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Who Was the First Goth?

It's always a good time to celebrate Goths.

According to Urban Dictionary, "A Goth is someone who sees beauty in the dark side of life."

While "everyone else is denying an entire half of life, the Goths embrace ALL of life, good and bad. Goths understand that the best and most lasting joy is tinged with a little sadness, and that all love is bittersweet. Goths understand that not everybody has to be happy 24/7, and that the way to succeed is not by pretending you are. Sunlit skies are beautiful, yes, but so are dark cloudy ones. What is white without black? What is a rose without thorns?"


How did the Goth subculture come to be? Goth couldn't have come to be the subculture that it is without the help of a tremendous number of artists, writers, teenagers, and 16th-century architects—of course, it was also a complex and nonlinear evolution that draws influence from all sorts of legacies, from Paganism to blues and beyond. Still, some folks were particularly groundbreaking in terms of their contribution to the gothic realm. Here are five people who broke boundaries and helped make Goth what it is.

1. King Alaric

King Alaric rebelvoice.com

Other than their names, what does the gothic subculture have in common with a Germanic people who lived in the 400s A.D.? More than you'd expect, actually.

The original Goths were a Germanic people known as Visigoths and Ostragoths, some of whom played significant roles in toppling the Roman Empire. Namely, one King Alaric led the sack of Rome that occurred on April 24, 410 A.D. Rome split and the western half of Rome never returned to its former glory.

Fittingly, after Rome fell, an era called "The Dark Ages" began. During the Dark Ages, the Gothic style of cathedral-building began. The style was described as "Gothic," a derogatory term meant to criticize the "barbarians" who had taken down Rome's grandeur, but it stuck. The Enlightenment, a period that all Goths hate, led other authors to return to more fanciful, darker, Romantic styles, and the early seeds for the modern Goth aesthetic were planted.

2. Horace Walpole

geriwalton.com

Gothic literature—the sort that takes place in dim cathedrals, shadowy graveyards, and freezing towers and which usually involves a slow descent into madness—originated in the 18th century, and it began as a "sophisticated joke," according to John Mullan. In 1764, the writer Horace Walpole wrote a story called The Castle of Otranto, which had the subtitle "A Gothic Story." Walpole wrote the story as if it were a relic from a previous century, taken from the library of a Catholic English family. (His writing was so persuasive that some readers were angered when they discovered the story was fiction). Walpole's story was one of the early examples of a "found" manuscript, and it paved the way for future Gothic narratives such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Edgar Allan Poe's body of work.

Walpole's story may have been a clever fakeout, but he was certainly committed to the Gothic lifestyle. He was full of misanthropy, and lived in a gloomy castle in London called the Strawberry Villa, which was later influential in inspiring a field of architecture called "Strawberry Hill Gothic."

3. Theda Bara

Theda Bara silenceisplatinum.com

Before Goth music, there was Goth film—and actress Theda Bara was at the front of it. Sometimes thought of as cinema's first sex symbol, Bara's heavily lined eyes, long dark hair, and icy stare will look familiar to anyone acquainted with Goth looks. In 1915, she starred as a female vampire in the silent film A Fool There Was, and the press helped her rise to stardom by inventing a mysterious fake backstory for her. She was also told to wear veils and only gave interviews in total darkness.

"The reason good women like me and flock to my pictures is that there is a little bit of vampire instinct in every woman," she said once. She was a polarizing figure, evoking ire among men and women who envied and desired her. "The vampire that I play is the vengeance of my sex upon its exploiters. You see, I have the face of a vampire, but the heart of a feministe," she said, challenging feminism before it was even a real thing. Bada was so purely Goth that when she was cast in Romeo and Juliet, the script was rewritten so that Juliet comes back as a ghost.

4. Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison Pinterest

In 1967, music critic John Stickney met up with rocker Jim Morrison in a wine cellar he described as "the perfect room to honor the Gothic rock of the Doors." Whether or not this was the first use of gothic, it was the beginning of a period where all sorts of music and art began to be described as "gothic."

That same year, Kurt Loder described the Velvet Underground's All Tomorrow's Parties as a "mesmerising gothic-rock masterpiece," well before Goth music crawled out of the shadows.

5. Bauhaus

Bauhaus Love of Gothic

There's no exact consensus on when the goth subculture officially began, but many agree that it started the day Bauhaus released their song "Bella Lugosi's Dead" in August 1979. Originally the song was supposed to be slightly parodical, but its unearthly, grating sound provided a blueprint for what would become goth music.

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