We, the boys from Giarre
I became a ‘dark waver’, or simply and rather reductively ‘dark’, the Italian equivalent of ‘goth’ in the anglo saxon world, at the beginning of the second half of the ‘80s. Since the movement had internationally been born at the start of that decade, it meant that I was already part of the second generation of Italian goths. In recent times this later phase has been described as the most superficial, less significant one; the passage to a an essence predominantly linked to mere fashion rather than a socio-cultural discourse, as highlighted for example in the book “Creature Simili, il dark a Milano negli anni 80” (“Kindred Creatures, Goth in Milan in the 80s”), by Simone Tosoni and Emanuela Zuccalà (Agenzia X, 2013).
It wasn’t true, or at least it wasn’t from my point of view.
Sure, post-punk as a whole, in its freshest and most urgent shape had already evaporated, leaving behind a trail of often low grade gothic theatricality and mannerism, but there was still a lot to say and do, if not even more.
It sounds hard to believe now, but at the time to even simply turn up at school head to toe in black, sporting a slightly more imaginative haircut and with military boots at your feet, was literally a slap in the face of the average person, and a gesture of considerable weight.
Goth in general has always been regarded as a less politically and culturally involved youth movement compared to say punk; this was in my opinion another gross misreading, and simply an excuse to criticise a lifestyle that, as well as having depth and resonance, also had a corresponding aesthetical aspect which for some was way too ornate, or too uncomfortably baroque and dramatic.
Instead, the mere act of placing yourself out in the street pale, poised and monochromatic, was already a destabilising motion for a society which during that era had become obsessed with unsavoury fluorescent colours, irrepressible material values and exasperated ideas of success.
Even if we didn’t have the explosive impact of punk, or the naive wish to change the world of the hippies, us goths still had the power to disturb the ordinary psychological set up by the seemingly harmless act of a stroll through the village square; it was an enduring performance, subtle yet precise, which worked its way through the subconscious in a minimal yet incisive way.
Or at least so it was for us, dark wavers from the village.
It was about 4 or 5 of us, between Giarre and Riposto, neighbouring provinces about 30 minutes away from the city of Catania, Sicily. All boys, apart from the occasional female presence; few but good, or should I say very good. Naturally we rejected with all our strengths to be labelled as ‘dark’. However, now that I am in my 40s, I can admit it with pride; ‘dark’, or goths, it’s precisely what we were.
I don’t even remember precisely how I came to this transformation; in a way I think it was always in me, to put it simply. My adoration for bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode early in my adolescence and a phase of fashionable blackwear sported by my older sister, ever a source of inspiration and always tuned in on the latest trends, were possibly initially to blame. However to investigate the “alternative” lifestyle choices of a 15 year old from southern Italy would surely require a deeper kind of analysis, and perhaps another article altogether.
Instead, what I’d like to address here, and with at at times a rather fractured memory and chronology, is the transfer between the province and the city, the dichotomy between the two opposite ends, the frustration, the anguish, the need to belong, often one directional, and the inspiration but also the disappointment that could be exchanged in both directions.
Before ’us’ there was another generation of misfits in the village, a small group of punks, goths and those hybrids that were lazily and heinously labelled as metal heads. When I was very young they represented a rare yet wondrous apparition, a brief signal of an urban and magical, distant world, one removed from the restrictions of the suburb. Blue hairdos, leopard skin-textured shaved heads, leather jackets, shiny boots, anemic complexion and a detached attitude. They seemed to me like otherworldly creatures, responsible perhaps for sowing in my head the seeds of interest towards what was and is the ‘other’.
Speculations were rife about them in relation to drug and alcohol abuse and escapades to Amsterdam or Milan, or problems with the law. I never knew how true these allegations were, it never mattered, and anyway I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all exaggerated by the impossibility of understanding.
It would be interesting to learn why in the provinces these cultural phenomena often adopted a more accentuated and at times more extreme approach, compared to the city where, although not necessarily less incisive, members of the movement could afford to be a little more fluid and in some cases less needy for approval.
