From the brilliantly savage SNL Goth Talk skits from the late 1990s to the reoccurring swipes at the Goth Kids on South Park, the subculture of goth is admittedly as easy target to make fun of. But just ask anyone who has ever been a part of the goth community and despite all the black clothing and the even darker music, you realize just how welcoming the subculture is to kids (and adults) that just never found a home among the jocks and preps, and their older, khaki-wearing versions. It seems fitting then that John Robb – author, journalist, activist, musician and, yes, goth – would pen a love letter to the subculture. A love letter that takes detours to the darker corners of the emotion of course, but a love letter, nonetheless.
The Art of Darkness: The History of Goth is as enjoyable as it is thorough. Robb traces the roots of goth all the way back to the fall of Rome (try doing that with Brit Pop), through the era of Romantic poets toward the end of the 18th century all the way up to where we are now (as the book comes out, The Cure is playing a series of sell out shows across the US and Siouxsie Sioux is starting a run of comeback shows across the UK). But the bulk of the book, appropriately enough focuses on the music and club scenes of the late 1970s and the 1980s when the term Goth first started circulating in the mainstream (though a music critic in 1967 is credited with coining the term in a piece about Jim Morrison).
Robb’s writing style, a mix of conversational and authoritative, serves the book brilliantly as he offers a college level course on the subculture while sounding like your cool friend discussing his favorite bands over a couple of beers and a joint. He covers fashion, authors, and the politics, but most importantly he covers the musicians – including the obvious (The Cure, The Damned, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, and many more), but also those with a close connection but who likely aren’t the first that come to mind when you think goth (Adam Ant, David Bowie).
Even the most casual fan of goth will find at least a chapter or two to get lost in with The Art of Darkness. But for anyone who has ever owned more than one Cure record or can name a Joy Division song beyond “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Robb’s book is a book worth owning.