The first time I flew to London, there was only one must-visit stop on my itinerary: Antenna, a hair salon.
I was in my early 20s and tired of the staid, salesman-training-program haircuts I’d been getting for years. I wanted a hairstyle that immediately declared I was unconventional. Antenna was often name-dropped in The Face, a hip British pop culture magazine, so it seemed like the perfect place to get one.
I left with a pretty strong resemblance to Robert Smith of the Cure. My hair was short on the sides and long in the back and on top, where it was sculptured into craggy stalagmites.
I flew home and did my best to maintain this gravity-defying work of art. I bought every can of Aqua Net I could find. One day, I bumped into a friend who took one look at me and said, “Oh, you’re a Goth.”
I didn’t think of it that way — I had no interest in wearing PVC pants or red lipstick — but my friend had a point. I’d begun buying British import 12-inch singles and listening mainly to songs about rain, murder, the undead and other hilarious topics. As the man once said, I wore black on the outside, ’cause black was how I felt on the inside.
Goth’s other appeal was sexual. Some of my friends grew up fantasizing about Marcia Brady, but my TV crushes were dark-haired women with dark moods. I was in love with Morticia Addams and Lily Munster — even in Goth sitcoms, the wife is hotter than the husband. To me, Ally Sheedy was clearly the hot one in The Breakfast Club, not Molly Ringwald.
I thought about those years recently, because I’ve started listening to Depeche Mode again. It’s all well and good to sing “I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor” or “Let’s play master and servant” when you’re in your 20s and bondage gear is something that looks good on you, as opposed to something you’re wearing only because you lost the key. But the band’s singer, Dave Gahan, is 61 years old. Where’s the dignity? Maybe it’s time to retire or take up jazz.
Is there an age at which you have to admit you’re no longer an outlaw and just accept that you’re in your New Balance years? When I was in my 20s, I started shopping in vintage stores. My mother was horrified: “You’re wearing SOMEONE ELSE’S SHIRT? I’ll buy you a shirt.” I thrifted Hawaiian shirts, bowling shirts, all worn ironically.
I’ve kept a few of those clothes, including a few that will never fit again. But at some point, I felt self-conscious about wearing them. Once you’re the same age as vintage clothes, isn’t it time to stop wearing them?
I decided that, based on my love of “Policy of Truth” and “Never Let Me Down Again,” I owed something to Depeche Mode, so I listened to their new album, Memento Mori. It’s hard to believe, but they sound more cold and Germanic than ever. I would not have been surprised if Dave Gahan had shouted, “Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance.”
But when I paid attention to the lyrics, which Gahan croons in a kind of undead-Sinatra voice, I noticed lots of angels, ghosts, river crossings and other death-related images. The songs aren’t about disrupting the world, but about making sense of loss and drawing nearer to the day when you croak.
Sure, post-adolescence is Goth. But so is middle age. The two phases are pretty similar, though the reasons for melancholy change. I don’t have to worry about acne anymore, so instead, I’m despondent about ear hair. An obsession with death and the afterlife makes more sense when the generation ahead of you has passed on — or is that much closer to doing so — and you’re nearing your own expiration date.
In adolescence, doom is a constructed feeling, but in middle age, it feels more like steeling yourself for the inevitable. Ennui isn’t just a pose anymore; it’s being realistic about what comes next.
There are two stages of life when your body changes in ways you can’t control: adolescence and middle age. If Goth is something you grow out of, it’s also something you can grow back into. Maybe I’ll head over to London and get a new haircut at Antenna.