Part Twenty-Eight: Style and Substance

It’s a universal truth that music and media can play a major part in influencing the style and persona that we adopt in our lives. Growing up with artists and performers like Alice Cooper and David Bowie as influences, it’s really no surprise to imagine that I might have started wearing makeup at some point.

It wasn’t until I was around ten years old, though, after seeing Robert Smith in the video for Just Like Heaven, that I snuck into my mother’s makeup one day and tried my hardest to look like he had. I’d been up at night, watching Night Tracks, a program that hasn’t been on the air for the past twenty odd years, and when that video came on I was entirely captivated. To my young eyes, Robert Smith was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen (not in a sexually arousing sense, but in some less tangible, aesthetic sense of the word), and I wanted to look that way as well. This is how music began the process of shaping me.

That was the beginning for me, of my growing interest in what would be the whole gothic subculture. I didn’t have much by way of resources available to me, no internet service which could be used to delve into a musical genre I didn’t even know existed, especially not being here in the middle of nowhere that was South Dakota. There were magazines, though not many that were relevant, but there were music-oriented publications in every grocery store and convenience store and I tried to find more things like what I’d heard when I first heard The Cure. It wasn’t easy. It was around that same time in my life when I discovered the comic book series The Crow, and I loved it too.

Musically, I was mostly focused on listening to heavy metal artists as I was growing up, followed by what would be classified as alternative and grunge along with a healthy dose of punk…but I was always looking for more of what I’d glimpsed with that first exposure to The Cure. I came across bands like Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy, and a few others…and I loved what I was hearing in each of those cases, I just couldn’t easily obtain it.

I found Type O Negative and Nine Inch Nails at about the same time, a couple of years later than first hearing The Cure, followed by bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy…and I began discovering myself in the process. The music that speaks to us tells us a lot about who we are, if we just listen closely enough and let it into us.

I didn’t have any friends that I could share the music with, none of them seemed to care at all about music beyond what they would hear whenever they tuned into whatever the popular radio stations happened to be…where they would simply listen to whatever was being broadcast. It took some searching, but I found a radio station for me as well.

KTEQ was (and is again) a college radio station based out of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus, and it was the location on the dial where I found so much more than I could have hoped for with things like MTV or Night Tracks. Too often I was left with no idea what I was hearing, as artists were rarely announced…but I was happy just the same to have discovered various blocks during which music that spoke to me was being broadcast.

I didn’t persist with trying to wear makeup for a long while, having failed miserably in my attempt to emulate the man who first inspired that particular adornment…but it would only be a few years before I started again.

The film adaptation of The Crow came out when I was 14 years old and I saw it in the theater a couple of times. I was young enough to enjoy it even though it had little in common with the comics I’d read, and impressionable enough to think that this made it acceptable for me to look however the hell I wanted to look. It was only as I got older that I realized what a god awful, monumentally horrible movie The Crow happened to be…filled with terrible acting and insipid dialogue, but that hardly matters where this story is concerned.

It wasn’t often at first, but I began applying eyeliner on occasion when I was going to be out and about…with the expected derision from those I’d run into, including some patronizing treatment from friends (including some who’ve become Juggalos and Juggalettes over the intervening years, which is kind of humorous to me).

There was one exception though, a tall man in a red Chevy Nova SS who dressed and looked almost exactly the way that I wanted to. I was captivated by him, as were most people I knew, and I am proud to say that I ended up being able to call him a friend, even though I later ended up stealing a girl away from him who would then become the mother of my two oldest children. He’s no longer with us, but I trust that he knew how much I respected him and that he was actually a profound influence on me as far as helping me to feel comfortable in my own skin and becoming who I wanted to be.

As I became more comfortable and experimental with my makeup and dress during those teenage years, I became what that girl (the future mother of my children) would refer to as being gutter goth when she met me, an amalgam of gutter punk and goth. I began adding long black skirts and long black coats to my attire as time passed by.

I believe it was my junior year of high school when the vice principal escorted me to the restroom and informed me that I needed to wash off the makeup that I was wearing or leave the school because my appearance was becoming a distraction in the classroom.

I stood in front of the mirror for a couple of minutes, staring into my own reflection, considering cleaning my face before making up my mind and walking back into the main hall without changing a thing where I was asked to leave or security would escort me from the premises. I left without causing a scene.

The next day I showed up with an even more distracting appearance and was again asked to leave. Strangely and/or touchingly, another dozen or more people arrived for school that day either in garish makeup or outright dressed in drag…whether a sincere show of solidarity or a desire to get a free pass from school. It was an excellent show of support.

Being a politically minded young man and filled with righteous indignation, I (along with a few of my friends) went and had an impromptu visit with the superintendent in order to seek his intervention in this matter of what we perceived to be clear and unambiguous discrimination. He patiently heard us out, but ultimately determined that the administration was well within their rights to have me removed from school based exclusively on my unconventional appearance. I still have the letter somewhere in which he informed me of his decision in that matter.

After leaving Sturgis and beginning to attend school where my mother was a teacher, I was less aggressively judged for how I chose to appear. My mother refused to drive me to school while I had makeup on, so I had to take advantage of how early I was arriving (due to being the child of a teacher) and apply my makeup after getting to the school. This became my daily routine, and it worked out just fine.

This habit of wearing makeup when I was going out remained with me for a long damn time, well into my 20s…as did my overall gothic sensibility as far as appearance is concerned.

I don’t often wear makeup these days, but it does occasionally happen when I’m feeling like going out (on those rare occasions that I ever opt to leave the house)…because I’m apparently a perpetual adolescent. My musical tastes still lean more towards the industrial and goth musical genres, but I tend to listen to pretty much anything that sounds good to me, regardless of genre.

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2 comments on “Part Twenty-Eight: Style and Substance

  1. darcyrandle says:

    I believe you were in your sophomore year of high school, Nik.

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