Listening to Eric and Amy's podcast over the weekend, I heard a great way of describing certain modern bands that dress up in sleek, Goth-like clothing: vampires. Which bands are we referring to here? Well, let's look at the most popular offenders/artists in the last year or so: Alkaline Trio, My Chemical Romance, Aiden and believe it or not, Green Day. Some of these bands make (or used to make) good music despite the image, but some are just jokes to begin with. Regardless, what's so appealing about looking like a vampire?
I don't know about you, but when I was in high school, I didn't really search for an identity. Yes, after seeing flannel shirts on MTV, I felt it was OK for me wear them, but as far as I remember, this wasn't an attempt to fit in. I was an invisible quiet guy with a small group of friends. I enjoyed playing in rock bands and listening to music, but I didn't intentionally dress up to make a personality statement. There were plenty of classmates of mine that wore Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails shirts and loved the color black, but I wasn't one of those people. I just sat in the shadows listening to all kinds of music. I liked some songs by those bands, but I didn't get the fuss about wanting to look like a vampire that came out in the daytime.
What I see here with these modern bands is an attempt to catch people's (especially young people's) eyes and imagination more than the average band does. Apparently this has worked as records like Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge and Nightmare Anatomy have sold well and their shows have been well-attended. I guess there's a desire to give "the kids" a show versus just a few guys that walked in off the street and picked up their instruments. That idea definitely worked in KISS's favor in the '70s, but the focus was on the spectacle over the substance. Musically, I don't think KISS was a bad band at all. As far as their whole presentation, KISS was a band that got young people excited about rock music. They put on an entertaining show with fire-breathing, big lights, lasers, fancy costumes and facepaint. Definitely great when you're young and just finding out about rock music, but that experience really only happens once.
If I were to point a finger at one band that kicked off this recent trend of vampiredom, it's AFI. The members of AFI weren't always shielded from the sun via black-clad designer clothes. They had started out as a jokey punk band with their '95 debut, Answer That and Stay Fashionable. By the time of their third and fourth albums (and following line-up changes in the bassist and guitarist slots), they were much darker, heavier and (honestly) much better than before. Dressing up in all black, wearing some eyeliner and powder and doing Misfits covers, this image wasn't meant to be taken too seriously. Merely something different from the average looking punk band, the guys in the band were still cool and down to earth. (Lead singer Davey Havok was especially cordial when I met him a few years ago.)
As the band's fanbase grew, this image of being a designer vampire was spreading. When their major label debut, Sing the Sorrow, was released in 2003, AFI was now in a different arena of music fans. A slow and steady seller, the band found itself playing to an even bigger audience, thus attracting certain members of this audience to want to "dress the part." Not so different (but not exactly alike) those that dressed in Goth-like clothing as they listened to Bauhaus and Skinny Puppy in the 1980s, this kind of image was spreading.
With this identity is place, AFI is back with a new record, Decemberunderground, to be released on June 6th (yes, that's 06/06/06). I don't know if this means more Gothy goofiness for another year or two, but we'll have to see. For the time being, I think about the people that I know that were into Goth in some form or another when they were teenagers. People like Jason and Katie still speak highly of bands like Bauhaus, but they aren't sitting in their rooms with black lights on and candles lit while wearing all black clothing.
The more research I do on Post, whether on straight edge or punk rock in general, I keep hearing about/seeing the desire of younger people to have an identity. Not to sound like I had a superior experience, but I never even thought about having identity. Maybe my identity was to have no identity or at least not one to be pigeonholed with one. I don't know.