Editorial note: In 2012 I wrote a post about “gothic sonic identity”, coming out of conversation with Tripp Hudgins around his Ph.D. work in Music and Liturgy. I had intended to write a whole series of posts along these lines. They never came about. Here I might be resurrecting this thread we’ll see if any more comes toying with the idea of “sonic identity”. But there’s at least one more in this series- Priestly Goth.
Tripp recently tagged me in a Facebook meme asking to list the 12 albums that were significant for you and have remained with you through the years. Not surprising Tripp’s list to my eyes was fairly eclectic and included some albums that indicated he has some goth sensibilities. Others I noticed also had want seemed to me to be somewhat diverse list of albums and artists. I on the other hand mostly ended up listing albums and artist that are more or less punk or goth. The two exceptions were Petra and U2.
This surprised me. In high school I listened mostly to Christian Rock , like Petra, Stryper, Steve Taylor, Lifesavers Underground (a goth iteration of the artist Mike Knott), The Choir, etc. Well I suppose more accurately I should say I owned only albums from Christian Rock acts. I did, however through radio and friends, listen much more broadly than the albums I owned. By the end of high school beginning of college I began to purchase “secular” albums, as the CCM language put it. However I didn’t purchase a “goth” album until Depech Mode”s Violator came out in 1990. The second such album was Wish by the Cure (a more solidly goth band ). What fascinates me is that neither of these albums made the list.
The song Judas Kiss. on Petra’s More Power to Ya album, made a little fun of the whole backward masking controversy, because running records backwards will always sound creepy. In some sense in that album was the deconstruction of the whole CCM scene or at least More Power To Ya gave me permission to love Rock-N-Roll and be a Christian.
However, I already loved Rock. Around 1979 I was given my own stereo system to have in my room (radio, record player and cassette deck) On that radio alone in my room between 1979 and 1982 I’d tune into an AM station that I’d at times pick up in the early evenings. Thanks to that station I heard Punk Rock for the first time. Though I wasn’t listening to Punk Rock at the appropriate decibels lest my parents would take interest in what I was listening. On that station I first heard the Dead Kennedy’s and Black Flag, as well as others, but those two punk bands I continued to follow in High school.
I’ve never owned a Dead Kennedys Album, and yet I know all the songs from Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. I’m not sure exactly how. My older half-brother, who lived with us between 1980 and 1982 may have had the album though he was not really Punk he was more hard rock/Heavy Metal fan.
Christian Death and Jesus and Mary Chain made the list, though I haven’t (oddly enough) ever owned their albums. I account for this oddity because once I identified as goth, the identity was explicitly tied with the dance club, and not necessarily the music I listened to at home. But I heard Christian Death and Jesus and Mary chain before ever frequenting a goth club. I recall in college hanging out with friends and friends of friends and listening to these albums. The first time I heard Christian Death Only Theater of Pain was in the gothed out room of someone I had just met who was a good friend of one of my good friends. I was at home, Christian Death spoke to me in ways I still can’t entirely account for. I don’t have such a firm memory of when I first heard Jesus and Mary Chain, but I know every song on that album.
Lifesavers Underground I remember purchasing just before going to high school winter camp, for reasons I don’t recall I was miserable and wasn’t enjoying the company of my fellow Christians, my only other recollection from that camp was sitting and listening on my Walkman to Shaded Pain. Listening to that album now, I have no idea why I didn’t make the connection with goth at that time. While Mike Knott certainly transcends goth in his oeuvre as a musician, LSU and especially shaded pain to my mind are quintessentially goth/dark-wave
These anecdotes point out that what I discovered in the 12 albums meme: that my goth/punk sonic identity runs deep, and that even at times when my tastes were supposed to be directed in other ways, I was drawn first to punk and then what would become known as goth. From early on I’ve been at home in the sounds of punk and goth, they have deep resonance and albums I’ve never owned have continued to carry deep meaning and significance for me.