he scene in Tampa and the Bay area is like" as reported by our local newspaper The St. Petersburg Times (Now the Tampabay Times)
G O T H I C
The subculture that will not die
BY: Michael Canning
A version of this story appeared in the Tampa Weekend section of the Times.
They try to seem not of this place. They certainly look not of this era. Their black clothes, their pale skin, their pagan and Christian jewelry evoke more dramatic times: the Transylvania of Vlad the Impaler, England beset by Romantics, Salem during the witch trials. Or maybe, for those who slagged off history class, the mall, circa 1982. The acolytes of the subculture known as Goth aspire to an aesthetic that has endured through the ages as surely as death and plague. Today's Goths are unlikely enough, as subcultures go. Can punk rockers or ravers claim a connection with two Germanic tribes, the Visigoths and Ostrogoths, who helped destroy the West Roman Empire 18 centuries ago? Tribes whose partial name would be loaned to a monumental style of art and architecture in the Middle Ages, and then later transferred to a style of fiction that swept England during the 1700s and 1800s? And how unlikely is Tampa as a mecca for these modern-day disciples of the darker side of life? For starters, the city's a little short on magnificent cathedrals. Imagine having to wear heavy black clothes in Florida's heat and humidity. And keeping your skin the appropriate pasty pallor can't be easy here. Believe it or not, Tampa's Gothic scene has a reputation as one of the largest in the country.
"San Francisco has probably got the biggest scene in the United States, but we are definitely in the top 10,'' says Tampa Goth Shantelle Spero, 29. She has visited many U.S. cities, and says that "For the size of our city, (this scene) is amazing.'' Four Tampa nightclubs now have an unofficial Goth night: the Castle on Fridays, and Revolution, Empire and the Edge on Wednesdays. If you like to dress like a vampire, listen to music that many people would consider downright dreary, and maybe even hang out at cemeteries to get away from it all, you might be glad to have one nightspot at which to meet your peers. Four must seem like Valhalla. "We are at a peak right now,'' says Dana Rizzuto, who at 33 considers himself an elder of Tampa's Goth scene.
There's even a clothing and accessories store that caters to local Goths. Goth Industry Retail on N 30th Street near Busch Gardens combines Goth, industrial and some rave fashions in a small store that opened in November. Owner Alain Haris admits that being a Goth can be expensive. "Yeah, 'cause you've got to have nicer clothes, and better makeup. And the albums cost more. Most of them are imports. California has a big scene. They have a lot of people here in America doing it, but the main scene is from England and Germany.'' Haris agrees that the Tampa scene has never been bigger. "For the size of this town, it is pretty good.''
Which begs the question: Why Tampa? Other Goth hotbeds are easy to rationalize. San Francisco for its cultural tolerance and frequent fog. Chicago for its dreary weather and status as the U.S. capital of industrial music, a cousin of Goth. New Orleans for its rich history and prominence in Anne Rice's vampire novels. In Tampa there's an abundance of hot sun and bad football. And also, at one point, death metal bands. Spero hypothesizes that people who tired of that extreme, dark mutant of heavy metal saw Goth as the next logical step. "I know that some of the older people in the (Goth) scene were originally death metal. Those people were dressing in black, too. I was never a part of that, but somehow a lot of people crossed over.'' Spero acknowledges the popularity of paganism as a common thread between Goth and death metal. "I can't say that all Gothics are into magic, and all Gothics are into paganism, but I don't know many Gothics who are Christian, or who have any Christian beliefs.'' Paganism aside, modern-day Goths aren't exactly roving bands of barbarians elevating rape and pillage to an art form. They evolved as fans of Goth rock, an offshoot of late 1970s British punk rock that was influenced by the dark atmospherics of all things Gothic, particularly literature and films. "When it initially started out it was almost an extension of punk,'' says Ohio Goth musician Mike Van Portfleet, "in that it was very drum-oriented, guitar-based, a typical band set-up. And very tribal, very powerful.''