Soon however we reached our own aesthetic maturity; we did not refrain from back combing our hair to the nines, wearing rosaries and crucifixes bought from the local church shop (much to the bemusement of the shop assistant), putting white talcum powder on our faces, ordering winklepickers shoes from the shop “Inferno e Suicidio” (Hell and Suicide) from Florence. It took us a little while, however by '86/87 we were ready, perfect, resourcefully styled, no brakes, no regrets.
We often seeked refuge in Daniele’s bedroom, stroking the endless succession of dogs which would inevitably become ill and die (not our fault, I hasten to point out), listening to records that got increasingly corroded with repetitive use, and fantasising about imaginary lives and adventures, during long afternoons, static yet charged with great motion at the same time.
Our outings weren’t however similarly pleasant; apart from being casually insulted more or less left, right and centre on a daily basis, we had also our own official enemies. We were the target of a group of bullies on mopeds who had identified us, knew where we hung out and how to insult us, and did so as a pastime. But we also had our supporters; with a mixture of endearment and not entirely naive fondness we were welcomed from those in the Carmine Square who stood at the margins of the local Saturday afternoon youth scene; ‘psychedelics’, dopeheads, those who listened to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, who were in bands like Lobotomia or Esperia NPS, and also from supporters of the local football team, who had somehow recognised in us a similar focused passion.
Compared to my friends, I struggled to relate to these guys a little more, most of all because of their elevated levels of machismo and testosterone; I hadn’t yet neither discovered or let alone explored my sexuality so this kind of clashed with that seething teenage hormonal turmoil that eventually bonds or should bond all boys together.
But I never made it too much of a problem; in the end I was a dreamer and way too wrapped up in my flights of fancy and the day to day survival to worry about these things that at the time I regarded as rather pedestrian.
I could write an entire book about the relationship we had with our parents; suffice to say that naturally they were in total despair about our penchant for a different kind of lifestyle. Firstly, the colour black in Sicily strongly signified and still signifies mourning, possibly even more than anywhere else in Europe I would go as far as to say, so this was unacceptable to start with. My mother’s work colleagues had told her I was part of a Satanic cult, which needless to say wasn’t true - something I had to convince her of amidst laughter and frustration.
But it wasn’t all sour; my father after all was ultimately rather philosophical about the whole thing and, bless him, was colour blind too so when I dyed my hair bright red with henna, didn’t even notice.
My mother on the other hand had to surrender one evening, when I was about to go out; she severely scrutinised my look and after an initial hesitation uttered with half a smile a phrase that went to completely melt my young, sensitive heart: “you really look like that guy from the Keeoor”.
In high school I was gifted, I don’t know by which charitable deity, with a group of school mates that was loving and supportive, as opposed to nasty and antagonistic. I never understood the reason for this huge stroke of luck, since people being hostile to me was by now a given, but it was an important and crucial blessing that at the time saved my entire life.
They had basically adopted me benevolently as a kind of mascotte; I had also earned the fabulous nickname of “maghetto” (little magician) which I have always adored.
During lunch breaks students from the other classrooms took in turn to insult me, and would challenge my classmates to do the same, something the latter refused to do regularly, a stance for which they will always receive my eternal gratitude.
Meanwhile summers in a mediterranean village by the sea had become another kind of torture; for a whole season I refused to go to the beach, something I loved doing as a child, to keep my face pale and untanned.
To think about it now it seems like a ridiculous punishment but at the time some decisions needed to be taken and respected.
It was a disaster to be sporting layers of heavily sprayed, cascading hair locks and wearing long sleeved black shirts with that humid southern heat, but on a positive note I had developed a method to obtain a perfect hairdo; I would back comb my hair and saturate it with fixative spray then rush out, quickly hop on my beloved Benelli scooter and drive at full speed, rotating my head so to let the spray dry, and arrive at destination with an explosive, striking mane, and I felt proud, ready, strong.
Again, to report these things so crudely now feels incredibly superficial, but in the context of the daily ‘fight’ those were essential actions, some that made you confident and able.
The scooter had indeed become a symbol of freedom on which we practically lived, a journey companion both physical and cerebral, suffering and suffered. A symbol of difference too, since in those days everyone drove either the Piaggio moped “Si” or the “Vespa”.
