Bit of a different format this week gang. Every few months you’re going to see a version of Nyogtha where I sit down with a fellow writer of things that are dark and spooky and do a column with them. This week it’s Mick Mercer.
Now I realize that since the average Inside Pulse reader is for likely to listen to Brittany Spears over Bauhaus or Smashmouth over Sisters of Mercy, that he might not be as known to you, but to anyone with a flittering interest in the goth or punk sub cultures, Mick is a pretty well known author. In fact, he’s one of the biggest influences on me earning the “Sub-Culutral Icon” label I’ve been given over the years and he doesn’t even realize it.
Flash back to Summer of 1992. I was 14 and due to a mixup in my upbringing was already a fan of goth music. You see, my mom, brought me home a Bauhaus album as a little kid assuming from the name that they were classical music, and I was hooked ever since. In 1992 I was at my local borders bookstore, driven there by my father for a day as even back then where I sat around in the anthropology/folklore/New Age section for thirty minutes and ended up finding a book entitled Gothic Rock, which was written by Mick Mercer. I sat down and ended up reading it there until my father collected me and off we went, with me using up my money from selling newspaper subscriptions in order to buy this book. The names of the band intrigued me. Alien Sex Fiend? Christian Death? Creaming Jesus? And every so often was mentioned bands I did recognize the names of, like Bauhaus or Joy Division, which I knew became Love N Rockets and New Order respectfully. The pictures too entranced me. Great photography and interesting looking people.
That same week, my quasi-girlfriend (who was 5 years older than me BTW) burned me a copy of the 2CD compilation by the same name. Odd coincidence, no? And well, the two together meant I was hooked.
You have to realize that in 1992, Goth was very close to being extinct, especially in the US. The second generation of American goth popularity had ended (1988-1992, and the first is 1977-1983 roughly) At that age I was the closest thing to a member of that subculture in my high school and for miles around. I got the label from older brothers and sisters of friends who went to school with first generation Goths and who could remember Bauhaus’ cover of Ziggy Stardust on the Radio, and/or who even owned a few albums of goth bands at the time themselves. As far as I knew, I just wore a lot black because it looked good on me and the music I listened to ranged from the Ramones to Type O Negative to the classic standbys of the Goth genre.
But thanks to Mick’s book, I ended up requesting catalogs from Cleopatra and ordering CD’s of bands mentioned in Mick’s books to see what they sounded like. Usually compilations like the four volumes bearing the same name as Mick’s book, because that way I could sample bands and see what I liked before buying a full album. In a year, my CD collection became filled with Rosetta Stone, Nosferatu, the Cranes, London After Midnight, Tones on Tails and more. And slowly but surely, I ended up being pretty well known as an encyclopaedia for non mainstream music. Which is funny, because as most of my friends can tell you, I don’t really listen to music that much at all.
I definitely have to say that finding this book taught me that you could be a researcher of the strange and unusual and still make a living and garner respect while doing it. And where Mick filled the void of being a musical anthropologist, I became one to the thinking and history of the subculture, but also more so towards folklore and mythology and how these things influenced what we have today. Mick’s book inspired me to do the VC, which hit the zeitgeist of the mid to late 1990’s, putting my web page in the top 100 most viewed (according to Yahoo) on the Internet in 1998, and being the largest catalyst for why Disney would buy and destroy WBS.NET and make it part of the horrible “GO Network.” Without having discovered Gothic Rock, I don’t know if I’d have taken the same path and been quoted by so many mainstream media sources, from CNN to USA Today, back in the late 90’s, and had people like Katherine Ramsland, Norrine Dresser, Radu Florescu, Raymond McNally, Paul Barber, Anne Rice, and so many others say such nice things about me, and stretching out my 15 minutes of fame to a full decade now as a cult writer read by millions. Yes, see, for those of you only aware of my video game ramblings and RETROGRADING before NYOGTHA, now you know of my life OUTSIDE of Inside Pulse. ;-)
Of course, Mick never knew of the direct influence he had on me until he actually reads this part of the column for the first time, so surprise! :-P
Mick Mercer is one of the biggest influences on Goth Subculture alive today, and the funny part is, a lot of people don’t realize it. Mick writes a book. People buy the book. He gets quoted and his thoughts and comments are taken in and rehashed by others who rehash it for others who rehash it for… you get the picture. Gothic Rock became Cleopatra’s cash cow and really helped cement them for a very long time as the label for Goth sounding musicians. Even people that have never heard his name in the scene have been affected by him; they just don’t know it yet.
