Posts Tagged ‘church’

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Notes from the Road: Church vs. Church

2011.February.1

Imagine my surprise when my friends in Denver invited me to attend the local Goth club. Not the invitation itself, but the destination: a Goth club called “The Church”. That’s funny, we have one of those in Dallas, too.

So, of course I have to write a comparison and contrast. It’s pretty much required of we suckers who got English degrees (cc: Princeton from Avenue Q).

Now, I’m not going to declare one or the other to be the definitive Church experience (especially since the Dallas Church freely admits to being “inspired” by another club in Miami), nor am I going to delve into a hundred years of city records to parse out the venues’ minute histories, but I think a quick look could be revealing.

Commonalities

Aside from the obvious (name, resonant playlists, sustained devotion to a dying faction of freakdom), both Churches host primarily on Sunday nights, with a smattering of special events on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Both have big stages, lights and videos, and excellent sound systems primed to pump the acerbic basslines of industrial and a thousand offshoots directly into your cardiac muscles. They laugh in the faces of high school segregation by hosting 80s music in special rooms. Each has been around for over a decade and are facing upstart competitors on alternate nights (Dallas has Cafe Excuses’ Panoptikon, Denver has The Shelter), and while the old guards reign the old venues in both towns, the newer clubs have been more successful in drawing newer, younger regulars (more on that later).

The Scene…

Dallas’ Church is dark, loud, and successfully moody. Housed in a former trolley repair shop and dinner theater, every surface across four rooms is black and/or velvety – unless it’s metallic, like the club’s famous and fingerprint-y stripper pole. Equally important are the two wood-planked patios, which offer respite from the crowd for smoker and non-smoker alike. (I’ve heard rumors that Joan Jett & the Blackhearts shot the video for “I Love Rock & Roll” here; I’ve watched it a half-dozen times and I’m more inclined to believe it was shot at Gilley’s or somewhere in Deep Ellum – if in Dallas at all.)

Dancing is the main attraction; regulars go to the uppermost platforms (see above re: stripper pole) to show off, the stage to meet people, and the pit to move. And yet everything about this Church is built on a foundational control of visibility; you come to watch, to be watched, or to disappear entirely (if this last part makes no sense, you have probably never experienced the bittersweet individuality of being too beautiful, too hideous, or too bodily-modified to blend in anywhere but a Goth club). Newbies and voyeurs linger along the outer railing, or in the cushy chairs behind. Each patron of the Dallas Church gets to decide for zirself whether to be a wallflower or a spectacle, and there is no expectation that either choice is a lifetime commitment. To emphasize this freedom all the more, the main room has an upstairs balcony with a full view of the stage and dancefloor and just enough lighting for the bouncers to make sure no one is actually having sex on the decadent velvet armchairs.

An outlying fixture through the death and gentrified rebirth of Deep Ellum, The Church (Dallas) recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. This Church rewards loyalty and is rewarded in kind. Regulars can buy dogtags that earn the wearer free admission on Thursday nights (when the Goth angle is downplayed and the music and looks focus more on hard industrial) and discounts to other events, and for many Church-goers, the question is never whether one will return, but when.

The first thing you notice about Denver’s Church is – holy guyliner, Gothman! – it’s located in an actual, honest-to-weirdness, goddamned stone-and-mortar church!

I’ll let that soak in.

Legend has it that the Saint Mark’s Parish Church was an active parish until a priest committed suicide there (I don’t want to meet the Goth whose pants don’t cream at the thought of shuffling steel-toes across such un-hallowed grounds). And while the temptation is probably there to revamp the building (dig a moat, put in more ornate crosses, and paint it black), the exterior is pretty much untouched from its days as a house of God (it will remain that way, thanks to the church’s 1975 placement on the National Register of Historic Places). It is only at night – when club lights escape through the stained glass and thuddy basslines demand your attention – that its true, nefarious purpose is apparent.

Once inside, it’s hard to just think of Denver’s Church as a club. Every detail seems to remind one of the importance of one’s environment, and with good reason. It’s a club in a fucking church. Unfortunately, the crowd on the night I visited was too small to justify opening the main room – the big, church-iest hall, where once were pews and hymnals and Easter pageants and big metal collection plates – but that big empty space was just visible enough to further enhance the atmosphere, like it was a forbidden hallway to some dark lord’s throne room and only the most malevolent dark minions were allowed.