Daniele had bought one identical to mine, to my surprise and slight resentment I must add (the reciprocal support was always crucial but a touch of healthy competition was necessary too).
On those two poor twin pieces of junk we drove around everything and everyone, and for the most excessive number of miles. We even ‘dared’ to go to the city with them, and I say dared because in the end we were ‘good’ boys, from conventional families, and those were actions that seemed to us to be erroneously transgressive.
However in the beginnings we started going to Catania by train. We began with afternoon raids, going to record shops like Rock 86 on Via Di San Giuliano, or Best Records or Musicland, to buy new music, or to Cemento on Via Etnea to buy a shirt or a jacket, when we had enough money.
I can’t ever forget the fury to go buy the newly published “Disintegration” album by The Cure, later in ‘89 , to then rush back home with the first available train to listen to it, and eventually calling each other in turn over the phone, to enthuse on how wonderful, how fantastic we thought it was. But I was lying. I never liked it and I still don’t, too big and pompous for me, its production too glossy and suffocating at the same time. However those lies and forced sentiments were part of the repertoire of an overall grand theatrical ouvre that had to be enacted always and under any circumstance.
In our visits to Catania we mainly hoped to bump into and meet other souls in tune with us; we were eager to get to know like minded animals, in order to exchange ideas with them and talk about everything we had learned insofar. To meet or even to simply catch a glimpse of someone like “us” was truly a special and magical moment, and a sign that we were not alone.
However the city’s alternative lifestyle existed especially at night, and for us that was still quite an obstacle.
We timidly started going out in the evening also by train, but that meant coming back to the village with the last available ride which was about 22.30 if I remember correctly, way too early for a night out deserving of its name.
We used to go to “The Other Place” pub, near University Square, since it was the only venue we knew was attended by people that might have interested us. It was a smoky place yet rather bright, full of purposely distressed wood, where they used to serve a very good goulash. A few rockers, punks and goths used to go there, including a couple of goth girls with whom we started to flirt, some of us more platonically so, obviously.
But after one particular night when we missed the last train home and had to get a taxi which cost us the whopping amount of 50,000 lire (about 50 quid then), we abandoned our nocturnal travels, feeling temporarily defeated.
None of us was yet 18 so we didn’t have a driving licence either, but as soon as someone in the group would reach this much yearned milestone we would torture and beg him with requests and demands of taking us by car to the city, to find who knows what.
A couple of times Riccardo was forced to drive Pasquale’s mum’s disaster of a car, which seemed to be made of tin and had a missing window, replaced by a lame sheet of transparent plastic which would unsurprisingly still let the cold winter air in. We stuffed ourselves in the car like sardines, above the legally allowed number, one of us punctually travelling hidden in case the police would stop us. Pointless exercise mostly as at the time we were more likely to be hassled by the cops in the street whilst having an arancino than behind the wheel of half broken vehicles.
More or less we would arrive at destination; night clubs were especially hard to reach but still we managed to conquer the dance floor a few times. We had heard about the ‘Non Solo Nero’ parties at the club ‘Divina’; we managed to go only a handful of times, one glorious one in particular to see the electronic band Pankow from Florence, which completely blew my fertile mind away.
“They sound like Sabrina Salerno” (famous ‘80s italo disco starlette), a group of out of context lads next to me had announced with disdain, just because the band was using electronics and drum machines.
“Idiots”, I thought to myself. “This is the future”.
As a matter of fact, Catania had always maintained a clear contempt for anything that wasn’t musically traditional, generally speaking; it has always been the city of serious guitar lashings, the “Seattle of the south” as it was nicknamed in the ‘90s.
This badly concealed conservativism made me sick, but at the same time it was also responsible for pushing me even further towards more esoteric and experimental forms of art and music.
For example the goth scene itself in Catania contained a section of goths that were very macho, something which always made me very uncomfortable.
In contrast to the international goth scene in general, which at least elsewhere embraced ambiguity and androgyny, here in this southern Italian city the ‘alpha goth male’ prevailed always. There was a group of these, obsessed by the band Bauhaus; they wore black leather and little or no make up, hair shaved to the sides but never back combed, always ‘masculine’, and they even had their own personalised war scream.
