Forgive my ElderGoth leanings – I can’t help it. I’m well into my 30’s, I remember dimly and fondly the nascent days of the goth scene in San Francisco (when we were so few that there was one scene, the goth-industrial scene, where swirlers and stompers shared a dance floor with the exception of the rare club with two rooms, where the swirlers swirled and the stompers stomped and only met at the end of the night when it was time to say “Nice Boots” and the swirly girls went home with the stompy boys and acted surprised when there was drama, before we were factioned and then crammed back together again nearly in sync with Marilyn Manson’s popularity) and, while I do occasionally visit it, I consider myself a graduate, or drop-out; I kept many of the leanings but won’t commit the time and energy to anything other than being 100% of myself these days… and my Self is not 100% goth, so staying up late to go to a club that doesn’t represent 100% of me for a guaranteed lack of sleep and suffering the next day… well, it doesn’t happen so much anymore. I like to visit, but it’s not where I live.
Nearly a decade after my nascent days and at the beginning of my waning days was the inception of an event called the Edward Gorey Ball. It was an homage to the brilliant man who was one of many artists (like Poe and Bowie) to show us a grown-up version of what we could be – dark, artistic, eccentric and lovely, appreciated by those not entrenched in the aesthetic but still intrigued by it. The early days of the ball were housed in a favorite dive bar, the Cat Club. The Cat Club features a front room with a long bar and a small dance floor, a tiny hallway, and a back room with a smaller bar and a larger dance floor, a strange, pervasive smell and bathrooms that’ll make you want to curtail your liquid intake. I did, in fact, work security at the Cat Club for a brief period of time. It’s where I learned I wasn’t willing to take a punch for money. The Edward Gorey Ball was a once-a-year event. A place for the swirlier of the dark side to assemble, we wore our most victorian garb (a lot of velvet, a lot of Funhouse and Shrine, the occasional hard-earned Dark Garden) and watched the visual spectacle while enjoying the lovely strains of Rosin Coven, the group producing the event and simultaneously showing the world what it could eventually become.
I greatly enjoyed my time there. But, as sometimes happens (if we’re lucky), it got crowded. And every bone in my socially-anxious body railed against being crammed into a dive bar and not having the room to dance, to step back and watch, to enjoy without someone slamming into me and spilling their drink down my carefully crafted outfit. At the same time, I had begun focusing more heavily on my singing career and was not going to events where I was not Creating Something. So I didn’t attend as the event grew in number and scope, as it moved to the Great American Music Hall. I didn’t witness the evolution.
Focusing on one’s art can yield some pretty incredible things. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll be asked to participate in things that you would attend anyway. And so it happened that, as the Edward Gorey Ball changed names to the Edwardian Ball (something about Gorey (RIP) not being dead long enough to allow free use of his name) and added live performances, as I cultivated my own particular brand of opera and the Dark Side, classical music combined with the harder edge of the 21st century, opera over a beat performed while climbing a rope and doing things on a trapeze, I was asked to sing at the Ball. And, as sometimes happens when one focuses on one’s art, one doesn’t have time to perform all of the places one wants to perform. So, for several years, I was invited to participate in the Ball. For several years, I was honored, and overwhelmed, and humbled, and heartbroken to have to say no, as I was already committed elsewhere. We should all have such problems when it comes to sharing our art.
I watched as my friends prepared, talked about their costumes and plans. I watched as other friends prepared performances, interactive gegaws. I eagerly searched images online immediately following the event, boggling as it eventually moved to the Regency Center, a stunning setting that even the most ambitious of event producers would be hard-pressed to fill.
2012 occurred, and it was a brutal, rough, unforgiving year. But it was also a year that brought to the fore dreams and passions, and the incredible brevity of the time in which we have to act on them. And, before the end of the year, before I said yes to another gig, I contacted a friend and co-producer of the event, and I said… WILL YOU STILL HAVE ME?? And, to my utter joy, he said yes.
And so it happened that, on Saturday evening, I returned to the Edwardian Ball for the first time since it was at the Cat Club. I returned to create which, if you haven’t tried it, you should – it’s the ultimate way to participate in anything, let alone to return to something you’ve always admired and loved. I returned to see where my fellow ElderGoths of all stripes had ended up. What I found was amazing.
ElderGoths were but a small faction. Everyone creating, or supporting the creativity of others. Everyone making, unique, strong, amazing; the best version of themselves. Not the ugly shock-value of Marilyn Manson goth. Not the harsh white-face-black-lipstick of Goth 101. No, this is something different. This is a grown-up, lovely, thoughtful aesthetic. It’s creative, intelligent, stunning visuals and music. It’s a wonderland of spectacle, of color, of dream and reality, of real job and art, of classical and modern, of dance and music and craft and design and performance and gadgetry. In the audience and among the performers were friends from High School, the SF Conservatory of Music, SF Renaissance Voices, Lyric Theatre, Velocity Circus, Adobe (my DayJob), Burning Man – Thunderdome, Administration, DPW, Rock Opera, Temple Crew, ALL of my Burning Man worlds, ancient Death Guilders… everyone. HERE was the culmination. HERE was where my brilliant, eccentric, talented weirdo cohorts were convening. HERE was their New Year’s, their Christmas, their Easter. There was no faction missing, except maybe “motorcycling” but, to be fair, that spans all those categories. Here, swirling, dancing, celebrating, CREATING, they all were, all 100% of me, filling and SELLING OUT this gorgeous entire building in the heart of the city by the bay. Here was an event to which I could point anyone who ever said “What ARE you?” and say “I am this. This doesn’t define me, but this is a culmination of the efforts of people like me.” And, finally, on Saturday… I could truly be counted among them.
Saturday evening meant that I had done things right. Not just practicing and honing my craft, but following my heart and my passion. My singing, my tech nerdery, my aesthetic, my art, my creativity, my passion, creating a blend of classical and modern that was palatable for people of almost all stripes… here was a living, breathing, celebrating representation of what I had dreamed the world could be when I was a young aspiring opera singer being dragged to my first goth club at the age of 17 by my best friend (Through the Looking Glass at Thunder Bay, for those keeping track at home).
Thank you, Justin, and Mike, and the vast numbers of people who have kept this alive and breathing and thriving and moving through time and space. Thank you from, literally, every aspect of my being.