You could spend an entire night examining the little nooks and crannies, gasping at the Goth-y-ness of it all, and walk away satisfied at the end of your night. On a quiet night like the one I attended, hell, that might be the best idea. Without a lot of people to watch, one can be forgiven for walking the walls for deeper and deeper appreciation, until you finally decided to touch each brick tenderly and ask how it feels to be a mindfuck.

So What About the Congregation…

While I know of no holy suicides at Dallas’ Church, plenty of messed up people and events have passed through on their way to oblivion – and I mean that in the best way possible. My first time, a regular showed me around; she’d had to pick WHICH Gothic outfit to wear, and everyone knew her by her profile name on the Church’s website. That summer night back in ’05, even the rooftop patio was crowded, and I felt overwhelmed and underdressed by all of the costumes and the flaunting – oh, the flaunting! Of skin! Of personality! Of deviance! Of rubber and leather and metal (or cheap approximations thereof)!

The legendary Sunday night freakshows managed to convene dark horse DIYers, up-and-coming fetish models and photographers, mischievous barely-legals who worked last-minute Wal-Mart lingerie purchases like they were stomping a Parisian catwalk, and lurkers of all ages who redrew the line between creepy and sexy before Edward Cullen was a gleam in Stephanie Meyer’s eye. Innocent that I was at the time, my personal Virgil had to drag me into the women’s room to show me how unimportant was gender here – thanks to the cadre of drag queens, transvestites, and royal genderfucks who held court there.

It was all so fucking hot. And while the best days of Dallas’ Church were behind it before I’d ever set foot inside, it is still the place to go for events that belong in Dallas (but not anywhere visible in Dallas). The Church regularly hosts open fetish parties ranging from latex fashion shows to baby’s first spanking bench; concerts featuring industrial anti-heroes of Europe, the mid-’90s, and, well, the late ’90s; and old-guard reunions for early loyalists who want to break out the trip pants and the steel corset to scare off some errant frat-boys or tell out-of-towners about the good ol’ days.

Denver’s Church offered a superficially similar experience: I danced a bit, I stepped out on the smokers’ patio for a phone call, I had a drink and went to the restroom… but it just never quite got to feeling like a club. Amplified, it could have felt like anything from a loud Christian youth lock-in to a stealth rave, but everyone was just too damned chill. People were sexy, perhaps even sexier than in Dallas, but they were not as sexual. I couldn’t help thinking of when Denver DJ Fetish Dolly came to Panoptikon (Dallas’ other Goth club) few years back: she wore fabulous latex that did all the work, played good (not great) music, and flirted across the dance floor without the slightest indication of what she might do if someone were to flirt back. I wondered then what she would have thought of the ladies room at Dallas’ Church; these days I wonder how she’d fair at the hands of one of Dallas’ expert sadists.

And while the Denver folks probably had more square yards of black textile than a Dallas crowd twice as large, that was as deep as the Goth went. No one was particularly lascivious. No one was creepy. There weren’t huge groups to join or avoid. I didn’t feel like a voyeur, here; I felt like a 16-year-old attending my first Teen Night, trying not to be disappointed that THIS was what all the fuss had been all about.

Worshipping Online

That Goth communities have endured this long is, in large part, thanks to the concurrent development of online networking, and few businesses of leisure have ever milked that opportunity as brilliantly as Dallas’ Church. Since before there was Facebook, or even MySpace, The (Dallas) Church’s three websites offered a community where DFW’s lost young adults could grow from bad poets to bad dancers to bad-asses who, at long last, know the strength of numbers – the strength of belonging – and also might happen to make their own leather goods.

The homepage boosts information, events, and highlights content from sister sites. For visitors of all stripes who go to see or be seen, there’s The Church Pictures, which posts pictures from special events and other nights. Dallas’ Church has long capitalized on their voyeuristic allure by welcoming professional photographers and local models at every event, stamping their pics for credited sharing, and encouraging Church-goes to share their own. Before the advent of Facebook, hard-core fiends went to The Church Boards, a third website where even the most sporadic visitor could feel like a regular  (socializing is easier to manage typing to a screen than shouting into the darkness).

