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How to Achieve a Near-Impossible Task
on 20 February 2010
Now, I've had my problems in the past with Gavin Baddeley's books, and he's had problems with me having problems with them. But "Goth: Vamps and Dandies" is a real pleasure. It's intended to address a criticism levelled at Mr Baddeley's previous account of Goth, "Goth Chic", which, as he admits, didn't contain a great deal to do with the modern Goth look and lifestyle at all despite its title. The current work falls into two halves, the first outlining what Mr B. terms rather nicely at several points 'Goth's DNA', the amalgam of influences from literature, art, music, movies and TV that emerged as Goth at some vague and indefinable point between 1979 and 1981. The second half looks at the various mini-movements and figures who've nudged the development of the Goth subculture in one direction or another. It succeeds pretty well: I was delighted to see the Marquesa Casati get a mention, and there are bits and pieces I wasn't aware of too. The style is fluent and relaxed, and even affectionate, not just towards modern Goths but also in the book's account of their forebears such as Theda Bara and Bela Lugosi. The illustrations are very full and very good, if occasionally confusingly placed (why does Voltaire crop up on p.76?) and *slightly* over-representative of one Goth club and one Goth clothing retailer. While I thought 'dark cabaret' could have done with a mention - perhaps that's just the circles I move in - virtually everything else gets one, at least within the British Goth world: contentious subcurrents including Steampunk and Cybergoth are deftly treated and describing the profound effect of the murder of Sophie Lancaster leads to some insightful thoughts about the political significance of simply being insistently individual.
Because Goth is a shapeshifting thing which doesn't actually have a stable 'ancestry' but continually discovers new antecedents as it moves forward, setting out to tell its story is a near-foolhardy enterprise - but I think the author rather pulls it off. At the very least, he manages to outline a convincing and fun narrative which deserves to be read and enjoyed.