Tonight, I found myself unexpectedly diving back into 90s punk, industrial, and the general dark scene I loved as a kid. I was about ten years old as I recorded Type O Negative and Marilyn Manson onto a taped cassette from the radio, and I remember slipping the thin headphones onto my ears from my off-brand Walkman as I rode in the back seat of the car. It was grocery shopping eve, and rain was pattering against the window as I looked out across the road. Type O Negative’s ‘Love You To Death’ soothed me into an early moment of awe. I was forming an early taste for the darkly romantic before I even knew what romance was.
If my parents knew I was listening to the band Orgy and obsessing over Poe, the musician, they would have been concerned. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV for the longest time, and they kept a pretty tight grip on the movies and media I was allowed to consume. Keep it G or PG, basically. Nickelodeon dot com. Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis. Disney movies. All of that stuff.
My mom did get me the Garbage 2.0 album though. I think it was because she’d heard one of the songs on the Now 2 compilation — the second Now That’s What I Call Music album. Shirley Manson, the lead singer of Garbage, wasn’t really vulgar, but her music delved into some pretty dark stuff that I shouldn’t have understood as a kid, but I was already struggling with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide from being bullied, and I was taking Zoloft and coping with disabling agoraphobia.
I remember being very young when I fell in love with horror as well. Goosebumps were my introduction, and I knew my dad loved Stephen King, who is considered a modern horror master. I stumbled upon the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy, and that was one of my first tastes of truly being afraid of literature. Granted, the reason they were so alarming to me was because of the Bloody Mary legend, which was really popular then. It was used to traumatize me at a birthday party, and I was forever afraid of the dark.
While I didn’t have access to a lot of media due to a strict rule on what I was allowed to consume, I regularly discovered things in secret. My love for vampires was sparked when I snuck the Interview With A Vampire VHS from the video cabinet in my parent’s room, and I remember how entrancing it was to see for the first time. I didn’t yet know what love or warm and mushy feelings felt like or meant, but when I saw the vampire Lestat and how bratty and brilliant he was, I think that’s what sparked some kind of sexual awakening.
I guess I should take the time to say, too, that I stumbled upon all sorts of ‘forbidden’ things like that as a kid, and I turned out alright where having morals and being a good person is concerned. And a lot of the media I enjoyed and consumed was very dark.
Something inside me was yearning for… something from a very young age. I never truly felt a connection to the Christian religion I went to church for. I always felt very weird compared to other kids, and listening to Marilyn Manson in daycare definitely didn’t win me any friends. I didn’t go out of my way to be strange or stand out just to be cool. Even as a teenager who wore Tripp NYC pants with chains, spiked collars, and hoodies year-round to hide my self-harm injuries, nothing I did was to make a point or stand out.
I’d been naturally drawn to darker things for as long as I’ve been able to have any sense of self. I’ve always understood the dark because it understood me. And then I wonder if some people are just born with a darker aura. Some of us just belong in the dark, and it’s not a bad or negative thing.
Those in the dark tend to think deeply, feel intensely, and most have an urge to express themselves artistically in some way. Speaking for myself, I’ve been writing stories since I was seven. Even then, I remember a few darker things I wrote that I couldn’t have possibly understood. I don’t even know how my mind was able to concoct a story about a woman who was escaping an abuser only to stumble upon multiple horrors like a badly written horror film. I was probably about nine or ten with that one.
I’m no stranger to trauma, and I have enough mental health diagnoses to get tongue-tied. But before the life-altering trauma that gave me PTSD, way back to my earliest memories of Kindergarten, I experienced intense fear. I’ve had an anxiety disorder for as long as my memories exist, and even before that, I had chronic nightmares and night terrors that followed me into adulthood and the present day. I started keeping a dream journal that’s been scattered in many places over the years. More recently, I’ve started turning my nightmares — including the most traumatic ones — as well as my sleep paralysis experiences with the entity I call the Intruder, into short stories.
My most recent complete book explores all of this. All of my childhood memories that were traumatic, all of the frightening thoughts I had as a kid that I’ve rarely uttered to anyone else, and my journey through nightmares and trauma as I grew into a teen. The book ends with my adult years as I face down my sleep paralysis entity — the Intruder — and confront fear itself through a series of horrific dreams. And the dreams in the story are real — taken directly from my dream journals. All of this is, of course, weaved into a bit of a side plot with angels and demons to make things interesting. But there is more truth than fiction in the book.
I’ve tripped into one thing after another in this, and I’m not sure where I meant to end it. Tonight was filled with a lot of introspective moments, and it was inspired by some music from the 90s I’d missed out on. When I hear something unique like I did tonight — something that makes everything in my constantly buzzing brain come to a halt the moment it hits — I am overwhelmed again with a love for art. For all forms of artistic expression that humans use to show the world something that can’t otherwise be perceived. And when it’s done authentically, and when the artist truly means what they are saying and showing and they can capture that in their work, that’s a rarity that makes life beautiful. It’s like magic.
There is beauty to be had in the dark that way. And some of us are just meant to make friends with our demons.
©2021 Shane Blackheart