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Grand gothic grimoire
on 2 August 2002
Many of my friends had been waiting for this book for a long time. I must admit I was getting a little irritated by its non-appearance. Having got my claws on it, however, I can confirm that it's been worth the wait.
I was sceptical at first of the book's claim to be "a connoisseur's guide to dark culture", but having read it, I was very pleasantly surprised. Baddeley really does know his stuff. He may not scrape the barrel for every band that ever romanticised death, every gothic horror novel or horror movie, but his selectiveness makes his book all the stronger.
My one criticism of his concept, is that it's predominantly "a guide to Gothic" rather than the more ambiguous "dark" culture: tracing the roots back to the early Gothic novelists, the author takes us through the birth of the horror movie in Germany, Hammer horror, Anne Rice's Lestat cycle (thankfully omitting that execrable Queen of the Damned film), Gothic horror archetypes on TV (from Morticia to Angel), and the darker elements of rock music. Round about midway, we reach the point where "Gothic" is no longer just a style or an aesthetic, but a subculture: from there, we traverse the wilder shores of fetish clubs, the present-day vampire scene, and of course Goth Rock.
It's all vividly (and sometimes beautifully) illustrated. Pictures range from photos provided by Dark Angel clothing designers - minor quibble number two: they are not a "fashion house": no one in thrall to Gothic style is going to wear a yellow tracksuit next year because "fashion" so dictates - to fetish and vampire club glamour shots and Valor from Christian Death sucking blood from the wrist of his partner Maitri. There are some great shots from the Carnival of Souls, showing how Goth can be fun, and some arresting images created by the publishers of the short-lived but influential Redeemer magazine. In fitting tribute, there are a number of pictures of Siouxsie over the course of a decade, showing that, however her image changed, she remained Goth icon par excellence, and it's refreshing, not to say gentlemanly, of the author to belatedly give Nico her dues as one of the original Gothic performers. It's also gratifying to see pictures of Goth girls in the style and fetish chapters which show that modern women don't have to become starved, androgynised second-class men. And now folks, time for minor quibble number three: it's a shame that amongst all the sumptuous images, though the faces of writers Lord Byron and the rather obscure Charles Maturin grace Goth Chic's pages, no room could be found for the melancholic features of the divinely morbid Poe. This irks a little, but being the only real criticism I have, and given that the text pays proper tribute, the author is forgiven.
If it sounds bewilderingly diverse, it's "Gothic" that confuses, not Goth Chic. "Gothic", Baddeley writes in his introduction, "writhes and squirms, proving difficult to pin down." Goth Chic's triumph is that it takes this tangled mass and gradually pulls it into focus, defining the term by following its evolution from the birth of Gothic literature, through the Romantic poets, the 1890s Decadent authors, the early black and white horror films, right through to the post-punk Goth bands and the thriving, undead and kicking Goth scene of today.
It was also disconcerting to see so-called "Gothic metal" bands granted prominence in the final chapter. As Baddeley sums it up, "Goth extols the esoteric and unusual . . . playfulness, theatricality and love of the arcane,' - where do motorbike leathers and howling guitars fit into that? Although I accept that to some this is a part of it all, for me this was a nod to the 'dark' of Goth Chic's subtitle. I would have appreciated someone of Baddeley's obvious insight making his work a manifesto rather than the thorough depiction that Goth Chic is. This is not, however, what Goth Chic sets out to do. What it attempts, it achieves, for Goth Chic makes the entire history of "the Gothic aesthetic" hang together, and you can't see the join. The haunted present and the Gothic past walk together, hand in skeletal hand.
I have never made any bones (ahem) about standing up to be counted as a Goth. If my love of "graveyard romanticism" flies in the face of our Pop Idol and Big Brother-fed culture, then, mock if you like, but to me it's the most positive thing imaginable. To some people, "Gothic" equates as dressing up in black at weekends, and applying extra hairspray. To me, it's something much more serious. As such, I was prepared to damn Goth Chic if it didn't live up to the potential of the subject. But it's the most consistently entertaining and strikingly illustrated book I've yet encountered on Gothic culture. I can think of no higher praise.