I’ve spent a lot of my life attempting to fit in, usually with disappointing results. I think I’m a big part of the issue. Not in a bad way, though. Even though I have a personality that tends towards obsession and immersion, I always seem to hold back a little bit so that I don’t completely fit with any given crowd or subculture. Of course, there are some attempts that were just doomed from the start.
I started kindergarten as part of the larger group of kids, where everyone goes to everyone else’s birthday parties and we all labor under the delusion that we’ll all be friends forever (this is foreshadowing a post coming soon, but I swear they’re different). By first grade the illusion begins to dissipate and social groups start forming amonst kids. By fourth grade, any pretensions that we were not going to divide into cliques has been cast aside. It’s difficult, but not impossible to try and re-invent yourself and cross group boundaries from here on out without the assistance of moving to a new place or drastic, life-altering changes and events. By fourth grade, I was firmly in the outcast group at my school. There were four of us, defined only by the fact that we didn’t fit into any other category. None of us were jocks or wealthy or popular or exceedingly funny, so together we remained. As time went on, even the four of us drifted apart or moved away, and so by eighth grade I found myself seeking a new tribe to belong to.
I don’t use the word “tribe” here lightly. I believe that humans are and always have been a tribal culture.We each identify with some group of people with shared ideals and principles, or sometimes just shared geography. These groupings help define us, and give us belonging that we all need, even the extremely socially awkward. I’ll probably talk more about tribalism in a later post, suffice to say now that I was feeling “without tribe” in eighth grade and was desperately seeking a new group to surround myself with. I started to suppress my nerdy nature, talking less about swords and sorcery and superheroes and decided to wade into the social strata to redefine myself. Still being on the short side and the chubby side of the spectrum, I new I had no hope of suddenly developing impressive athletic abilities, so I opted to fit in with the popular kids who got good grades.
I had two things working against me on this. First, there were no guys in this particular group that were not good at sports, so I would have to rely on smarts and wit. Second, I was not good at getting good grades. I was smart and capable, but lacked the desire to apply myself. So, doomed from the start, I made attempts to break in. They went as expected, and eighth grade was not a good time for me.
High school came, and I decided to go back to my roots. I embraced my inherent nerdiness and tried to go full tilt at being a nerd. I was not expecting it, but there were issues with this as well. For example, I really liked comic books, but not in general like many of my nerdy kin. They read everything, from all the Marvel to all the DC to all the Image comics. They read a bunch of Dark House and were up on all the current goings on with Valiant, too. I would wager some of them read Archie comics, as well, just because they were comics. But I liked specific comics. I liked the X-Men, but wasn’t a big fan of Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four. I didn’t like any DC. I liked a lot of Image, but not all of it. I didn’t get into much else. It was a classic case of me liking just what I liked, and not always being able to keep up when the conversation strayed into other territory. The same was true of that other pillar of the nerd community, the role playing game. I really enjoyed Shadowrun, and liked Dungeons & Dragons quite a bit. But that was it. I wasn’t well versed in all the systems, I didn’t automatically know the THAC0 of a frost giant or which die to roll for a bastard sword. I didn’t have the seemingly per-requisite knowledge of anime either. So for all my attempts to fully integrate with those who I was pretty sure were truly “my people,” I was still falling short.
Over the course of four years, I would make attempts to fit in with the kids in band and in drama club. I would try to hang out with the other fans of grunge and metal music. I made a couple more attempts at the nerds and the popular kids. Nothing was successful. So I just focused on college as a way to find my tribe.
In college, I was given a clean slate. No one there new “high school me,” so I could be anything I wanted to be. My past was mine to craft as I wished, and I thought this would be my best chance to find my tribe. Unfortunately, instead of wearing one outfit well to blend in with a new group, I just wore a bunch of mismatched pieces of various cultures. My strongest attempt to “fit” with a group was with my fellow art students. Once again, I found there were large gaps in my overall knowledge that kept me from fully embracing the art scene. I had no idea who Kandinsky was, or what made Monet great, or what Yves Kline was trying to achieve. I knew what I liked, and I enjoyed making art and being creative. In the end, it wasn’t enough to make me feel like anything more than a spectator.
After college and proceeding forward, there were other attempts to find my tribe. I even tried to be a dudebro juggalo for a bit (spoiler alert: none of the bands from that era of my life made the final list, so I’m not sure if I’ll ever discuss it more than this mention). But for the purposes of this post, which has really rambled on long enough, I’m going to focus on just one attempt. For many years, I tried to be a part of the gothic/industrial scene.