And because it’s really only myself, Gloomchen, and Fernandez that have an understanding of the genre musically, I thought it would be great to just sit down with Mick and let you guys get to known him and learn a little of what Goth is, what Darkwave is, and so on and so forth. When it comes to the musical side of things, Mick is far more knowledgeable than I am. So sit back and enjoy a wacky conversation/interview between the two of us.
1. Greetings Mick. Tell people who you are and why they should know you.
I’m a writer (of sorts) and a photographer (generally out of sorts) whose passion for music knows few bounds and I find myself unable to stop writing about it and conceiving ludicrously difficult projects. In a Net world where people, and zines, come and go, I hope I provide some continuity in my coverage of Goth and Post-Punk matters. I do a free monthly pdf magazine at my website: Mickmercer.com, and thousand seem to enjoy that each month, just as many intrepid souls also find picking through my journal less than arduous: http://www.livejournal.com/users/mickmercer.
I think people should know what I’m doing because of the sheer wealth of info which would flow their way.
2. My first encounter with your work was way back in 1992 (I was 14 at the
time) when my girlfriend at the time burned me a copy of the Gothic Rock CD
from the Cleopatra label. It wasn’t my experience with goth music, but it was my first compilation. You did the introduction and commentary on the inside jacket, and to my surprise I learned it was related to the book by the same name which you had written and that the CD was complimentary to it. Tell me, how did the book come about? What made you one day say, “Someone needs to write a historical commentary on Bauhaus, the Sisters of Mercy, Alien Sex Fiend, etc., etc?”
Well, I didn’t really. What I did say was ‘yes’ when a publisher (a Goth himself) asked if I would be interested. I’d already done one volume, Gothic Rock Black Book, three years previously, but that had been a Typical Music Book, and far too skimpy. Gothic Rock was there to fill in the blanks, and I was increasingly annoyed the way mainstream music media had just forgotten about Goth. Anything that helps…..
3. When you first wrote Gothic Rock, did you pitch the idea of the 2 CD
compilation or did Cleopatra come to you? I know there ended up being 3 Gothic Rock compilations (4 if you count the giant collection of all three sets Cleopatra released) as well. How involved were you with them in regards to picking out the bands and the specific tracks placed on the discs? I remember in the very first CD reading a snippet of Siouxsie’s letter to you…
That Siouxsie reference was something they told the record label in the UK I believe. I have never heard from them personally. I put the idea to Jungle Records in the UK because I figured having a CD to go with a book was good, as both would promote the other. Jungle did very well out of it and because of their contact with Cleopatra the compilations took off there as well, although I didn’t like the way Cleopatra junked some of the original acts from the vinyl compilation in favour of some of their own artists. It rather devalued the collection.
I picked the tracks and most of the bands after Jungle assessed what could be found. In some cases they proposed a band and I said yes, okay, providing we use this specific song, and they always agreed. In some cases I recommended bands where we couldn’t even find out who controlled their copyright so they couldn’t be included.
4. I also own Gothic Rock Black Book, and Hex Files. But as the majority of
Inside Pulse readers are rather mainstream music fans, could you give a
synopsis of each of your books including the CD-Rom books you can buy at your website, mickmercer.com?
Gothic Rock Black Book was a standard publisher’s approach to the genre: Five chapters on the biggest bands of the time (one apiece for All About Eve, Sisters, Cult, Nephilim and Mission) with a chapter on the history of Goth and another on newer or smaller talent. Gothic Rock then tried to flesh that out with greater detail, humour and wilder aesthetics. Hex Files took an International stance and covered as much as I could find, which in pre-Internet days was hard to do, but more likely to encourage people to check-out other bands, which has always been something I have striven to do.