They took the piss out of us who were, at least aesthetically, more influenced by The Cure’s frivolity or Siouxsie And The Banshees’s vision of baroque turned black; they called us ‘Little Roberts’, with a kind of masked homophobia which always left me perplexed and disappointed.
Another basic problem goths faced at the time was that sadly we were always mistreated and derided even by members of the other subcultures, who always found us much too adorned and excessively full of pathos in our appearance, and in some cases, gifted with an unfocused sexuality which was in turn subliminal yet still dangerously unsettling.
To cut a long story short, we got hassle from everyone, even in the so called alternative scene.
There were the first wave of post-punks, those who hung out with Cesare Basile, then singer with Candida Lilith, who after became Quartered Shadows, who would show off just because they had lived in Berlin for a while and listened to stuff like Sonic Youth and Nick Cave, and who truly looked down on us; we made them sick, or they even pitied us. Or perhaps they simply couldn’t give a toss about us and it was just my adolescent paranoia that suffered. In any case they surely came to our clubs just to openly show their disapproval and superiority, what a waste of time.
What they didn’t know was that , at least us in our small group, we listened to everything, especially industrial and experimental stuff like Coil and Current 93, only that from the way we looked it seemed that we were only tuned into predictable stuff like The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy. We were avid readers, went regularly to all school strikes and political marches and demonstrations, we dabbled with writing and art, we were (or played at being) vegetarians, we saw ourselves as mystical, spiritual beings.
But even if we saw these endeavours as virtues, we still didn’t feel the need to show them off; we regarded that kind of demeanor as a priority of people from the city and not us from the village, and it suited us fine.
Our forages into Catania’s nightlife were indeed not always entirely successful. We once got refused entry at the ‘Sunday Rock’ party at the Empire club because our look was, in their own words, “too extreme”. An alternative club where alternative people were denied entry; it pissed us off so heavily that we wrote an angry letter to ‘Lapis’, a popular free listings and culture magazine of the time. They published it, however with a scathing, cold and ironic introductory note; our gesture had only been partially rewarded.
During the summer, at the ‘Cabana’ club in the seaside resort of Giardini Naxos, a seasonal version of the winter Divina parties, there was also hassle from the organisers who stood at the door giving you attitude upon entry, just because they might not fancy the look of you. Spoiled brats on hiatus from the city who played at being powerful, pretending they were bouncers. Often to get in to that particular summer club you had to be accompanied by girls, who had free entry, so we used to stand outside, stopping and begging bemused passer by tourists who would take pity and get in with us, only to run away immediately afterwards.
Not that either Divina or Cabana were particularly niche environments. Sure, most punters were dressed in black, but there were also many casuals, there by chance, the men in particular perhaps hoping to pull pretty goth girls, since the latter, by their dress sense, appeared to be erroneously easy.
Slowly we got tired of night clubs, especially Salvo whose interests were mostly political, and who regarded them as generally pointless. Daniele and I would still visit them from time to time; me because I needed a stage where to display my new backcombing technique, and because after all I liked to dance, and Daniele because he had his hormones all over the place and quietly and modestly enjoyed being handsome and the attention and courtship of girls who would always be hovering around him.
I also had my female fans, but for me they were like evanescent creatures, I nearly did not see or register them.
Some of them had assigned me with the slightly uninviting nickname of “The Crucifix”; I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t pull. But I like to think that it was actually a benevolent nickname, born out of their frustration of not being able to get me, rather than a real dislike. Despite the lack of vices I was in fact gregarious, friendly and fairly popular, especially for my look which rarely failed in gathering positive reactions, at least from some. I worked hard on that look so I feel allowed to say this without any false modesty.
As a little gang we had instead earned the reductive moniker of ‘The Boys from Giarre’; the omittance of Riposto, from which however only I was from, offended me. How dared they? Didn’t they know it was the birthplace of the legendary musician Franco Battiato?