It started for a few reasons. For one, I really liked a lot of the music, mostly on the industrial and EBM side, but a little darkwave wasn’t bad. This (last) week’s artist is just one example. There are more that didn’t make the list, and more coming up on it later. I really dug the music. It has been a staple of my music collection since high school. So I had that going for me. Another reason was the aesthetic. I am a night person. I like darker spaces. I’ve never been a beach person, and I’m more fond of thunderstorms than I am of sunny days. Plus, I enjoy both baroque and Gothic architecture, as well as good dose of urban decay and ruin porn (seriously, the abandoned mall website is amazing and I can get lost there for hours). So all the spooky, nighttime themes of the scene seemed a good fit. The final reason was the women. Goth girls are hot. I can’t explain it. I don’t have a vampire fetish or anything, but combining pale skin and dark hair has always been a thing for me. Throw in some leather and dark lipstick and I’m sold. So I figured, with all this going for me, I ad enough cred to start to make my way into the scene. Maybe I would bring back the wallet chain and the steel-toed boots. I had plenty of black clothing to start. What could go wrong?
My first forays into the scene came when I was living in Bowling Green, Ohio. There was a club there called Uptown (it was upstairs from the club named Downtown) that held a “goth night” every Wednesday. I was working overnight swing shifts at the time, so I typically had every other Wednesday off. I could ill afford to go out too much and run up huge bar tabs at that time, but me and my roommate would dutifully go almost every time we could. The DJ there was guy named Big Mike. He was a really nice guy, built like a brick shithouse. He had a spiked collar, and that was truly the only way you knew where his neck was. He shaved his head and wore black shirts, black jeans and boots exclusively. He was a Satanist in the truest sense. He didn’t sacrifice cats and goats on the full moon or anything like that, he just followed the teachings of Lucifer in the importance of pride and self-promotion. When he was a DJ, though, he went by the name “The Gothfather.” He was pretty good, but almost always played certain staples. You were guaranteed to hear O, Fortuna by Apotheosis and Megalomaniac by KMFDM. You would usually here a couple of songs that weren’t quite part of the goth/industrial scene, like Voodoo by Godsmack. Part of this was more than likely due to the lack of strength in the Bowling Green goth scene, but I’m sure part of it was because he liked watching the goth girls act like strippers whenever it came on. There was sooooooooo much slow gyration of hips with eyes closed, usually with one or both arms held above their heads. Breasts were grasped and squeezed by their owners. Unwitting chairs near the dance floor got grinded more than I ever did. It was a nice entry point to the scene. I felt comfortable there. I actually felt comfortable enough to ask one of those girls out on a date outside of goth night. We had coffee, talked about ourselves and our dreams and goals, went back to my apartment and watched Labyrinth, and then I drove her home. We didn’t have a second date. I’m quite sure why, though I have some theories. But that’s not important. Overall, I started to feel like maybe I had found my tribe. I was a little bothered by the abandon and nihilism of some of the members of my new tribe. These were not instincts I was comfortable giving in to. But I was in for some of the ride, and was starting to feel accepted by these people.
One of my co-workers was also a frequenter of goth night. He worked the same shift as me, and seemed to be pretty important in the “scene,” so naturally I was intimidated by him. He noticed me and my roommate at more and more Wednesday nights, and started talking to us not only there, but at work. His name was Chris. He was about ten years older than me, and was much more in the scene than I even knew existed. I saw him as a possible mentor in my journey into my new tribe and its customs. And he provided. One Friday morning, as we were about to leave work, he approached me and my roommate and asked what we were up to that night. We had a stimulating night of Monster Rancher 2 in mind, so we were open to suggestions. He asked us how we felt about Detroit. I told him I had never been. Then he told us about City Club. It was a goth/industrial club in Detroit that we would never find if we didn’t know someone who had been there, and it was much better than the sub-par (his words) goth night in Bowling Green. So we agreed, and that night we piled into my roommates red Chevy Corsica and headed north, dressed in our best scene attire. Chris sported his usual black shirt and jeans combo with his trademark black trench coat. I was rocking a black button up, unbuttoned, with a KMFDM shirt and my ripped black jeans. my roommate Jeremy had a black crushed-velvet shirt with a dragon on the back. My other friend Jeremy had a prison jump suit, bright orange and with the words “Mental Asylum” stenciled on the back. Unfortunately, just past the Michigan border, the alternator died on our noble chariot, and we had to get the car towed all the way back to Bowling Green and get some friends to pick us up. The bright side was that it was pretty amusing to watch people at a random rest stop in Michigan react to my friend wandering the store in an orange prison jump suit.