Although The Boards appear to have fallen, the Facebook page is active, updated, and well-administered. Dallas’ Church has always stayed at the forefront of online social networking, luring newcomers via MySpace, Facebook, and even Twitter, while avoiding niche sites like Foursquare and LinkedIn that are, frankly, irrelevant. Somehow, the club rarely panders too hard, yet it maintains a strong online profile. And while most of the Dallas fetish community might not be in regular attendance, they do follow the local Church on Fetlife and can attend kink-themed events without embarrassment or irony. (An opposite cross-over posture is maintained by Dallas’ thriving fetish model community, most of whom are only kinky when the camera is on but know better than to bite the hand that feeds them.)

As for Denver’s Church… um, they have a Facebook, I think? One that, despite having three times as many fans as the Dallas page (ooo, dems is fightin’ words!), exhibits only a minimal online presence. Seriously, I did an online search for “Church Goth club”. Out of the first 10 links, 6 are for Dallas, 2 are for Denver (none of them an official homepage), 1 is for yet another “Church” in Ohio, and the last is to SecondLife. Need I go on? No wonder there was no sense of community…

Deviation from Deviance

Despite its infamy, Dallas’ Church has experienced a steady decline in attendance for about as long as I’ve been old enough to attend. The O.G. scene (Original Goths, or at least “original” within my lifetime) got older and had to move on when work got tiring, babysitters wouldn’t work Sunday nights, and the clothes at Hot Topic just didn’t seem to fit any longer (sometimes figuratively, sometimes horizontally). It didn’t help that Deep Ellum was crashing and burning under the willful oversight of late ’90s and early ’00s City Hall.

But the thing about anachronistic subcultures: eventually, they simply fade away. It is a credit to the fetish, burlesque, and even steampunk aftershocks that Dallas’ Church still gets its two nights a week; Friday and Saturday nights, the building is known as The Lizard Lounge, a decidedly non-alternative club predating (and technically operating) The Church and catering to kids who would have gone Greek if they hadn’t gone to community college. The more The Church loses its infamy, the more these heretical brats show up on the wrong night, degrading the once-proud costumes of black, royal purple, and red wine with just a few too many white polo shirts and (Goth forbid!) ballcaps.

In Denver, I didn’t have to step into the swank (and empty) cigar lounge and eye the (brilliantly idiosyncratic) sushi bar on ground level to suspect the same thing might be happening there. But I suspect these quirks make sense to folks in Denver, and there are definitely some upsides. The Church in Denver is only ever The Church; there are no aliases, no frat nights, no Invasions of School Girls that I can tell (all fishnets aside, Dallas, there’s nothing Gothic about plaid skirts when their invasion is timed perfectly with Spring Break). Denver’s Church gets concerts in the great hall that stretch the boundaries of “Gothic/industrial” to include even rap; this probably says less about Denver’s Goth community than it does about Denver’s entire population, which is generally more laid back, homogeneous, and Caucasian than is Dallas’.

The fact of the matter is, Denver’s Church has everything it needs to throw a good party – namely, a smaller prevalence of white ballcaps.

In Summary (A Slow Night…)

I wish I’d had more than one brief night to draw from in writing about Denver, but little things tell a lot. The setting is incomparable, but that can only go so far. I get the sense there’s room for more interesting people – and therefor more potential for a resurgence – in Denver. Dallas appears to have the better crowd, but the well of black gold is nearly exhausted, and their absence just makes slow nights more painful. A slow night in Denver would probably just mean more room to dance and a better chance of hearing your friends, while a slow night in Dallas could mean a run-in with a drunk rich kid or a decidedly underwhelming visual adventure.

What I’d really like to see is a Goth-exchange program; just once, let’s take a busload of Dallas freaks up and invade Denver’s Church for the greatest night Goth America has ever seen.

And then, when we get home, let’s all bury the NIN T-shirts, give leather back to the S&M community, and start creating some new ways to access the darkness of it all so the up-and-coming moody teenagers have something to aspire toward that is more original, authentic, and revolutionary than sparkly vampires and girls who only make out with girls when their boyfriends are watching.

