The goths you think you know

Montreal Gazette/January 29, 2005
By Naomi Carniol

There's more to the subculture of people who dress in black (but not just) and like to talk about death (but not always, for heaven's sake). 'I think goths are some of the funniest people on the planet,' the Montreal author of the Goth Bible says They're not afraid to discuss death, and they might plan their funeral the same way some women meticulously plan their weddings.

They dress in black, wear black eyeliner. They listen to music with sombre lyrics, read books about vampires, and might even buy chairs shaped like coffins.

They are goths, part of a youth subculture that started in Germany and England in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The movement is alive across North America and Europe and, helped by the Internet, it has spread as far as Peru and the Philippines.

But no matter where they are and who they are, goths get a bad rap.

"Many of these interests are things that society deems are macabre, but they are not macabre," Nancy Kilpatrick says in her new book The Goth Bible (St. Martin's Griffin, $28.95).

"Most people have the attitude of, 'oh you want to go for a picnic in a cemetery? That's so creepy!' " the Montrealer says. "But in Victorian times people would go to cemeteries all the time because they were beautiful parks."

A lot of gothic art, literature and music deals with death. But "goths are not only these grim, sombre creatures that the stereotypes always reflect," Kilpatrick says.

"I think goths are some of the funniest people on the planet. They're really very good at making fun of their interests. I think being able to look at heavier things in life allows you to be more alive over-all.

"Death would not be excluded from our conversation, but I could go six months or a year without the subject coming up," Kilpatrick says.

The media tend to paint goths as high schoolers with no ambitions and no interests apart from death. They're often described as though they all listen to the same music, dress the same way and are depressed, even dangerous.

Not true, Kilpatrick says. Most goth work, she says. Kilpatrick says she knows goths who are Web designers, graphic designers, computer programmers and teachers.

But they don't put on black lipstick when they go into the office.

Penelope Jolicoeur, 23, has experience being a goth in a corporate world. The Cote des Neiges resident got into the goth scene in Quebec City when she was 13. After spending a few summers in Montreal, she moved here last year. It wasn't long before the Universite de Montreal law student found goths who shared her passion for early goth music.

Jolicoeur did a stint at a law firm that specializes in corporate law. Her fishnets and funky skirts stayed in the closet.

"You don't have a choice. You wear a suit," Jolicoeur says. "You have to do concessions and fit the job. If not, you end up with nothing in life."

A lot of goths are of high-school age, but there are a lot of goths who are older, in their 30s, 40s or 50s, Kilpatrick says. They're just harder to spot.

"A younger goth might get gothed-out to go to the store for milk. Somebody who is 40 or 50 will wear a Bauhaus T-shirt and some jeans to the store. You wouldn't notice them ... whereas you'd notice someone whose face has white makeup ... and wears outrageous black clothes."

That leads to the perception that goths all dress alike. Kilpatrick says she understands why people think that. "Look at people who are corporate executives," she says. "To outsiders, it all looks the same. Everyone is wearing a suit. But within that range, people have their own styles. It's the same for goths."

"Some people wear clothing that is more velvet and lace, almost Victorian. Some people are more into latex stuff, cyberish fabrics that are slick or rubber. A lot of younger people are into raves. ... They might be wearing a leopard-print miniskirt, but with a black mesh shirt and gothy jewelry."

Yes, goths like black, Kilpatrick says. "But within shades of black, there's an awful lot of variation."

Beyond that, "some people wear red and green," Kilpatrick says.

"I have a great collection of blue jeans and I love them," Jolicoeur says. "I don't think I'm less goth because I'm not wearing black clothes."

"For me, goth is inside your head."

And goths don't all listen to the same music. Much of goth music has darker lyrics, Kilpatrick says. "Goth is rooted in emotions, and in honesty ... and that is reflected in the music," she says.

But there are many types of goth music. "It can range from music that's not even specifically goth like Loreena McKennitt ... to '80s goth music and into industrial music, which is much harder, to techno. There's also medieval type music and ... music that is more linked to rock."

In Montreal, downtown nightclubs attract hundreds of goths on goth nights from Wednesday through Saturday.

But that's not the only thing goths like. "I'm older goth and a lot of older goths don't go out to clubs as much," Kilpatrick says. "I'm the person who has dinner parties."

She also enjoys an afternoon tea. Kilpatrick and 25 of her goth friends once took in afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton. It was a sight to be seen, especially when some of the guests drove to the hotel in a hearse.

Montrealer Magenta Baribeau organizes annual goth picnics at Jean Drapeau Park. Baribeau, 26, grew up in Hull and was always interested in talking about death and the paranormal.

"So when I moved to Montreal in 1995, I was, like 'oh my god, there are people who are into this!' "

Five years ago, Baribeau started an online forum for goths ( The Web site has 650 members. Baribeau started the picnic as a way for members to get to know each other.

For goths, one of the most frustrating stereotypes is the idea that goths are dangerous.

In The Goth Bible, Kilpatrick describes how newspapers labelled Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold goths after the two opened fire at Columbine High School in April 1999, killing 13 students and wounding 23.

"A kid in school said they were and the media picked up on that," Kilpatrick says. "It turns out they weren't goths. But what sticks in people's minds is the first thing that they read."

"If goth is an aesthetic sentiment ... that's a quality that doesn't move anyone towards being aggressive in a violent manner," Kilpatrick says. "There's generally a respect for life."

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