Through my site I am also releasing a trilogy of Gothic History book CDs, done in fully illustrated pdf format and commonly weighing in at around 450 pages per volume, with a mass of images in extra folders. I’m doing the same thing for Punk. These contain all my earlier writing about Goth and Punk which appeared in various magazines, papers and fanzines but which current audience have never seen before, and can be regularly found in my 21st Century Goth for a moment. Usually your books have focused primarily on the musical aspects of the subculture and the symbiotic relationship between the two of them. In 21st Century Goth, you go into a lot more than bands, such as clubs, places, people, the Internet and so on. What made you choose to cross over into the more cultural anthroplogy/folkloric side of the subculture?
It seemed right at the time. The early stages of the Net were clearly coming to an end as things got more organised, and often formulaic, so marking that period made sense to me. There would have been more of that aspect, of business, clubs and the like in Hex Files. I did include such content but imagine what it was like trying to find out about such things before the Internet! It was a nightmare. My next book will be about bands, and nothing else.
7. Being an American who ended up moving to the outskirts of London (Epsom and Claygate in Surrey), I noticed a distinct difference between the UK and US scenes. What’s your take on this and the reasons why?
America big! Britain tiny. Different influences in society in general influence scenes within, so America has more Goths but it doesn’t seem to link up overall. Britain sticks together more, regardless of geographical divides, so that the UK scene is The Scene. In America you have various scenes which very rarely crossover with each other, as seen by the Convergence festival being in different towns annually. It doesn’t happen because of how the scene is, but it seems to be a natural product of it.
8. 10 years ago, the Internet was just starting to come into people’s home and was by no means at the level it is today. What effect do you think the world wide web had on the sound, look, and subculture?
It makes it easier for things like the Japanese Lolita look to gain acceptance, or for boots to be visible rather than something you hear of but rarely see – so visually it makes it very easy to devour product and assimilate a lifestyle. It also throws people completely on music, because very little common consensus now exists.
That’s the worst thing – it hasn’t helped the music and people expect things for free, rather than supporting bands more than they once did. The good side is that it increases the flow of knowledge and awareness of the music and has, fundamentally, kept the scene alive in many countries through its online communities.
9. As hokey as it may be, I’ve noticed a lot of our music readers like top ten
lists. Care to give us ten bands in the genre that you think might appeal to
people who have never listened to this style of music before?
Eek! I will be awkward and suggest names even some Goths might care to hunt down because Goths can be as conservative when it comes to their music as anyone else.
My favourite Goth band who are Ethereal but unusual. A remarkably artistic Italian band, who sing mainly in English, Italian and French, they mix traditional neo-classical elements of the Medieval and Baroque with modern, macabre sensibilities. Their work is astonishing.
2 HISTORY OF GUNS
Explosive UK Goth/Industrial artists with an amazing sense of rhythmic adventure (like a deranged Portishead) and manic human characteristics.
3 EGO LIKENESS
American Trip Hop Goth approach, with a keen sense of dark human thought, of an entirely sensitive nature. High on mood, rich in texture.
4 ROME BURNS
Brilliant guitar Goth with poppy undertow, Rome Burns are capable of fiery little tunes, with subtle lyrical storytelling.
5 HEARTS FAIL
US band who might once have had the Alt-College tag but in a post-Cure, post-Chameleons way they are true Goth-Indie greats with memorable melodies and well meshed emotional angst.
6 SCREAMING BANSHEE AIRCREW
UK Goths who have managed to bring obvious humour into their work without undermining the raucous dishevelment of the surging music.
7 ASTRO VAMPS
Americans Goths who ROCK – their last album was the missing link between Goth and AEROSMITH OR Billy Idol, and it works, beautifully. Huge choruses mixes with scandalous energy.
8 THE TUNNEL OF LOVE
American maverick Jeff Wagner mixes Freakshow sensibilities with Cramps-style Gothabilly and can scare your ears in a magnificent manner.
9 BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL
Increasingly adventurous band of Indie-Goth artistic adventure, featuring Sam the man behind Projekt Records, America’s greatest Goth label.