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What Makes Evolution a Theory?

2008.November.26

[What follows began as an unsolicited response to another blog; the blogger was discussing education in Texas and her openness to creationism being taught in classrooms on the basis that Evolution was a theory. It’s not so much about politics as it is about science, and it may be a bit dry.]

It’s fine to be skeptical of evolution based on the data you have seen, but “theory” as it is used by the scientific community does not mean quite the same thing as a “theory” on prime time cop dramas. A “theory” in science is often a pattern that, no matter how sound, cannot be directly observed within the human experience. In fact, the word’s connotation in science is no weaker or stronger than terms such as “law” or “principle”.

In today’s scientific community, a theory is regarded as a very serious and credible structure, whose scope is beyond our reach for irrefutable proof. Established theories are never so much disproven as they are re-interpreted. For most of human history, light seemed to be instant and straight, but we now believe it simply moves faster than we can notice and bends for great amounts of force (i.e., the gravity of a planet).

Calling something a theory can simply mean that the phenomena described are either too small in scale (such as gravity, which occurs at the sub-atomic level) or too great in scale (such as might occur over eons, like evolution) to be observed first-hand. These types of theories are “proven”* in the sense that they exist as whole and complete systems that feature consistent behaviors and structures as best we can observe – and, yes, theorize; what makes them seem less sound is that their scope usually gives them limited scientific predictability (but improvements in weather prediction over the last few decades imply that with enough data, even the least predictable phenomena could one day become predictable; maybe that is Google’s true goal).

(*Since language itself is only an approximation of our perception of what we define as reality, “proven” science is constantly being honed and modified in its own terms.)

I don’t want to rock your world or anything, but most every scientific discovery since Einstein began with theorization: thought experiments were developed and their answers were tested using observable apparatus. The ones that were found consistent with theory went on to become microwaves and cell phones and laptop computers, but they can never be called “true” because our human senses cannot directly observe the waves that heat water molecules, the radio waves that transmit our voices, or the microprocessors that translate key-punching flurries into wordy and unsolicited scientific lectures.

Think of the Theory of Evolution as a law that cannot be demonstrated before our eyes. The data supporting it might be re-interpreted, explained in a different light, but the logic that exists there is unlikely to ever be entirely disproven.

What I find alternately amusing and frustrating is that fundamentalists on both side of the issue refuse to see the gaping holes in their own beliefs that allow for a distinct possibility of overlap. My best friend, a fairly fundamentalist Christian for as long as I’ve known him, was a whiz at biology in high school and saw potential everywhere for biological phenomena to be the methods God uses to implement His will. He observed that the creation of the Old Testament fairly accurately described the sequence of Earth’s development and life thereupon (especially if, as my friend supposed, those seven days were seven of God’s days, rather than days of men) and he saw potential for evolution to be God’s method of influence.

Coming from the opposite end of the belief spectrum, I have my own theory (as in hypothesis) about how evolutionary study could one day trace all life on Earth back far enough to actually pinpoint a moment of creation (and perhaps, therefor, a creator?).

But in this country, we aren’t really fond of finding common ground with those who question our view of the world.

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Who’s Your Scapegoat?

2008.November.14

For those who don’t know, there will be national and international protests of Proposition 8 tomorrow at 12:30pm Central. Visit Join the Impact for more information. North Texas events are taking place in Dallas and Denton, possibly others.

Some of the strongest opponents of Prop 8 have released a letter asking for a little perspective from their allies:

“It is natural to analyze what went wrong. But in recent days there has been a tendency to assign blame to specific communities, in particular, the African American community.” The letter goes on to question early reports about the proportion of African American support for Prop 8. The organizers accurately describe this perspective as a divisive distraction away from the organizers who successfully leveraged passage of Prop 8 with aggressive campaigning. “The fact is, 52 percent of all Californians, the vast majority of whom were not African Americans, voted against us.”

Some commentators have also said that campaigning and funds from the Church of Latter-day Saints (mostly out-of-state) contributed heavily to Prop 8’s passage, which raises church-and-state questions.

