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The Living Dead

Salvation comes with an awakening. And usually when you least expect it. This was certainly true for Neil, the All-American boy from Jacksonville who found himself at Gumwrappers on a Tuesday night. A lonely out-of-towner in South Florida on a condo remodeling job, he'd come to the Fort Lauderdale joint for the bikini-clad dancers advertised on the sign outside.

The Night Rider was there, like everyone else, for her Salvation, a weekly gothic-industrial party. It was a full moon, after all, and the perfect night for celebrating being undead.

Neil swigged his lite beer at the bar, watching the other patrons lurking in the purple glow of the blacklights. The only white light: a couple of strobes flashing by the stage, an illuminated cigarette machine in the corner, and the flicker of a flat-screen TV.

"It's Halloween in here 365," Valerie the bartender said when I asked about the tiny glow-in-the-dark skeletons that dangled from the ceiling and the spiderwebbing behind the bar. "The girls only dance in the afternoons."

"They don't have penises, do they?" Neil asked. "I mean, it is Fort Lauderdale."

Neil, a blue-collar guy, really stood out in the spiked-collar crowd. Wearing a white ball cap as the crowning jewel of his printed T-shirt and ripped jean ensemble? No goth would be caught dead!

As a quartet wearing black eyeliner took the stage, I guzzled my first Red Bull and vodka, which in the black light glowed like witches' brew.

The gruesome foursome claimed their instruments and began a sonic attack appropriate to their deathly white makeup pallor, emphasized by red and black pencil. Their look: sorta war paint meets zombie rot.

"I need a pole!" the singer exclaimed while marching in circles on the small circular platform used to showcase dancers.

I used the lulls between the band's Nine Inch Nails-ish songs to make friends.

"Did you know this was goth night, or were you expecting something else?" I asked Neil with a knowing smirk.

"Are you a goth, or did you just dress like that for tonight?" he countered, eyeing my makeshift ensemble of fishnet and lingerie, part of which was held together with a shoelace.

Hmm. A worthy opponent?

"I was once goth-ish," I offered with a laugh, remembering my days of Manic Panic-dyed hair and heavy-handed black eyeliner.

"And when in Rome... You know how girls are," I laughed.

"I used to know how girls are," Neil replied, "but now I'm married."

When the singer introduced himself and his frightening crew as Human Factors Lab, the boomer who'd claimed the stool between me and Mr. All-American interjected loudly: "What did they say?"

"You need to put on your listening ears," I chided at equal volume.

By the looks of the boomer's blue T-shirt and shorts, I'd say he'd stumbled in as unaware as Neil.

When I detected his accent, Kieran said he was from London by way of Ireland. I told him I was from Florida by way of Connecticut.

"You consider yourself a Floridian?" he asked.

"I do, but people always insist I must be from somewhere else since I'm educated."

"And you can drive?"

I nodded.

"Yeah, you're not a Floridian," he laughed.

Kieran claimed to be a large equipment operator. (Don't they all!)

"I used to be in a band too. I don't understand the pleasure of listening to something you can't understand," Kieran commented.

He probably wasn't in the sort of band where the keyboardist had what looked like a black strapless bra stretched across her mouth either.

Through their mutual status as the only two "normal" people in the bar, Kieran and Neil formed a silent bond on their adjacent barstools. They watched together as a three-person mosh pit erupted in front of the stage during the band's last song.

"She's gonna kick your ass," the singer taunted the two big, bald-headed dudes as a girl with pigtails aggressively stomped and swung her fists and elbows.

When the band finished, Neil initiated his own enlightenment: "What exactly is goth?"

Other than an excellent merchandising opportunity?

"Ask them," I suggested, nodding toward the recently moshing threesome who'd just claimed some bar space nearby.

"It's people who are deep and dark," Mel T ("Mel" for Melissa, "T" for Trouble) said tilting her head down so she was looking up from beneath her brows. She repeatedly stroked her fingers from her eyes down her cheeks as she intoned, "Dark, dark, dark."

And dark. Don't forget dark.

"But what makes you goth?" Neil pressured.

"I'm not goth; I have fetishes," she said, gesturing to her fishnet stockings and shiny black PVC outfit like the ensemble should speak for itself. "Maybe you should ask someone else."

Machiavelli, one of Mel T's black-clad buddies, interrupted: "Goth is a clique that listens to dark music. They have deep issues, and they embrace death."

"They accept life through death," Mel T tried again. "It's embracing pain and death in a happy, positive way."

Neil was more confused than ever.

Finally, Mark stepped in: "I'm a skinhead — I'm not goth."

"Well, what's a skinhead?" Neil asked. "Like Nazism?"

Oy!

Mark shook his head: "I put my blood, sweat, and tears into blue-collar honest living. It doesn't have to do with Nazis. I'm colorblind. You treat me fair, like an equal, I call you 'brother. '"

Now that we were all family, I left Neil working on his subcultural divisions.

Backstage, the band's keyboard player, Akki (Japanese for demon) was peeling the V-shaped smear of black liquid latex from her chest above her velvet tube top.

"Anytime anything bad happens, it's blamed on kids who dress differently. Like the grave defacing on 6-06-06; it was blamed on the influence of Tool and Porn," said the singer, who introduced himself as Seven.

"Porn?" I asked, still partially deaf from the band's aural onslaught.

"No, Korn!" Seven laughed, referring to the industrial band. "Nothing bad has ever come from porn!

With the exception of Ron Jeremy, maybe.

I had to hand it to Akki, though, she hadn't bought into the expensive merchandising. She confirmed that her "mask" was, indeed, a bra.

Both a fashion statement and a nonsurgical approach to a face-lift. Hmm.

Back at the bar, Neil was still conducting lifestyle interviews. He'd asked Kieran to differentiate among the cliques of his day — mods, bikers, and suedeheads — the latter named for their buzzed heads.

By 1 a.m., the place had pretty much cleared out, but it was open till 3, so I offered Neil another beer so we could discuss his experience.

"I always thought goth people were bad to hang around because they'll shoot you," he said, pointing to the 1999 Columbine school shootings. "Now I know they're just finding a different way to express themselves."

I believe that was actually the official party line.

Just as we were leaving, we ran into the artist who would soon be painting over the "bikini dance club" sign outside with a mural that would better represent the club, which was phasing out the dancing girls and changing its name to G.

"You know everyone will call it 'The G-spot,' and, of course, no one will be able to find it," he quipped of the elusive orgasmic trigger.

On that note, we both headed out. In the parking lot, Neil set his evening back on its original track when he asked to be directed to the nearest adult bookstore. Appropriate, really. What better way to celebrate his initiation into the goth scene than by ending the night with la petit mort?


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