Interview with Mick Mercer
Mick Mercer has long been recognized as Goths leading historian. As a music journalist, Mr. Mercers career has spanned 20 years of fruitful analysis. He has infused his sense of humor and his love of Gothic music into the books hes written and the projects he undertakes.
21st Century Goth is a work that is relevant to NetGoths and curious onlookers alike. Here, he chats about the trials and tribulations of small press publishing and the Internets subculture rejuvenating power. He even lays down the last word, Goth is what is inside you.
Please tell our readers about your new book, 21st Century Goth and how they
can purchase it.
The book isnt, as some have asked, merely a listing of the main Goth sites on the Net, because that would be fatuous exercise. What the book represents is as detailed an overview of sites out there as I can manage. Given the amount of time people have available to them, it would take years of searching to locate this many just over 5,500 quality Goth or Goth-relevant sites. It isnt as simple as people imagine unless they too are prepared to spend 16 hours a day locating these. You have to sift through a lot of dross.
I have covered the main elements Bands, Clothes/Businesses, dedicated Goth sites, as a dominating theme, and personal sites by Goths, various resources, regional or international guides, Zines and Clubs, plus a few unusual sites. Providing this information in this traditional manner makes it easier to find things, rather than having a hundred main sites bookmarked, through which you then have to remember just what material is included where. It is such a hugely varied genre that there is more out that you realise until you start delving as deeply as possible.
The best way to get it is to use Amazon.co.uk
because bizarre trade handling still means that some wholesalers have used their own title! (The American version of Amazon.com still does not have this available, youll have to pre-order it) Theyve got it listed as Goth Bible, which makes no sense, as I never chose that. Any shops or distributors can always contact the publishers, Reynolds & Hearn
directly and theyll sort it. You have these problems every time a new book comes out because books like these arent really understood. The trade classification, which affects anything done on this genre, is not to simply include it in Music, that would seem to make perfect sense, but to put it into Religion, Spirituality, Society, Politics and Philosophy, which I think is their way of saying Lifestyle! Thats very weird, and its why Amazon is such a blessed relief.
The easiest way of all is to present a bookshop with the ISBN 1-903111-28-5 and that gets round the problems.
Throughout your career you have focused on many forms of music. Why do you keep coming back to Goth? What makes it so alluring to you?
Its what I always wanted. I always say to people that Punk changed my life, but it wasnt enough. I got bored with the bands, in terms of finding something fascinating. They were exciting, but there was no depth that coalesced with my personal tastes and desires. When I saw Gloria Mundi that changed, and I started looking for bands handling interesting themes.
When Goth started taking shape at the very end of the 70s I was drawn to it more than any thing else. Its the only form of music that can match who you are. Its about something, and is something. It doesnt merely comment on something, or gear itself towards meeting commercial requirements.
Now that the Internet is common, things spread so much faster than by word of mouth. Do you think that the Internet is keeping Goth alive? And what is it about the Internet that could be doing that? Is it the easily obtainable and readily available music? Or could it be the worldwide connections people can easily make?
It has kept it alive. It has made it easier to find out about music worldwide, and you can reach bands and shops in a way which simply wasnt possible before. The mainstream music media has been scandalously stupid in terms of ignoring Goth. You only have to look at the UKs once revered reputation for music papers. NME and Melody Maker regarded themselves as above everyone else, as they were the arbiters of taste, only to find their audiences simply melting away. Kerrang now sells more than the NME, which I think is hilarious. Writers, who are fans, rather than thinking themselves special, have won out. It was inevitable that Goth should survive on the Net and ignore the media, because of its self-sufficiency and self-respect.
The community side of Goth doesnt seem to me to have done much recently other than getting better in terms of the organisation. I constantly hear from people who simply cant be bothered with that side of things anymore. When the scene moved to the Net early on, the actual individuals responsible for organising these things played a vital, pivotal role in Goth surviving, then succeeding, through this, as they still do, but what they have created just sits there. They put all that effort into it, and then you just find the forums full of the usual opinions.
You cant logically argue that the Net and its network of opinion has made the Goth audience increase in any considerable way. People use it to keep track of favourite bands and to explore a little but pretty soon its the same as anything you find your favourite sites, a zine or two here, a mail order outlet there, and stick with it.
I think the Net was Goths saviour, at a time when existing media simply shrank, but I dont think youll find bands sell appreciably more, even though it makes things far easier for fans, but itll be more interesting to see where it goes from here.
It would be interesting if some of the main zines, for example, could do their own work, on their own sites, but also combine to create one mega-site as well, achieving the effect of replacing the media. That would create a real focus.
While writing this book, you said you spent an inordinate amount of time surfing the Net. What are some general observations youve made doing all this research?