But there are also reports of retaliation. Opponents of Prop 8 are using a website that tracks Prop 8 donations to target boycotts, on both personal and community levels. Protests have lead to the resignation of a musical theater director who donated $1,000 in favor of Prop 8. Even Mormons are leaving their famously insular church.

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What’s Your Stake?

2008.November.13

All other things equal, would you rather have an insider or an outsider representing you on policy matters?

John Steele Gordon, a commentator on NPR’s Marketplace, today contended that for Treasury Secretary, President-Elect Obama should select “a fox who knows the weak spots in the hen house”… someone like Henry Paulson. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have someone who knows a security from an exchange. (Gordon’s delivery was so dry it sounded like satire until he cited founding SEC Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy as an example of someone whose success came because he “knew where the bodies were buried” and “what reforms were needed”.)

Meanwhile in Texas, we have a member of the Texas State Board of Education who has taken it upon herself to warn America that the president-elect is not an American and will institute martial law. A little out of her jurisdiction, yes, but not much more than her position on the board – where she helps develop the public school curriculum – considering her side work developing a curriculum for “church study groups, home schools and private school classrooms” that her own children have only attended home school and private school.

Is it too much to ask that officials elected or nominated to serve a specific sector (such as education, FEMA, energy, international relations…) have some direct experience in that sector? Even if you believe in changing a system as it exists, you can’t (well, shouldn’t) just make an immediate and unmitigated 180 turn away from established policy. You probably don’t want to turn your car around on the highway without slowing down and exiting. You probably don’t want to put a communist in charge of trade (despite some of Obama’s frothier detractors’ certainty that very thing will happen). You probably don’t want a vegan as your butcher, a Mormon in your porn, or a misanthrope as your spokesperson.

Look for someone who has at least some vested stake in the work ahead. Even if they aren’t a member of your political wing. The party operatives might do more harm than good. Sometimes intentionally.

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What Happened in California?

2008.November.7

In the midst of celebration of our next president, a lot of folks feel like they got a mixed bag because California voters passed Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state. The opposition to Prop 8 is refusing to concede and, with several lawsuits pending, there is a possibility the issue is not dead, but many supporters (in California, across the U.S., and even across the Atlantic) are stunned by the outcome. I’m sure even a few opponents were surprised, given the reputation California has for being a liberal bastion,  but it’s never that simple.

Ironically, my best guess is that Tuesday’s biggest victory is tied to Tuesday’s biggest defeat. The biggest reason Prop 8 succeeded was…

the victory of Barack Obama.

And while I hate to say the answer lies in demographics… the answer lies in demographics.

A lot of liberal voters (and I want to distinguish Democratic voters here from the Democratic Party, who I think should have been less surprised and to my knowledge were not directly involved in the ballot initiative) overlook the differences within their own party, especially during an upswing like 2006 and 2008. If Dems are going to win big, they think, surely the policies they like are going to pass as well. If a Democrat is elected president by a significant margin (and Obama won California with 59% of the vote), surely all of the ballot initiatives will go their way also!

But ballot initiatives aren’t part of straight-ticket voting, and they are an opportunity for wedge issues to be culled and highlight the differences between members of a party. That voters in red-turned-blue Colorado and red-as-ever South Dakota turned down initiatives targeting abortion reminds us that wedge issues wield a double-edged sword. Anyway, I’m rambling again. My point is that Democrats take some of their own for granted.

Obama triggered record voter turnout, with many lapsed voters registering for the first time specifically to vote for (or occasionally against) him. Among the block of new voters (and of dutiful ballot-casters as well), there was a huge turnout of voters who are Black and Latino, and they strongly favored of Obama. But those communities (which the Dems so often claim to be looking out for), are actually rather socially conservative, especially among older voters, who are most likely to vote. On this very issue, huge wars of words have occurred under the radar of most media between surviving Civil Rights leaders as to whether Gay Rights were the new civil rights or an abomination to the Civil Rights Movement’s church-value foundation. That question is not realistically answerable. “It is imperative to discuss rights issues without comparing the suffering of one group against that of others.”

So while pundits pontificate on the emerging split in the Republican Party, don’t forget that the Dems have been there before, and will one day be there again.

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