We were known for our precise appearance and also attentive music taste; one night at The Golden Gate club, which on Friday nights had become the venue for a goth weekly party run by Antonio Vetrano, everlasting king of Catania’s goth and alternative nightlife scene, the man himself, while djing, had introduced over the microphone the track ‘A Day’ by Clan of Xymox. “A heavy track that only the ‘Boys from Giarre’ can dance to”, he had announced from the decks in his inimitable style, a shocking statement that filled me with utter shame yet a modest sense of pride at the same time. Totally cringeworthy to think about it now, but at the time, things like that made you an active part of the scene, as opposed to just a simple spectator.
By this stage the central core of the ‘Boys from Giarre’ were Salvo, Daniele and I, aka the ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ (from the title of a Cure album), the heading which we had chosen for an ad for pen pals that we got published in the monthly music magazine TuttiFrutti. That month’s cover star was Morrissey, therefore many Italian goths and new wavers had bought a copy of the magazine, since at the time we were all so eager to get as much material as possible about what we liked. As a result, tons of them wrote to us, from all over the country.
It was the beginning of wonderful and exciting postal correspondances, some of which ended up in actual meets and friendships, others in pseudo romantic interests, others in almost dangerous contacts. Stuff that only an era like the 80s could produce.
After the Golden Gate parties there was a succession or overlap of other parties and venues, more or less successful, also in small villages just outside the city, like Mascalucia or San Gregorio, the latter hosting two bars which were both fairly busy for a while but of which I cannot remember the name.
With some friends from Catania we also organised our own one-off club night, the “Phobia party” which was quite a success. I was the main DJ, something I still do to this day although with a very different playlist; sadly at the end of that night I left half of my adored and precious records unattended and in the wrong place for half a minute, and in a blink they were gone. Heartbreaking, but then again in those days these kind of shitty things happened all the time.
There were also some classic places that however I never liked, like the bar ‘999’, outside of which one night I discovered to my total horror that the Fiat Panda car that I shared with my sister had been stolen, and ‘Los Locos’, another bar where on the ground floor you’d find all the casuals, and in the basement there was all of us, for some reason. A cold, sterile place again with unflattering bright lights, but that we had nevertheless adopted as a regular hang out, can’t remember for what particular reason.
As usual people in bars in Catania would always sit down at tables in small groups, thus creating pretty much a still, boring and monotonous non-atmosphere. During that particular time though, in total contrast, some random events called ‘Dissipation Parties’ started to take place, so called because the people who run them (Vetrano was again involved) had come up with a lethal cocktail called indeed ‘Dissipation’, which apparently destroyed you and gave you a monstrous hangover. I never managed to go to one of these improvised gatherings, mostly since as I said I still didn’t drink, but at least they sounded wild and transgressive, and about them I would hear the most entertaining anecdotes.
Once our taste for hedonistic nightlife was however fully extinguished, we focused on independently-run anarchic ‘social centres’ like Esperia first and then Auro, although mostly we steered towards live gigs in general, which after all had always been what interested us the most.
We went to see the proto-communist band ‘CCCP Fedeli alla Linea’ near the beach in Catania in the summer of ‘88; we got there by train and then managed to get lifts back, split in different cars.
We were the first to get up from our seats (!) and go right at the front of the stage to dance; us, the boys from Giarre, and we felt like pioneers. I got bruises lasting weeks from the ferocious pogo (the typical punk dance), but of every little pain and mark on my body I was naively proud.
In April 1989 we all almost destroyed the seats of Teatro Metropolitan for the concert by cult Italian band Litfiba, again from Florence; evidently the organisers thought we would stay quietly put by sitting down, but naturally as soon as the band walked on stage we all got up and climbed on the posh velvety seats’ arms, dangerously balancing ourselves on them for the entire duration of the gig, causing no little damage.
The day after on the pages of the local paper La Sicilia we were described as a crowd of vandals and delinquents.
The leader Piero Pelù, in his last days as a cool, alternative icon before the current transformation into reality TV clown, had dedicated the track “Apapaia”, one of my favourites, to “all conscientious objectors”. I just had my application to become one accepted, as opposed to endure the horrors of military service, which was still compulsory at the time, so I answered by screaming out my joy at the top of my lungs, tears almost streaming down my face. “Ri-spe-tta le mie idee!!” (respect my ideals!).
