This post represents the first installment in a six-part series entitled “Embracing My Inner Goth.” Keep watching this blog for parts 2 through 6. Enjoy!
Part I: Searching For Anne Rice
In the mid-1990s, mainstream pop culture welcomed its most recent infusion of vampire fascination with the making of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire into a movie. It starred Tom Cruise as Lestat and launched Kirsten Dunst’s career as an actor and Brad Pitt’s career as a heartthrob, even if his character, Louis, was sort of whiny — appropriately melodramatic in a tortured kind of way. Interview’s gorgeous reception had been well prepared for by Rice’s authorly success with a slew of books — both her vampire and witch series, written under her own name, and her more risqué offerings written under the
pseudonyms Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure — and by the cult-status success of the theatrical release in 1992 of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Winona Ryder (when she was it), Gary Oldman (when American audiences didn’t know him yet), and Keanu Reeves (long before the third Matrix movie destroyed his credibility).
You didn’t have to be a goth for Interview to appeal to you. Magazine ads promoting the movie before it came out featured an artistically photographed Cruise leaning over an Odalisque in a sumptuous boudoir setting, his shirt half open and fangs not quite bared. The look in his eyes was intense (and not the guano-crazy kind of intense we’ve come to associate with him now). The tagline read, “Drink from me and live forever.” Audiences ate that stuff up.
And I admit, in those frenetic college years, I was a fan. The summer I was twenty, I went for the weekend with my best friend to New Orleans to visit another friend from school who was from there. And the three of us, on an overcast and bayou-muggy Saturday afternoon, went on a pilgrimage to find Anne Rice’s house.
We knew it was in the Garden District. In fact, Rice might have been the most famous person living there, aside from some of the athletes who played for the Saints. And we knew that Rice’s house had been the model for the house on the cover of The Witching Hour. With that evidence in mind, we set off on a whim to include the task of finding this place on our informal sightseeing tour.
I was already a writer at that time — had been for years, in fact — pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at the University of Houston. I had seen on a documentary somewhere that Rice’s studio in her home was covered in black sharpie, dialogue and narration spilling forth from her mind onto the walls and furniture. In my youth, the idea of emblazoning one’s stream-of-consciousness across the walls seemed gloriously ingenious rather than exhibitionistic, inspiring to the writer’s own psyche instead of maybe a little nuts. I started penciling my own poetry up on the walls of my dorm room. In hindsight, I think I was subconsciously desperate for people to know and understand me, even as I was beginning to know and understand myself.
And I wanted to see that studio.
It didn’t take a lot of driving around the Garden District to find what we thought was probably the house. Lavender stucco, iconic wrought-iron railings on the upstairs balconies. The whole place shrouded in the twilit gloom of tall trees draped with Spanish moss, thriving in the humid New Orleans climate. Black iron gate around the perimeter of the property, with a call box next to the opening in the front. We felt in our guts that this was the place.
Dear Anne had a corner lot. Nice.
We were so convinced we had found the place, we took a picture of ourselves at the front gate, the address placard prominent in the middle of the shot and the house itself clearly detailed in the background — so we could find the place again if we wanted to, I suppose.
And then, in a flash of inspiration, I rang the bell.
“What are you doing?” one of my friends hissed.
“Seeing if this is the place,” I said, the heady rush of recklessness intoxicating my judgment.
“Are you crazy?” It was a choked shriek.
“Maybe,” I grinned but couldn’t respond further, because suddenly, bursting forth from the call box speaker, came a woman’s voice.
“Hello?” it said.
My friends looked shocked, as if they’d never heard a woman’s voice come out of a little electronic box before. I answered before any more time elapsed.
“Um, hi.” Original, I know. The silence in the box was expectant. “Um, we’re…tourists. Is this Anne Rice’s house?”
“Yes, it is,” said the woman calmly, indulgently, as if she were asked this question often and generally delighted to be answering it.
“Are you Anne Rice?” I nearly squealed.
“No, I’m not,” she said, and one of my friends stifled a guffaw while the other one looked like she would pass out from relief. But I would not be deterred.
“Is she home?” I asked.
“No, she isn’t,” the woman said, politely. “She’s traveling right now.”
“Oh, okay,” I said, feeling slightly crestfallen for a reason I couldn’t entirely, at the time, explain. I think I mumbled something about wanting to see her studio; I was refused. Politely.
“How many of you are there?” the woman asked.
“Three,” I said, “myself and two girlfriends.”
“Well, why don’t you all come around to the side door, and I’ll give you each an autographed photo of her. Would you like that?”
“Yes!” we all answered, sounding every bit like the squeeing co-ed fangirls the woman must have assumed we were.
We went around to the side door excitedly, nearly tripping over ourselves to get there. When the woman came to the door — a woman who in my memory actually resembles Charlaine Harris, although I’m sure that must be a coincidence — she graciously and with a genuine smile gave us each the promised postcards and sent us congenially off on our merry way.
We talked about this episode for weeks. Months, even. And though we never went back, and even when Rice’s popularity had faded from the mainstream, we still referenced our little pilgrimage — occasionally, in conversations about other nostalgic things — with fondness.
Vampires chew their way into popular culture periodically. Surely you’ve noticed. And they’re often different from what came before.
Stephenie Meyer’s Cullen clan bears little resemblance to basically anything else in the general public’s memory of vampires — hardly a surprise, when you consider Meyer claims not to have done any research on vampire lore before writing Twilight. I don’t know whether to believe this, although the idea is interesting. It sort of reminds me of that old rumor that Prince never listened to any music but his own.
It’s a nice thought that Meyer could stumble upon something relatively original; that’s inspiring, right? But what she’s done is to create a story of morality without invoking a lot of obviously religious baggage*, and — as someone who believes that morality and religion are frequently divorced from each other nowadays, and that morality can in fact exist independently of religion if we only consider humanity as a discrete force — I totally respect that. Some have claimed that she was stealing ideas from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, but I suspect those adherents either have read only the first books of both series, and probably not real carefully, or have formed that opinion and not considered any alternative as they plowed through the other books, noticing only that evidence which might support their preconceived idea.
I really like some of the iterations vampires have taken over the last few decades. Aside from Anne Rice, I liked Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula movie, even if it was an awful lot to take in, visually, in a two-hour period. I even liked the incarnation of Dark Shadows that aired on television during the late 1980s/early 1990s, when I was in high school and could more than withstand melodrama. (It doesn’t hurt that my mom had affectionately named me after a character from the original soap opera, and that I grew up knowing this even before I was old enough to realize what a harpy the character was.) And yes, as an adolescent, I was (like almost every other straight female I knew) a pitiful devotee of Tom Cruise. But at that tender age, I hadn’t yet learned to fully appreciate the psychological glory of the literary vampire, an ever-evolving slice of divinity streaking its way across the cultural subconscious.
- If you don’t know anything about Mormonism, then all you’re really left with is Edward’s half-hearted musings about his soul in the second book, and those can be dismissed as existential rather than theological. Philosophy over dogma? Win.
Click on these links to be taken to the rest of the posts in this series. Thanks for reading!