Of Goth Nostalgia

For this first Gothic Charm School of 2021, the Lady of the Manners pulled an anonymous question sent to her Tumblr inbox:

How do you deal with nostalgia as an older Goth? Sometime I just get this overwhelming sorrowful feeling where I yearn for things that don’t exist anymore. As in things about the scene that have gone away or just aren’t popular anymore. I don’t want to romanticize my past but I can’t help but feel like a relic sometimes. How do you resolve this feeling?

Oh Snarkling, the Lady of the Manners is right there with you in this. There are many, many things from Ye Olde Goth Days (Nights?) where the memories spring forth, flatteringly colored by the flickering candlelight of memory. And it takes a determined effort to also remember that the distance of time blunts the sharp, painful edges of those memories. 

On the indulge in nostalgia, wrap it around you like a velvet shroud side of things, the Lady of the Manners will page through her precious stack of Carpe Noctem, collect other vintage goth magazines (when she can afford them, because back issues of Propaganda go for mind-boggling prices), and assemble Pinterest boards to look at again and again.

Then there’s the tried-and-true method of putting on a playlist of music from the peak nostalgic era you miss (the Swirly Goths – Deep Gorgeous Cuts playlist assembled by Meredith Collins is perfect), lighting candles, pouring a glass of absinthe or Chartreuse (if you partake of Adult Beverages), and rereading the oh-so-goth books of that era. The Lady of the Manners will, of course, return to The Vampire Lestat at the drop of a lace glove, but also finds herself pulling her copy of Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite (now Billy Martin) off the shelf when nostalgia hits.

(If you want a book that perfectly encapsulates the sense of hazy 90s goth with additional vampires, In the Blood by Miranda Luna, while rough in spots, is a velvet delight.)

But the trick with indulging in nostalgia is to ponder many of the good ways that The Scene has changed over the years. Some examples of things the Lady of the Manners misses with a fierce sense of nostalgia, but has also realized the good of the modern versions:

The neighborhood where all the “weird” small shops were clustered. They were the retail neighborhood where the alternative types went to shop (window and otherwise), to go on first dates, and to hang out in general. They usually had a record store, a vintage/second-hand clothing store, a used bookstore (with at least one shop kitty), a tiny import shop that sold incense, cheap silver jewelry, and gauzy skirts and scarves, a coffee shop, and a place that had cheap, tasty food. (The Seattle version had a pizza place, Pho, and Greek.) 

And even before the pandemic, the internet (and the tech industry boom, which led to cheap rents withering away), was making this sort of weird retail area extinct. Brick and mortar shops couldn’t compete with the advantage that online shops had with lower overhead costs. 

But the internet meant that goths stuck in the middle of small town nowhere could still experience The Scene in some way. Sure, they couldn’t get the ‘zines, browse the bookstore shelves and choose a book solely on the title, cover art, or back cover blurb, and buying clothes from indie goth designers was an adventure in “this looks great in the moody catalog photo, what will it look like when it gets here”, but the trade-off of making goth less insular is worth it.

(However, the Lady of the Manners will always miss the in-real-life sensation of just wandering those neighborhoods. She fears that will be lost forever more.)

That particular fragrance we all associated with goth. Nag Champa incense, clove cigarettes, sandalwood candles, dried roses, patchouli, red wine, and the faintest hint of AquaNet. (The Lady of the Manners gets especially nostalgic about clove cigarettes, but now we all know that clove cigarettes are absolutely terrible for us, health-wise.) And again, that particular fragrance has been gilded by memory: we forget that the incense would occasionally have a bitter scorched scent, the dried roses hung on the walls didn’t always dry, but moldered instead, and most of all, while many of us associate that idealized fragrance with goth clubs, the reality included the undertones of spilled beer and vomit (if your preferred club was on the more dive-y end of things).

But! The Lady of the Manners discovered some indie perfume companies with scents that are aimed directly at nostalgic Eldergoths, without us having to impair our breathing with cloves:

  • Goth Club ’89 from Whisper Sisters. This is it. This is the fragrance the Lady of the Manners was eternally nostalgic about. It is GLORIOUS.  “If you were there, you know the smell. Heavy resins, candle smoke, nicotine, clove, incense, absinthe, with a hint of intoxicating florals and vintage dark patchouli to balance everything out.”
  • Oh Bela, also from Whisper Sisters. Take Goth Club ’89, subtract the nicotine and the absinthe, but add dust and honey. (Or at least that’s how it seems to the Lady of the Manners’ nose.) “Oh Bela – the sweetest clove, the reddest rose, the tombiest of tombs, the most velvety of velvets, the blackest of capes.” 
  • Clove Cigarette, a collaboration between Thorns Clothing and Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Sadly, it’s sold out, but there’s always a chance it will be rereleased.