10 CHRISTIAN DEATH
I refer you to ‘Only Theater Of Pain’ – if you get that album, and love it, you’re a Goth, so don’t fight it. Riveting, intense guitar Goth which will have your corpuscles seething.
Get thee to a record shop
10. The entire subculture has changed quite a bit over the last 30 years when
Goth’s roots were quantifiably laid down in the late 1970’s. Nowadays we have (At least in the States) token goths everywhere from TV Shows like Navy NCIS to even Disney shows. Do you think that the subculture has finally received some sort of acceptance or validation by the mainstream, or is this a temporary ‘flavor of the week’ sort of thing? And where do you see the genre and subculture 30 years from now?
I don’t think it’s flavour of the month, I think it’s a recognition that this is now a mainstay of society, but nothing has yet gone beyond that. We haven’t seen a positive Goth hero or heroine occupying a central role in anything. I feel it still tends to be a risible joke mainly, which is relevant in many cases, and enjoyable, but it’d be nice to see something good being done. There’s Goth elements visible wherever you look in most forms of mainstream media, but so far the music hasn’t been picked up on again. If it is, then that would be the thing which draws Goth up to some new heights, right across the board.
And now for something completely different…
11. British Food: a sign of self loathing that involves the English torturing
themselves needlessly at meal time, or a refined taste that shows a mature and distinguished palate? Also, name your three favorite places to dine in England (I gotta go with Garlic & Shots in Soho)
I often forget to eat for days at a time so you’re asking the wrong man. I would plump for Mike’s Cafe in Ladbroke Grove, a small Indian vegetarian place round the bag of Tottenham Court Rd (also behind Virgin) and a tiny Pizza place in Reigate the name of which escapes me.
12. What will happen first? The Dead will rise to feast on the warm savory
brains of the living, or will monkeys achieve sentience and damn dirty apes
will enslave humanity?
Neither. Fish will tire of their dull environment and begin taking degrees by correspondence course. Once immeasurably enriched mentally, they will experiment with walking once more and, with tens of thousands of whales leading the way, shall trounce all before them. Perversely, they will then find they actually preferred the sea and return, leaving a surface devoid of all mammalian life. Cue eighteen trillion laughing cockroaches.
13. So, that Ken Livingston guy? All I ever hear is people hating your mayor of London. Why is he still in office if that is the case?
He’s an oaf at times, but not everyone hates him. He isn’t a tyrannical right winger, he isn’t a deluded left-wing liberal. He’s a crotchety old bastard in the middle with his own ideas. What he does, overall, is what he believes is right for the majority of Londoners, which is his job, after all.
14. Eastenders! I don’t get it! Why is it so popular?
You don’t get it? Look at American TV. Gross product for the masses. Televisual excrement there to be ingested by people too stupid to think of something else to do with their time. It’s not that it is popular, it’s that anything aimed at that generally disinterested and entirely undemanding audience can be created to be popular. Personally I have never set through an entire episode of any of the British Soaps.
15. As they have thankfully not made it over to America yet, I feel it is your
duty to explain to Americans the horror that it the Cheeky Girls and why no
one should ever listen to them.
They were fun actually, although there was certainly no need for them to ever release more than the one record. Two airheaded nymphettes who liked rubbing their arses together, in shorts which make Kylie seem frumpy, they were like the most vacuous pop ever, but the smutty lyrics were written by their dowdy, somewhat demonic mother! Teams like that should be encouraged. Thinks Osmonds, crossed with Porn.
16. What the bloody hell ever happened to Ian Histop after the little scandal
he was in that got him kicked off “Have I Got News For You?”
That was Angus Deayton who couldn’t keep his hands off cocaine or prostitutes. Ian Hislop is the small erudite potato head one from Private Eye. He’s still there.
D’oh. Go away from England for a few years and all the names blur together. :-P
17. What made you choose to live in West Sussex?
My parents were ill, so I came to help them out. It too longer for them to get better than expected and so I ended up finding my own place down here once I’d lost all that London stress. I’m moving back at the end of the year though.
18. Why is there an Indian restaurant on every corner in England, but not an English Restaurant on ever corner in India?
Because we know what Indian food is like. Because Indians know what English food is like.
