22 May 2021

The bands that made me a darkling

Something I've been considering lately is how I became the person I am today.

Some people breeze through life; I'm not one of those people. At times, life has been traumatic, and the events of 2020 didn't help. However, through the turbulence of these times, I've discovered an online community of music fans who've kept me sane and helped me to reconnect with the music I grew up with as a teenager. I firmly believe the music you listen to as a teen stays with you for your entire life, and having conversations with these likeminded - sometimes fanatical - fans has caused me to ask the question: which bands 'corrupted' me, turning me from an innocent teenager into a dark goth fiend?

1. Duran Duran

I'll begin with Duran Duran. In 1981, the first album I ever bought was Duran Duran's self-titled album. It was incredible at the time - no other bands sounded quite like they did. They created a fun blend of funky electro and glamorous romanticism that swept me off my feet, as a 12 year old living in nowheresville in Australia. Not only did they sound different, they looked amazing. All credit to teenage hormones, no doubt, but John Taylor and Nick Rhodes quickly became my obsession.

I lived and breathed Duran Duran, and each month I would stalk my local newsagent waiting for the latest copy of Smash Hits magazine to hit the stands. Nothing was as immediate back then as it is now, and patience was a virtue. We waited for albums to be shipped from the UK or the US to Australia, we waited to read about bands through magazines from far off lands, we even joined fan clubs that required a posted letter to the UK to start the membership. I feel like that created an element of expectation and excitement that's missing in today's instant gratification landscape.

Of all the great songs on the Duran Duran album, Careless memories was one that stood out. In the music video, Simon Le Bon was just so dramatic, the band ridiculously beautiful - how could John Taylor's chiseled chin be real, but it is - and yet they seemed self conscious about being in a video. Always joking around, trying to look serious but not really succeeding. It was one of the attributes I loved about them and still do: they seem to have a very good sense of humour. It's been obvious from the get-go that Nick Rhodes has been in charge of their image, and from day one the band connected into the fashion of the time and were one of the forerunners of the music video as a mini movie format.

Duran Duran awakened something in me. They were fun, fashionable, edgy and vastly underrated. Thus began my obsession with striped t-shirts and boys who wore eyeliner and dyed their hair. Although not Blitz kids, Duran Duran had an art-school aesthetic and made me aware of a world entirely different to my own, and infinitely more exciting.

Their next album, Rio, cemented by love for the band...and saxaphones...and it wasn't until after Seven and the ragged tiger that my appreciation began to wane.


2. Madonna

It's true: I was a Madonna fan. In my teens I did 'modern dance' - you know the dance style in Billy Idol's Flesh for Fantasy music video?...that - so when I saw Madonna leaping around in her music videos wearing crucifixes, fishnet and lots of eyeliner I was hooked.

In 1983, when I was 14, I bought her self-titled album and used to dance around my lounge room when my parents were out, singing into a hairbrush. Yeah, we really did that sort of thing in the '80s. The album had so many great songs on it: Holiday, Borderline, Lucky star. But it was the Burning up music video that caught my attention.

She was so sexy, but not in a simpering way. She was strong, sexually aggressive, challenging. I started wearing black eyeliner, tube skirts and lace gloves, and convinced mum to sew me a few batwing fishnet tops. I went to a Catholic shop in Brisbane and bought my first set of black rosary beads.

Madonna and Duran Duran were my gateway to goth. Who knew?

3. Sisters of Mercy

Now, when I say I love 'Sisters of Mercy' I mean the line-up before the 1985 split. Integral to my appreciation of the band back then was the juxtaposition of Craig Adams' insistent, scuzzy, dirty bass and Wayne Hussey's ethereal guitar, both of whom later went on to form The Mission UK.

Andrew Eldritch. Say what you may about the dark lord of...no, wait, I can't say 'goth' and Eldritch in the same sentence or he will strike me down. Eldritch had a presence, and he sang about dank reality in a way that was dramatically and darkly romantic. The band's cover of Emma still sends shivers down my spine because it was like Eldritch was giving birth to the song onstage when he sang it live...powerful.