Two weeks later, after getting the car fixed, we gave it another try. Chris really wasn’t kidding about it being hard to find. A few blocks from the baseball stadium, there was a Ramada Inn. Behind the Ramada was a poorly lit but well guarded parking lot. That’s where Chris told us to park. The amount of black vinyl and eye shadow on the other patrons in the lot was the only reason I knew we were in the right place. We parked, then went around the side of the building to a fire door. The door had no markings of any kind to indicate what was behind it. We opened the door to a rather mundane and also badly lit staircase going down. After descending one level, the walls were becoming more emblazoned with graffiti and artwork from The Nightmare Before Christmas. We got in line on the stairs behind a bunch of other patrons hoping to get in. This was a lot less like Bowling Green, where we turned our five dollars over at the booth and showed our IDs before going up to the club. I could see the group a few people ahead of us forking over twenty dollars a piece before showing their IDs and proceeding to one of tow large bouncers performing pat downs on everybody entering. I turned to Chis to ask him what the cover charge was here. With the recent car repairs, I was on a limited budget and didn’t want to blow twenty of it on just the door. He told me not to worry about it. I didn’t understand, but I trusted in my Goth Yoda to lead me correctly. The guy in front of me in line had a bright Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and flip flops. How he even got there, I have no clue. The guy at the door looked at him, gave him a once over, checked his ID and said “Thirty bucks.” Hawaiian shirt man handed over the money and went in to be patted down. I stepped up and handed over my ID. The guy gave me the same once over, handed back my ID, and gestured for me to go in. Apparently, cover charge is based on whether the guy at the door thinks you belong.
I’ve described the basic layout of city club before, weeks ago in my post about Entrance Music, so I’m not going to rehash those details here. Once we made our way to the giant ballroom they used for a dance floor, we settled in to a table. I felt a little out of my depth, to be honest. I was by no means any big shit at Uptown’s goth night, but I also never felt like a poseur trying hard to fit in where he didn’t belong. Here, I was definitely towards the bottom of the food chain, at least among the people who didn’t have to pay a cover. I knew very few of the songs that they played (though I would come to know a lot of them, and still listen to some of them to this day). My attire seemed shabby compared to the ensembles that most people here were sporting. The amount of vinyl, leather and mesh was far beyond what I knew of the “goth scene” I had been exposed to. And, in stark contrast to the (relatively) open and accepting scene in Bowling Green, there was definitely an established hierarchy to the people here. There appeared to be a ruling class, like an aristocracy. They had tables in a raised area near the dance floor, and when they danced, people were moved out of their way by what can only be described as servants or in some cases “enforcers.” Their requests were played almost instantly, as they would talk to a waitress, and the waitress would talk go to the DJ booth right after. The rest of us made requests on a sheet of paper outside the back door of the DJ booth. I was way out of my depth, so I did what any twenty-two year old does when confronted with an situation he doesn’t understand. I drank heavily. To be honest, their drink prices were quite reasonable, even for top shelf stuff.
City Club was truly an experience. I saw fights. I saw girls wearing nothing but boots, fishnets, a thong and strategically placed electrical tape. I saw guys with some epic liberty spikes. I saw a couple having sex on a bench on the side of the dance floor. They remained fully clothed, but she had a skirt and he obviously was having a good time while she rode him. I saw people passed in their own vomit on the couches near the bathroom. I saw a guy shooting up while leaning on the wall between the urinals. I saw a girl go down on another girl in the middle of the dance floor. It was a wild place. Every other time we went, I would be the designated driver for our trip home. I would still drink, just not as much. And since last call was around 2am but we never left earlier than 4am, I always had plenty of time to sober up. Our little group made the trip up to Detroit probably a dozen or more times, and it was always an adventure. There was so much eye candy for a single guy to gawk at awkwardly until they noticed. However, I never spoke to anyone there besides my friends, the bartender (just ordering drinks, not conversation) and the waitresses with the test tube shots (again, nothing beyond “can we get four of those over here”). I stopped going to City Club around the same time I started dating the woman who would become my wife. She wasn’t the reason I stopped going, mind you. I also lost my job around that time (kind of her fault, but that’s another story), so I really didn’t have the money to blow on a Friday of drinking in Detroit. Also, it wasn’t really my new girlfriend’s scene, and it would be rude to go there and uncomfortably stare at other women just as I was trying to focus time on one that I could actually talk to. And so, my City Club days came to an end.
When I moved to Columbus, I made one last stab at the goth scene. I went to Outland (the original), but I had definitely moved on by that time. I no longer held allusions of finding some pale girl in tight leather, I already had something better than that. My musical tastes were no longer as laser focused on metal and industrial as they had been. I had far less income that I considered disposable. And the scene in Columbus seemed even more established and entrenched against newcomers than the one in Detroit. It was then that I finally gave up any notion that the goth/industrial scene was my tribe.
Funny enough, I ended up becoming close friends with some people who were in the scene in Columbus, but through other connections and not due to effort to break in to their clique.
I did end up finding my tribe, but that’s a subject for a different post. At this point, this one has rambled long enough and taken me too long to write. I don’t regret my efforts to fit in to the goth/industrial scene. I got exposed to a lot of great music, I got some pretty good stories out of it. I got some friends out of it. It just wasn’t where I truly belonged, but sometimes you need to try to find that out.