We would go see everything, even stuff that had little to do with us, because the live concert after all was the event that gave us vital power, that validated us. The outdoor concerts by influential Italian bands like Neon and Underground Life, at the main park in Acireale, were also pretty pivotal moments, and the many gigs by local bands, more or less decent, were always an excuse for meeting others and socialising.
At the same time, to my utter bewilderment, I found out that Salvo, Pasquale and Daniele had also started their own little band, ‘Afterglow’, totally unbeknownst to me, and would rehearse in Pasquale’s garage in the afternoon, like betraying freemasons.
Admittedly I was the only one who couldn’t play a musical instrument (the flute that I studied for a bit at the age of 12 was by now embarrassing and didn’t count); what was left for me to do would have been to sing and Pasquale, as well as playing lead guitar, was already the titular of that job. To keep the whole thing secret from me had therefore been the only cruel option, a tiny trauma that hasn’t entirely left me even to this day.
Soon however we would start hanging out at the place in Catania which will always remain embedded in my memory as my favourite, and that I believe that was the most important of the era: ‘Macumba’, near what is commonly known as Piazza Umberto.
Macumba was the ‘underground’ venue par excellence; to start with, you literally had to go down a dingy garage slope to be able to get into the venue itself. Inside it was at last satisfyingly dark, the rough decor being in fact almost all black if I remember correctly. The vibe was tough yet exciting at the same time and, like every other place in Catania, it was smokey in the extreme. There was a small stage on the left, and a row of red leather armchairs that could have been lifted off an old cinema, or something like that.
It had something to do with one of the members of Uzeda, legendary band from Catania itself, which had enjoyed and still enjoys a decent amount of success. Basically it had links with those so called ‘real’ musicians, so it was frequented by people whose interest was solely in drinking and listening to live music, but also by people like us, who alongside those endeavours, also fancied displaying pointy boots and anti gravity hairstyles.
In fact, a good portion of the goth scene would regularly attend; every time I went in however I could sense the judgemental stare of the ex Berliners, and it would weaken me a little. Perhaps I’d even start to doubt this faith of mine, so seemingly only aesthetically based, and lacking in compromise.
That cave, often cold in winter, had seen a succession of unforgettable concerts; Gronge from Rome to start with, whose guitarist Paolo Taballione was from the goth band Carillon Del Dolore, which we loved. We befriended them, they even invited to their rehearsal studio back home and Daniele and I, after a gig by the German band Einstürzende Neubauten in the capital, showed up at their studio for real, much to their surprise. Then the hardcore punk band Negazione, where the atmosphere was nothing short of incendiary.
Finally Quartered Shadows themselves, with Cesare Basile in eye make up and a kind of pseudo baroque frilly white shirt. I congratulated him at the end of the gig, needy perhaps of the approval of one of the ‘eldest’, only to be met by cold indifference, and who could have blamed him.
But perhaps the most memorable concert of them all was the one by the Californian goth band Christian Death; they were one of our favourites and we thought it was insane that they were playing at a mere 30 minutes motorway drive from home.
Everyone feared the crush that was going to happen; surely in the end there was much of it, but ultimately it was the singer Valor who hurt himself injuring his leg in an ill advised jump off one of the stage speakers. We left him there, on the floor, moaning and rolling around, while we had our pictures taken with the guitar player, who looked definitely way cooler. Alas a couple of days later we got to find out that Salvo had candidly forgotten to load the camera with the essential film roll, a dumb act for which he was cursed for years.
Cruelty aside, we were actually already trying to be ‘good people’; politically correct, socially involved, poetically respectful of all that seemed modern, civilised and progressive. But sometimes the desperate wish to achieve the right level of ‘cool’ took over, and it made us into little assholes too.
After the Christian Death concert that night a group of punters died in a car accident on their way back home; it was said that they were drunk or on drugs, in any case it was a terrible event that cast a dark shadow over the evening and the scene in general for quite a while.
As I wrote earlier drugs and alcohol weren’t part of my world, beside the random embarrassing, choked spliff now and again, but obviously I would hear about endless stories of excess and abuse. Most friends of mine had had at least a small accident whilst driving inebriated, and the sight of people collapsing at every corner, especially in clubs, wasn’t at all unusual.