Finally, did you save any of your art, journals, or letters from friends from those years? If so, pull them out and re-read them. DO NOT give in to the “cringe” mindset of “Oh G-D this is awful crap, ugh, I was so dumb”. Do not. Re-read them as what they are: a time capsule, an artifact of your younger self, and think of that younger self with fondness and compassion.

~~~~~

Come forth, oh other nostalgic spirits. What do you indulge in to relive the wistful melancholy of the past? 

7 Responses to “Of Goth Nostalgia”

  1. A Says:

    When nostalgia hits me I rewatch movies and put together playlists from the 90s. I also try to remember that I’m much wiser now than I was 20 years ago and that I’d never trade who I am now to who I was then. I think what I miss sometimes is more of a feeling than an actual time and place. Maybe that’s not what nostalgia is for everyone but for me it’s mostly about missing the feeling of everything still being ahead of me, like the first steps of a great adventure. Now close to 40, being mid-journey in this life, I remind myself that the only thing that’s ever truly real is here and now and that if I miss the past it means I need to focus on improving the present so not to feel a need for nostalgia. Because the adventure is not over!

  2. Mana Says:

    I come here, and read old posts, I teach my son phrases like friends don’t let friends dress like the crow. I watch the craft, clue, reread and watch interview with the vampire, and then I go to my closet and put on my cutest goth look and relish in the things teenage me would have died for, my black and so dark it may as well be black lipsticks and nail polishes, and put on a playlist of my favorites, and if I find my self falling too far into sadness of missing nostalgia, I draw a bath, put on my favorite modern music, that still has goth undertones at least, and drink something cozy while I just soak, then I put on my fluffy pink bathrobe, pamper my skin and change into my coziest creepy cute pajamas, and find that now is just as good if not better for me, because now I don’t have to dress differently for school, I can buy all the black boots I once coveted, and the music is always there.

  3. deadrose Says:

    I should probably sell my bottle of Clove Cigarette. Makes the husband sneeze violently.

  4. Jennifer Says:

    This post makes me nostalgic for the Vampire LARP at the university and wandering up and down The Ave. I miss the Gargoyle Statuary with a flaming passion. I miss the Mercury. Long nights cloaked in black velvet and pounding music. This was a nice little mental vacation.

  5. Amethyst Says:

    When I hear certain songs it sends me through a nostalgia deep dive. Nine Inch Nails is one of those bands that’s capable of churning the gears of the nostalgia train within me.

    It’s odd to me because I was one of those teens that would turn my nose up at something that’s too “popular” (oh, I’m trying ever so hard not to cringe). It felt as though NIN was EVERYWHERE when I was in Middle School and High School and, therefore, I wasn’t a NIN fan. I’d turn on my local Alternative radio station and without a doubt “Head Like a Hole” or “Closer” would be playing. Now that I’m older, I listen to those songs and suddenly I’m a teenager sitting on her bed with her ear to the radio. I like NIN now because of nostalgia. Oh, if teen me could look into the future and see me now she’d be quite confused. LOL!

    When I was a teen Goth there was a tingly magical sensation I’d get when I found something new that felt like home. It’s a difficult sensation to describe but I think you all understand. If a book, movie, band, outfit, cartoon, or what have you gives me that magical feeling of excitement and wonder — that feeling of being the wide eyed teen Goth — I know it’s something I’ll love forever. Now that I’m older, nostalgia has become a beacon to find new things that feel like home.

    This helped me a lot as the modern scene took a turn where it no longer
    felt like home to me (nothing particularly negative. It just started encapsulating things that I don’t find particularly interesting). I’ve found that, if you follow your inner beacon, Goth is hidden in the most unlikely of places.

  6. Nic Says:

    Nostalgia is a balm and a danger, and it feels odd to be young as I am and still have a dreadful amount of it.

    It feels like displacement, like it’s impossible to go back to how things used to be. Even if the place is still the same, the former crowd is no longer there. Revisiting the university after I graduated felt much like that – I had many fond memories there, but everyone who made the place significant had moved on. Is that how a haunting ghost feels, lingering behind when the reason why that place was meaningful is no longer there?

    I miss my friends. I miss so many people. I miss doing things with them, gathering to play board games, agreeing to talk over some delicious warm beverage at the university bookstore café, dressing up and going for a walk in the old center (where, depending on the time of the day, it can be dreadfully sunbright but the sun won’t ever touch your skin – it’s fantastic!), the DIY Secret Santa we held every year, lectures on Gothic Literature at the university, meeting like we did every year to buy books at the book fair.

    I want to see them again in person, hug them tight for long minutes, laugh at silly internal jokes, offer to hold their hand in cold weather so my overdressed self can share heat, agree to dress up events like the Steampunk Convention (which is surprisingly inclusive, to the point we have vampyre royalty cheerfully posing for pictures with robots and pirates, and in a charmingly haunted, half-ruined, foggy village). But, for now, I can’t. It’s not safe.

    I cope with nostalgia by retreating to media that felt like home. The books that offered shelter to teenage me still feel like home, except that I now read them as an adult. The artists I loved when I was younger made fantastic new music, great songs to go with their classics.

    I can’t visit the places, but I can always revisit my memories in the stories I write, and if I’m lucky I’ll dream of the people I miss so dearly.

  7. Midnite Blue Moon Says:

    Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that I never had a chance to experience? Because that’s often how I feel when reading things like this!
    I didn’t know anything about the Goth scene in the 90s; my life took a substantially different direction, but I feel I would have been the battiest of baby bats had I known! (I, alas, was also stuck in a small town. C’est la vie!)

    I didn’t get into it as I wanted until my late 20s, and even then I didn’t understand as much as I wanted for at least a few years. I feel I missed out a bit on the 90s scene, and wish I could go back and introduce my younger self to it all! (I distinctly remember looking for ‘something different’ when I was about 13 years old. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but it was this. Had I only known..

    Thank you for posting this! Tempted to get some of these (if available) to recapture a youth that never was.

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