "normal" teens take to wearing only black. They pore over Ann Rice books and quote Edgar Allan Poe. Graveyards and gargoyles are revered and satin-lined coffins considered ideal furniture.

The minor-chord drone from their stereos sounds like a track from a Bela Lugosi flick. Even their chums look the part, with their zombie makeup and dyed black 'dos.

And it isn't even Halloween.

Nor is this a part-time masquerade to those in this year-round scene. Call them Gothics or death rockers. Just don't call them weird.

These deadheads emerged as a horror sideshow from the punk movement back in the late '70s and early '80s. At the forefront was London's Batcave nightclub, which featured death rock bands, as well as a tight community of such bands in Los Angeles that played the local club circuit.

The look was--and still is--a combination of punk and 18th- Century dandy for both sexes: hair teased out straight, plenty of black eyeliner, witchie-poo pointy shoes (preferably in patent leather and with loads of decorative buckles), shirts of ruffles and lace and mixtures of vinyl and velvet.

Render it a version of the Theater of the Absurd, with roots that go much deeper in time than the past two decades. Modern-day Gothics cull the more macabre and Romantic elements from the 14th through 16th centuries, known for Gothic art and architecture, and the 18th and 19th centuries, which include the Romantic period.

Among the bizarre historical and mythical tidbits that fascinate them: the corruption of the medieval Catholic Church, executioners, ghosts and vampires. Besides Poe, other icons are Lord Byron, the Marquis de Sade and Charles Baudelaire.

Like the undead who never really leave the planet, Gothics haven't really gone away--they've only gone, uh, underground. You may have spotted one out in daylight: the widow wardrobe, pale face and Morticia makeup--on both the boys and girls. Their numbers have been rising again over the last couple of years.

Distinguishing the she's from the he's in this androgynous parade of groovy ghoulies is another matter. It's an issue that caused a rift between Sarah Bronkhurst, 15, of Anaheim Hills and her father.

"My dad says my friends are a bunch of freaks," said the Horizon High sophomore, biting her burgundy-stained lips. She dyed her blond hair to match her wardrobe when she got into Gothic three years ago via her mom's record collection, which included albums by such early '80s seminal acts as Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

All right, so most fathers would react alarmingly to a boy in an ankle-skimming skirt and eyeliner. Sarah finds such a guy "beautiful." Most Gothics take great care in their makeup and dress, she said: "You have to have artistic talent to do the makeup. Everyone is so graceful, they're a work of art." It also takes time. Sarah spends three hours getting ready for a night out.

"I don't like the way preppies or hip-hoppers look," she said. "This is how I express myself. People who get shocked are close-minded. When I first got into this, people would say things and I would get upset and flip them off. Then I realized I was lowering myself to their level, so I decided to ignore them."

Ignoring Gothics or their interests might not be so easy for those unfamiliar or confused by the very different nature of this scene.

Gothics read about devils, but do not worship them. They are interested in the battle between the extremes of good and evil.

The dark side of human nature is both questioned and celebrated by Gothics, as is death. Gothics listen to songs about death as well as write (yes, most of them consider themselves bards) about it. The subject might be the undead in a cheesy B film or those in literature.

Despite the interest in death, suicide is definitely not on the agenda, they say. Gothics say they find nothing glamorous or heroic about such an act. To them, death is celebrated as a natural part of the life cycle.

Then there are the accouterments of death: hearses, coffins, skeletons, black.

But the use of these symbols, along with the church paraphernalia and images of hell, is for the most part a lot less threatening than it seems. Most Gothics enlist them for their shock value with little consideration for their greater meaning, the same way the original punk rockers used the swastika not for racist reasons but simply to annoy others. Names of bands also have shock value: Christian Death, Dead Can Dance and Alien Sex Fiend.

*

Although younger Gothics downplay any attempts on their part to shock, veterans still in the scene, like Terri Kennedy, 30, admit it's part of the territory.

"Most parents did crazy stuff when they were young," said Kennedy, who co-owns Ipso Facto in Fullerton, a popular source for Gothic regalia. "It's about experimenting and finding out about yourself."

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