Tranquilizers like Valium and Tavor were in abundance, and I remember there was also this medicine for epileptics called ‘Darkene’, which turned you blind for a few minutes, a ridiculous past time for sure, but that I suppose went along with the common taste for nihilism. Heroin was also around, but at the time that was no mystery; Riposto in fact was said to be a particularly receptive spot, since the stuff would apparently arrive to the village’s port by ships.
Altered states of consciousness aside, the scene, both in the city and back at the village, was organically full of picturesque characters and behaviours, and a certain kind of myth-making was always easy to come across. There were those who would tell you they hadn’t listened to any music for years, believing this would lend them a surreal air, those who told tales of daily and exasperated nervous breakdowns, those who claimed they spoke with otherworldly spirits, those who would be victims of highly choreographed demonic possessions.
They were kaleidoscopic and amateurish concessions that would nevertheless ensure that the overall mise en scene was always creative, amusing or at least entertaining.
There was also a lot of violence around, or should I say a tendency to a kind of nervous, destructive behaviour.
There were a lot of skinheads in the city, with their usual rotten far right political beliefs; as a matter of fact, although I have no proof, the rumour was that some goths were politically verging towards the right also, something which clashed extraordinarily with the liberal, forward thinking original ideals of the movement, and a notion which I still find rather disconcerting today.
There was one skinhead in particular, who shall remain unnamed, who fancied seeing himself as particularly powerful and dangerous, and whom if you saw coming to a club or gig, you knew it was trouble.
There were no particular reasons for these explosions of violence, I think it was textbook, or maybe it was in people’s genes. However small or big, fights and confrontations were nevertheless completely common place.
Slowly we moved away from Macumba; the gigs were becoming rarer and less interesting and eventually the venue sadly closed down, although I never knew exactly why.
We hung out at the Cartiera pub for a while, near Piazza Teatro Massimo, whose main church steps we crowded when the weather was good. In the summer of ‘89 in terms of steps we had colonised the Alessi’s, just outside the ‘Nievsky’, the popular pub with a clear communist leaning.
We hadn’t really gone to Nievsky yet as we had heard it was a meeting point for pseudo intellectuals, and although we did not feel inferior, unprepared or uneducated, we had decided that the place was full of knobends. Naturally we were mistaken; there was nothing wrong or pretentious in showing off your knowledge or romanticised political interests at the time.
Indeed from time to time we liked to act a little overtly cultured too ourselves; a couple of times we went to Centre Voltaire, an art and conceptual performance venue run by the people from the experimental theatre troupe Famiglia Sfuggita. We had their members in high regard in fact, mostly for their astute and excellent one off durational performance on the Alessi steps one summer night, where they repeatedly and for what seemed like hours, poured buckets of water on themselves. It was a smart and hilarious pisstake of the obscure doings of that mysterious person that for a whole hot season, punctually every night after a certain late hour, would pour water onto us revellers from the rooftop of the Nievsky building.
In the end we found out who the secretive culprit was, and it was a surprising revelation, which I leave to the imagination of you readers, or to the memory of those in the know.
Books and films were also important; we would devour Kafka, Camus, Baudelaire, and a Wim Wenders retrospective at the beloved open air cinema Arena Giardino in Riposto one summer kept us happy and engaged for several nights.
With time we felt braver and started travelling further to see gigs or on holidays to Florence, Bologna, cities that had been described to us as meccas of alternative culture. In June 1989 we went as a group expedition to finally see The Cure in Rome, an immense celebratory moment, a precious and indelible memory.
In the winter of the same year I travelled all by myself all the way to Milan, possibly the most desired of destinations, to see Jesus And Mary Chain at the club Rolling Stone, an utterly thrilling experience for an 18 year old boy from a Sicilian village.
As soon as I arrived I immediately rushed to buy a can of hairspray, since there was absolutely no way I would have attended the gig with my hair out of place, especially not a concert in the north.
After all I felt that I single handedly represented the south that night, although I was wrong. As I walked towards the venue I bumped into the omnipresent Vetrano, who was there for the same reason. He could not believe his eyes and went on laughing for years at the bizarre vision of myself, back combing my hair and walking down Corso Buenos Aires at the same time, almost buried in my coat which barely tried to protect me from the bitter cold.