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If all this talk about hanging out in graveyards and listening to dark dungeon music has you rolling your eyes, realize that as much as Goths cherish their esoteric cultural station, society's resulting misconceptions of them can be a real cross to bear. Spero, who works as a manager at Alternative Record Store in North Tampa, is a 15-year veteran of the Goth scene and has borne the brunt of public misunderstandings. "Even in Tampa,'' she says, "where the scene is this big, we still get harassed. I was at Target once last month ? this was the only one that happened recently that was way obvious ? and there was a group of girls who were terribly loud. One of them screamed out "Skeleton head woman!' and they just laughed and laughed.'' Spero said other common misconceptions are that Goths are obsessed with dying and are in mourning. "It's not like a bunch of kids in a warehouse some place going, "Hey, let's make some music, let's say something dark about vampires.' It's not like that. It's a lot more pretty.'' And with that Spero is striking very close to the heart of Goth's appeal to its disciples. "I like to be surrounded by pretty things. I always have. I've always loved to play dress up, and I just never stop. My house is filled with antiques; I'm a collector. Most of my friends are very pretty and very well educated, and dress very, very well, to the point where we look obscene. "I'm attracted to the beauty of the darker side; always have been,'' Spero adds quietly. "I find the beauty and eloquence in spending the afternoon having a picnic in a graveyard. I like the quiet peace of the tranquil beauty of the eventual death.'' For Kevin Spooner, 23, "the idea is to stand out within your crowd, and that's what I like to think I do.'' Standing 6 feet 4 and dressed in a tailor-made variant of an English navy coat, vinyl pants and riding boots
( all black of course ) it's all he can do not to stand out. Or to take this Goth business too seriously. "A lot of people on the scene reject anything that isn't completely schlocky,'' he laughed. "I try to keep things out of the realm of silliness. There's a lot of people in this whole clique who can't laugh at themselves.'' Some may say that Goth is a way of escaping reality. Kym Gworek, 23, would disagree. "I think we're pretty much based in reality, because you have to be able to accept who you are to realize that you're different, and to be able to live this way.'' Outsiders might be surprised to know that Goths cut a mean rug. Typical Goth dancing is a highly individualistic mixture of flowing movements and statuesque contortions. Gworek and Dana Rizzuto, who have extensive dance training, command particular respect on the floor.
"It's very easy,'' Rizzuto insisted. "You feel it. You get on the floor, and you don't care what anybody thinks, what they're looking at. You can be standing still, barely wavering, and that's all that it takes.'' "On the other hand,'' said James Cornwell, 23, "there is a great sense on that dance floor of the drama queen. That's part of the exhibitionist thing. You've got to be able to get on the dance floor and be seen. How many people on that floor either are or have been at some point theater majors? Probably 95 percent.'' Indeed, all present attested to being former drama students. All except Cornwell were raised as Catholics, but no longer practice that faith. Gworek practices Wicca, and Rizzuto is a pagan.
Homogeny among the profiles of Goths comes as no surprise to Sherri Cavan, a sociology professor at San Francisco State University. Living in the capital of U.S. Goth scenes, she sees her share of Goths. "In fact I was at a garage sale the other day in Haight-Ashbury and somebody was selling off their Goth wardrobe.''
Lots of ex-Catholics in the Goth ranks tallies for her. "Yeah, that would make sense,'' Cavan says, "because this is like the dark side of Catholicism, isn't it?'' She also surmises that they all come from the suburbs, and they're "99.7 percent white.'' "If you're hardscrabble, then you want to get into conventional culture. But if you've already experienced the conventional culture and find it lacking in something, then you go down to some subculture. Almost all the subcultures that you find in our society are for the most part white variants of middle class.'' Coincidentally, Cavan is the author of the 1979 book Twentieth Century Gothic; America's Nixon. "I had a very specific under standing of what Gothic meant in that context,'' she says. "When (the Goths) use Gothic, I don't think that they use in that way,'' she adds, deadpan. "They do have a very elaborate ideology, and that ideology is manifest in their dress. It seems to be very "end of 20th century' alienation, in which a lot of effort and activity goes into producing an illusion that allows them to make contact with the past, and also the dark side of culture.''
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According to Tampa's Goths, at the end of the day the scene is a source of fellowship and comfort, not despair and alienation. Gworek moved to Tampa a year ago, coming from the much bigger Chicago Goth scene. Though she says Tampa's charms can't match those of the Windy City, she prefers this Goth scene. "Here, there's more of a sense of a family. You know one person, and you're going to know everyone through that person.'' "I have known a lot of people,'' adds Rizzuto, "who were raised here and they all decided, "I hate Tampa. I have to get out of here.' They leave, and within six months to a year they come back saying, "I am so sorry I ever left.' Because the scene in Atlanta, the scene in New Orleans, the scene the scene in New Orleans, the scene in New York City sucks. And they all come back because this is family.''
Where to go Goth:
These Tampa nightclubs offer a Goth night.
THE CASTLE: Fridays, 2004 N 16th St., Ybor City, 813-247-7547.
EMPIRE: Wednesdays, 1902 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City, 247-2582.
AT: lifestyle alternative fashion business guideline
CR: DAN McDUFFIE
CU: Kym Gworek gets Gothic outside The Castle bar in Ybor City.
ED: 0 SOUTH PINELLAS
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St. Petersburg Times
Publication date: 6/3/97