Its not as easy to track things down as you might expect. Try a simple search and get 15,000 pages come up. Its a heaving mess out there, which cant be helped. Residual traces and duplications are everywhere. Thats from the searching side but overall everything has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. The shambolic side has fallen away and people are getting into being far more streamlined. While doing the book I pointed out to some sites their directories were cluttered with dead links, and there are signs some people are really overseeing every aspect of their sites now.
People are using their sites to sustain their interests by running them as businesses, without a drop in quality and it is encouraging them to get even better. Information through mailing lists can be very effective, just as forums have increasingly become irritating and pointless to some, as seen in the mushrooming of groups over the past year.
Im sure our readers are having visions of you holed up in one room hovering over the glow of your computer, with a cigarette and a cup of coffee, for the duration of this book project. But seriously, do you frequent live gigs for pleasure these days? Who do you fancy right now?
Readers wouldnt be far wrong! I was well on the way towards my three thousandth gig, and then this the more reclusive period of my life. Its been hard, because doing this, even handling what I have to regard as the publicity side of things now and reaching as many people as possible (another Net Godsend in that I can make it easier for people to get the book, where the book trade makes it harder!), because Ive had to take a sabbatical, and thats never happened before, and will return to action later this year. People say they dont see me out and about, but they wouldnt anyway. I never go to clubs, as Id rather see bands and my mates. When I do go out I dont seek attention, I watch the bands. People dont know Im there. Most have never even met me. The new names in the UK Goth scene that have cropped up are fairly obvious, as theres been a main dozen, but the one artist I want to keep tabs on is Michael J Sheehy, still developing his solo thing out of the demise of Dreamcity Filmclub, and the grimness has finally left his work, and the real personal character is coming back. His recent gigs seem like hes rediscovering what made him special in the first place.
To many people you are a legend. Do you feel like one? Do you think the books that you have written are just documentation, or are they historically important works, written by an insider, with a significant view of an important subculture?
I dont feel anything of the sort. I am flattered to the point of embarrassment when people tell me how much my work has meant to them. I know from a simple logical fact, let alone personal beliefs, that my books go way beyond mere documentation, because the scene ebbs and flows, and people dip in and out, and the music obviously has little long-term appeal to the majority or theyd still be there, and bands would sell huge amounts. It means everything to me, and Im disgusted when people doubt what I do, simply because, basically, I dont do things the way they do. If people dont want to regard the books as significant, just as some dont actually regard Goth as an important subculture, whereas I think it is the most artistic form of music there is, thats up to them.
I never go out of my way to put my points of view across, other than in my writing. I dont try and sell myself. (Interviews following a book coming out are different; you want to tell people about it.) Consequently people get the wrong idea and some attack me, which is something Im sure everyone is used to on the bitchy front. A few people have a go, and other people enter the fray, childishly sensing blood. Then something unexpected happens, and I suddenly find people e-mailing me every day to explain how it was my work that interested, and informed them, about Goth in the first place, telling me to ignore the crasser comments flowing my way. So it does have an effect in a way that makes me pleased to be able to do it.
Having purchased and read all your books myself, I feel you have done a great service to future Goths by documenting what you have seen. Do you have any advice for someone wishing to publish work of his or her own?
Oh God that is difficult, but I think this is another area where the Net helps, and may help a lot more in the future. In the past I have had huge problems with publishers, from getting them to take the subject matter seriously, to how they handle the books. It just saps your energy sometimes, but it seems to me that if someone can develop their abilities and knowledge on the Net they can get round these initial problems.
Trying to convince a publisher before was difficult, bordering on impossible, especially when Goth disappeared from conventional sight. Theyd hum and hah and then ask if you could do a book about Punk or Grunge instead. Now itd be Nu-Metal. They do care about doing quality books most of them but their guiding principle is if it is profitable. Writers would only be able to put raise their personal opinions, which would seem arbitrary to publishers, who have no knowledge of any scenes. The thing which changes now is that writers who do their own sites and attract attention to their own work, can go to publishers and say, well I get 30,000 visits (not hits) a month, or whatever. That shows that what you do gets noticed. It is proof, of a sort.
I think if you have a special interest in something and a desire to write you have to maintain your dedication. Its not a simple question of having it happen quickly. (It can, but thats very rare.) You have to stick at it and dedicate yourself to it, and withstand the disasters that occur. Recently I was attacked by people in forums who accused me of regarding Goths as cash cows to be milked. I had to write back to them and explain the cold financial facts that I havent even had four thousand in royalties in total for my previous three books, as two of the publishers went bust. When you do get paid its twice monthly, retrospectively, and so royalties would take a couple of years to reach you. You spend a couple of years working on the book, where you cannot effectively do any other work, so you lose twenty grand a year, then you do the book and run the risk of earning nothing. This is something people arent aware of and I suppose they have no need to be.