19. Your favorite place to Holiday and why?
In my head, because it is over quicker. I don’t relax well.
20. If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing for a living?
Oh God – do you know it’s never occurred to me!? I didn’t have any aspirations at all when I left school- no Career Path along which I wished to skip willingly. Punk happened and so I started writing, like an automatic reflex. I have tried working for record labels but you never meet anyone who likes music, so that’d be out. I guess I would do something fairly predictable and go and work in a bookshop.
I am doomed to this way of life, it appears.
Thanks for your time Mick. I really appreciate this, and hope a lot of the Inside Pulse readers check out your site and your writing, They’ll be smarter human beings for having done so.
Again, there’s hyperlinks a plenty through the interview, so take a look at his website, his blog,, his Ebay store, and check Amazon.com for everything Mick. Mick’s also been given an invite by myself, Widro and the IPMusic staff to feel free to contribute anytime he feels like it. We’d be happy to have him back!
Since Mick mentioned pizza above, I decided to make one myself. This is a TRUE Italian pizza by the way, not the American or British styles that most of you have eaten. It’s probably the most time consuming of any recipe I’ve ever given to you guys, but I have a feeling you will be very happen indeed with the result. Especially you vegetarians. Besides, what is better than fresh pesto?
Mushroom and Pesto Pizza
For the Crust:
3 cups all purpose flour
one-fourth teaspoon salt
one-half ounce rapid-rise yeast
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
For the Filling:
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
three-fourths cup fresh basil
one-third cup pine nuts
1 and one-half ounces Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 onions thinly sliced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper to taste.
1. To make the pizza crust, put the flour in a bowl with the salt, yeast, and olive oil. Add 1 cup warm water and mix to a dough using a round bladed (butter) knife.
2. Turn out onto a work surface and knead for 5 minutes, until smooth. Place in a CLEAN bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
3. Meanwhile, make the filling. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 20 minutes. Place the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, and olive oil in a blender or food processor and process to make a smooth paste. Set the paste aside.
4. Fry the onions in the remaining olive oil for 3-4 minutes, until the begin to colour. Add the cremini mushrooms and fry for two minutes. Stir in the DRAINED porcini mushrooms and season lightly.
5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. Turn out the pizza dough onto a floured surface and roll out to a 12 inch circle. Place the dough on a baking sheet or pizza stone.
6. Spread the pesto mixture to within one-half inch of the edges. Spread the mushroom and onion mixture on top.
7. Bake the pizza for 35-40 minutes, until risen and golden.
Busy week for me wasn’t it? We had a preview of Obscure, a Street Fighter Anniversary review, and the review that has had Square, Nintendo, and other companies emailing me left and right since it went up, Digital Devil Saga. Seriously, because of that I’ve getting about 100 emails a day, just about that review, although it’s died down now thankfully.
Other games stuff: Newbie Tom pisses of a few thousand Tekken fans with his review of Tekken 5. Hate to break it to you whiners, but Tekken has been and always will be the easiest of all fighting games. A Tekken fan is like a Time Killers or Pit Fighter fan. You just point and laugh.
Fable goes to the PC. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!
In music, read Gloomchen talk about lesbians, and Fernandez dicusses Diet Coke with Lime
In comics, trust not the opinion of Tim Sheridan as he is the only person I’ve seen give the DREADFUL Ultimate Iron Man a good review. And he also calls 1602 “dull.” But do trust Mathan for his commentary on JL Elite which is far superior to JLA.
In wrestling, the WWE is leaving Spike TV, and there was no Short From this week, but Eric S did bring us his Tuesday column.
In figures, PK shows us the new WM XXI figures and Batesman brings us Mez-Co coverage.
In movies, god only knows how Brendan Campbell gave a favourable review to Robots which had excellent animation but a horrible script that used every two bit cliche in the book. I was disappointed to see McCullar’s rating for Be Cool as I was hoping it would be good. And more proof that the Rock has only made one good movie: The Rundown. But Mike, the worst movie Travolta ever made was a certain one about a book by L Ron Hubbard.
That is it for this week. I’ll be back next Monday with something a little more the norm. Well, the norm for THIS column anyway…