But I digress. I saw the music video for No time to cry on TV and ran out the next day to order First and last and always from my local record shop. You can't imagine how it felt for a lonely, melancholic 16 year old living in a conservative town to hear that album for the first time. It felt like my heart was in sync with this band. They were absolutely brilliant and now, thanks to YouTube I get to discover such gems as the final Royal Albert Hall 'Wake' gig, as well as the earlier gigs from the first formation of the band. They remain one of my favourite bands.

Once again hormones had a big part to play in my initial attraction to the band, in particular to Adams. And thus began my obsession with men with long black hair and peaches and cream complexions. (Those British men really were gorgeous in the '80s...) I started wearing little round black glasses like Adams did in the music video, started wearing even more black clothing, and the slide into 'alternative' was definitely in motion.

To his credit, even without hair these days, Adams is still gorgeous. But I'll leave the discussion about him to another more detailed post...

4. The Cure

In 1985 I finally got around to buying a Cure album: The head on the door. While The Cure started off as a post-punk band, by this time Robert Smith was displaying his brilliance as one of the best pop song writers of my lifetime. The tracks on this album were whimsical and absurd, with Smith's iconic big hair/red lips a constant image on every music video show.

Listening to their music was like floating on a fluffy cloud of the bizarre. It was danceable, fun, crazy, eccentric and the band was fairly androgynous. Smith was the kind of guy we all wished we were friends with. He seemed sweet, silly and quirky with a quick wit.

In between days was the first music video I saw from this album and it drew me further into the alternative music scene, but in a completely different direction to Sisters. It astounded me at the time how people would use the term 'goth' to describe any band that sported black hair and clothes, despite the music styles of these bands being so completely different from each other.

5. The Cult

In 1985 (I mean, what an INCREDIBLE year for alternative music, right?!) The Cult released their second album, Love. From the first jangly guitar notes of She sells sanctuary, what WAS this trippy music, man? At the time, I knew nothing of Southern Death Cult or the band's previous history; a downside to living in Australia at the time. In the music video I saw an absolutely stunning guy with long black hair wailing like a banshee - Ian Astbury - and another guy with a bleached rockabilly style hairdo - Billy Duffy - and LOTS of paisley. Who were these guys??

The Cult's special blend of mysticism, tribalism, and 1950s and 1960s music influences - blended with their punk background - created a unique sound that foreshadowed their mutation into a hugely popular anthemic rock band.

When I finally had the opportunity to see The Cult perform live for the first time a couple of years later, it was during the Electric tour. The day after the gig, the band signed my Love album at a record fair...although Duffy's signature is missing as he'd injured his foot at the gig kicking something, no doubt. Astbury signed it 'Wolf Child'.

My love of The Cult was wrapped up in memories of the music I'd grown up with as a child: my older brother's love of glam rock and '60s music, and my parent's love of 1950s rockabilly.

6. Siouxsie and the Banshees

I knew that Siouxsie and the Banshees had been around since the late '70s, but the first time I bought one of their albums was when Tinderbox was released in 1986. By that time, I was 17 and well on my way to 'gothdom'. What the Sisters began, and The Cure nudged, Siouxsie finished. Off with my long blonde hair, replaced with a purple and black bob that used to be teased sky-high into a baby hawk. It was all my private school would let me get away with at the time, but it was enough to make me feel like I finally looked on the outside like I'd been feeling on the inside.

I believe the first music video I saw was Cities in dust and, from what appeared to be boiling blood at the beginning of the clip to the exotic music, it was strange and exciting. It sounded unlike anything I'd heard and Siouxsie's voice was completely unique. With this album the band had revealed a strong sound and sense of identity.

This was also the first year I started going to local goth nightclubs, and I remember the thrill of dancing to the Banshees, Sisters, The Cult and The Cure, and feeling that music pulse through the floor into my soul.

PS: Happy World Goth Day to all the fellow weirdlings xx

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