You cant take anything for granted. Ive said before Never again! because the effects on your life can be hideous, and financially crippling. Then I start rebuilding my life, and instantly beginning looking forward to doing the next book! Its close to a form of madness. If you just want to do a book in your spare time, you can do that, and maybe spend up to five years creating something, which is a much safer bet, but youd need a lot of experience and personal research material.
You need to know what youre doing, seek out publishers you feel might be most receptive, but also try and contact big publishers too. I gather its different in the US where publishers wont even acknowledge manuscripts, the way record labels dont acknowledge cassettes, in case court cases crop up years later claiming plagiarism, but there are ways to reach them and I think visitor figures is the initial way to go. There are also other potential methods possible.
People sneer at my idea of selling photos I took on CD! I know perfectly well, and have stated it, that collectors of certain band are the only people liable to buy these, and the small amount the cds make funds my other photographic projects but I have noticed other photographers copying my lead. Sites that had my details and also other photographers doing traditional prints (at excessive prices) now see them offering an identical service to mine, or announcing they are considering it.
Similarly, I hope that when I get some illustrated novels out, beginning maybe at the end of this year, or early next, that might be something people also copy, as a way to offer something better, and more tangible than text onscreen. That can also be a way for would-be novelists to make publishers sit up and take notice.
Basically, if youre not prepared to risk everything, you wont do it, and you can never allow yourself to get contented about the direction youre taking because it only takes the publisher to go bust and youre screwed.
I would add that with most publishers, they take your first book, but it isnt regarded as anything potentially important (if its a music book) so you wont have an editor highlighting gaps in style or overall strengths of different sections of the book. Theyll just ensure everything arrives on time. So if you havent got too close to your work, which youre bound to do, get friends whose opinions you can trust to go through it and make the harshest criticisms they can. You will stand a better chance of ending up with a book youre proud of. By following this process first you also stand a better chance of the manuscript being accepted in the first place. If you do a book that seems lightweight and sloppy when it comes out and your initial publisher doesnt want to do any more, then using that book to entice other publishers will be a retrograde step.
You have made comments in the past stating that Goth has always been about the music for you. What do you think of the current obsession with a colourful visual appearance of the scenes patrons? Do you feel it is detracting from the music itself? Or has appearance, no matter how it manifests itself, always been as important as the music?
Of course it isnt, its entirely up to them, and the more variety the better. If thats how they like to reflect things, thats brilliant! Its fun, and the scene could do with a lot more of noise and upfront action.
Appearance has never affected the music in any way, nor should it, as that would be trivial. It affects more how the scene has been covered in more traditional media and often mocked as result. Goth never was some moody isolationist genre. The gigs would be wild. People shouldnt have any restrictions on what they choose to wear. Everything changes, and if people want colour, let them have it in every way they want.
Even though you seem to have an endless supply of photographs you have personally taken, have you found it difficult, in the past as well as now, to find quality pictures from other people to include in your books? Did people other than you have the forethought to accurately document the early scene in photographs?
No, but that comes across in every way. I ask writers thinking of writing about their lives how much photographic material they have collected and they slap their forehead and groan. Its never occurred to them! You ask a relative to dig out some negatives because youd like some pics of some family member, and you find theyve thrown them away and just kept the pics, which are now in terrible condition! Bands dont often know anyone who takes pictures when they start off. You find sites with tiny galleries.
Its very difficult to be a photographer, far harder when they start out than a writer, because costs are so much higher, so documentation isnt easy. I plan to use some money made from my CDs, assuming they sell regularly, to try and buy up some, usually small, collections. Ive seen too many photographers just give up after a year and years later simply discard their collections, and that means great work and rare material is lost forever.
Individuals are different. Youll find sites stuffed full of camshots, but those are crap. You couldnt use those. The rest are usually snapshots. Its just not an area many people bother with. That makes the job very difficult, but I do think its getting better.
Do you have a favourite book that youve written, or is the best yet to come?
Its a cliché to hear people say their next book is the most important. Thats usually a way of covering up the fact that they now their latest book is just them on autopilot. I dont favour any of the books. I think, as a writer, theyre books that are fractured, by covering certain areas within one scene, so I havent yet done one that appeals fully to me as written work. I think the next couple I have planned may change that slightly, but Im still a long way from feeling satisfied. It will happen one day, but I dont know when.
Do you have any parting words for our readers?
Never give up, and take no notice of what any detractors say if you suspect their motives. If you have it in you to be creative then pursue it in every way you can because you can only get better, more organised, which means you put yourself in a position where you can attain what you want artistically.
I have made a conscious decision to push further and further with what I can do. Its horribly difficult at times, but you have the satisfaction that you are doing it, and that people cannot stop you. Goth is what is inside you, and if you can translate that into work, go for it or any other subject matter. Just ignore people who try and slap you down. There are too many of them who contribute nothing and criticise everything. If you know you can do it, then you can. Its simply a question of working out how.