Summer of 1990 saw the first visit to London; it was love immediate and intense, but in a way also the start of a transformation not only aesthetical, but also emotional.
During those torrid weeks in August I had seen so many goths and new wavers that by the time I got back home I felt almost like a big chapter of my life was ready to start fading.
I went again the following year, but by then the ‘80s had finally given way to the new decade and upon my return in my suitcase this time I had packed t-shirts by non goth bands like Ride and My Bloody Valentine.
In ‘92 I went and stayed 6 months to study English; it was practically my last season as a proper goth, all that was left glued together by a few surviving bits of hazy passion and lukewarm interest.
My final detachment from the movement would however manifest itself more or less fully by the time I moved permanently to London, together with Daniele, in early 1993, the move also igniting an irrevocable diaspora of the original Three Imaginary Boys line up.
I’m still here; Daniele has moved to a village north of the city with wife and kids. We hear from or see each other only occasionally, but we sure do it, and always with affection and genuine interest, and we never forget each other’s birthdays. His kids are a complete joy and his beautiful wife has dabbled with goth herself in the past, although this is not the reason why they met. Salvo lives between Giarre and Catania; despite seeing him only a couple of times a year, our friendship has never waned, in fact in time it has also solidified. An eternal rebel, much like me, and most importantly a dreamer, even if he would deny this to his own death.
Last summer we put together an exhibition of my artworks in Riposto, an experience so rich and full of beauty and inspiration that it’ll be difficult for me to ever forget.
This longevity in terms of relationships is possibly the result of that special shared experience, of having lived that adolescence in such an unrelenting intense way; an (enduring) phase full of pathos, solidarity, devotion, joy, pain. Not unlike many other teenage experiences to tell the truth, yet at the same time, especially poignant. A personal mission and a social one at once; an understanding of human exchange seen through a very specific, constructive and precise angle.
The kind of support and trust that you receive in those circumstances, the sense of identity building, the inner growth that you are forced to strengthen at such a forced speed, those are things I would not exchange for anything in the world.
To those who ask me why we endured or chose to do all of that: the clothes, the music, the mannerism, the efforts, the mockery, the abuse, I respond by saying that it was an inevitable decision and nevertleless a beautiful existence, magical and adventurous and if I could I’d do it all over again. We were existential super heroes, handsome black peacocks, futuristic urban elves, and our actions and beliefs were the result of actually considering life in an extremely productive and coherent way.
The much desired city, London in my case, has become my nest, and it’s something I never take for granted and a relationship that never ceases to fascinate me. I have transformed my doodles as a bored school kid into a career and works of art that have been acquired the world over and by major institutions like British Museum or MoMa New York, and occasionally I still I pinch myself to make sure it’s real.
I write this partly because of vanity, but mostly to put into perspective those adolescent experiences that I know for certain have been crucial in shaping the spirit that guides me nowadays, both as artist and as a man.
But I still immensely love to go back to Sicily on holiday, and I do it religiously. I visit Catania always with excitement and renewed curiosity, usually staying in the old Fortino area of the city at my eternal friend Piera’s house. Another one whom I met in those gothic years; a young dark waver with an impeccable appearance who struck me at first sight, and who I immediately chose as spiritual sister, a role she still fills to this day, and always will.
But it’s in my casual strolls in my home village of Riposto, when I still find myself surprised by my own reactions. As a youngster I wouldn’t reach any place without my scooter, now I walk everywhere and for hours.
I have grown in size and the village, the way it happens to adults, has shrinked, sometimes seeming truly minuscule, its narrow central streets quiet and empty at night, the shadows stretching behind you as you walk.
And it’s in these solitary yet rewarding moments that I also reduce in size; with my ipod headphones in my ears, I almost close my eyes and once again, I start my transformation.
The black coat extends and wraps itself around me, my hair grows perfectly sculpted, my shoes become narrow and pointy and my beard disappears, leaving my skin fresh, young and pale.
Half a smile finally comes to life, but It doesn’t shine fully exuberant and brazen on the outside; it rests hushed, amicable and victorious, mostly on the inside.