Do you know what it's like to wake up in low spirits and with a crumpled face (no matter how much face cream you use, it's still crumpled!), on one of those days when you believe that all senses are sucked into a black hole that has suddenly appeared in the centre of your world? When it seems that no one understands you and no one is your peer and you feel like kicking the universe in the head and slapping yourself as well, ashamed by the taste of self-pity? In such situations, I, for one, resort to a safe remedy. I prepare myself a musical cocktail, following an infallible recipe: an intensive dose of Dark Entries (with recordings from three concerts), followed by a treatment with Sanity Assassin, the studio version, a portion of In the Night - in my opinion, the most inciting song on the album The Sky Is Gone Out, and, in the end, an infusion of Small Talk Stinks. This mash-up has always worked for me and has made me as good as new, after each critical moment.
There comes a time when you realize you are not immortal, after you pass your first youth. You begin to feel the earth slipping from under your feet and nostalgia begins to hover around you more and more. You think: what if you got your hands on the time machine? Where would you go? What would you change? What would you like to live again? What other era would you be tempted to migrate to? I felt the urge to make myself contemporary with them, at the moment when the band became famous, and to live the frenzy, the fever, the delights and convulsions of those years.
We all look for people and places that we resonate with, some of us do it in a more relaxed manner, sporadically and with less passion, others do it more assiduously. We all try to somehow become harmoniously attuned to reality and it depends how much we manage to... For me, the guys in Bauhaus are part of a universe that has always been familiar to me, in any case, more familiar than the one I was shaped and fated to move around in. I don't know how else to say it. In '89, right before the revolution, I was 15 years old. I was in high school. Me and a few colleagues had managed to procure a video cassette with the Led Zepp movie, under-the-counter. We were all crazy about their music. Rock was even more important for us, those ones living in the East, because it was another name for freedom, it was the symbol of a culture of protest. Rock music was the image of young people and adolescents just like us, who were allowed to speak their minds in public, to dress however they wanted to and talk freely. Communist censorship was very strong. Right after the fall of the regime, we discovered television. A contemporary television, which reflected some of what was going on in the world, because until then, we'd only had a propaganda television. It's true that we got a lot of good, classical music. But rock was taboo... it was the expression of "Western and capitalist decadence". At 15, I saw the first rock bands on MTV. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. My mother was desperate, she was afraid I would have to repeat the year. Although I had been fairly good in school, I'd suddenly lost interest in everything... everything except gluing my eyes to the television set and gorging myself with all that music and those images. The day she saw me walking out the door with my cut-out jeans, a grave digger hat on my head, frayed gloves that I had cut the fingers off, and an army-like jacket, which I had sewn 6 silver buttons on by myself, heroically struggling with the thick fabric, she started crying: her daughter was turning into a tramp. I felt sorry for her, so I agreed to give up the hat when I went to school, but not to parties. However, the most interesting accessory was precisely a silver broach that I had nicked from her jewellery box and which - through a coincidence of the sort that make you believe destiny is winking at you - had the design typical of the Bauhaus style. Fetishes, etc.
The band emerges in the troubled and hectic British world of the late '70s. On a background of social turbulence and cultural confusion, in a context in which punk groups claim almost the entire independent musical scene, Bauhaus appears as a breath of fresh air in a fairly monochrome musical scenery. To be honest, engaged and protesting music had become a commonplace and an infusion of aesthetic spirit was necessary. In the first year, 1978, they play in obscure and pretty shady clubs from provincial towns. At the time, darkness, mist, cigarette smoke... and last but not least, drugs are very popular. The aesthetics of decadence is in full bloom. The most coveted sound of the moment is an aggressive, untamed one, a sound as dense and strong as unfiltered beer. What gives them the energy to throw themselves in the whirlpool of the indie area is precisely the spirit of the age and the punk mentality, the idea that anyone with enthusiasm and inspiration stands a chance. On the background of an economic crisis, as well as a crisis of perspectives, punk culture flourishes as an alternative lifestyle for hopeless youngsters. Unlike other excellent bands, such as Joy Division or Killing Joke, which tackle the social problem and the difficult themes of the political context head-on, the guys in Bauhaus choose the path of satire and allusive expression, which gives them a much broader expressive palette. Music has a different aesthetic calibre and it separates itself clearly from the rough and predictable sonorities circulated by the other bands, most of them bleak and pessimistic. Although outlined on a dark background as well, the songs and stage apparitions of the boys from Bauhaus contain a substantial dose of humour and eroticism, sometimes even charged with them. During the time when I was focusing on them, I was under the influence of Egon Schiele's painting and it would be impossible for me to deny having associated the matters. There was somehow the same aesthetic fibre in the beauty, both vital and sensual, cast in fabulous colours, of the skeletal and contorted bodies in the Austrian's paintings and in the apparitions of the four "anorexic beasts & beauties" from Bauhaus. Yeah. That's about how they seemed: the beauty and the beast merged into one character.
Small, great malentendus
When I discovered the band, in 1990, it was already broken up. Before 1989, in the countries from the communist bloc, pop and rock music from the West weren't exactly accessible, only after the fall of the regime did we begin to find out what had been happening on the Western cultural front. Therefore, in 1990 I discovered them, I became a fan, and by '92 I was already addicted and so on. The fact is that I too, just like any other fan, believed it was a sacrilege to compare them with any other band, not to mention the possible association with a certain current. In the '90s, I was a teenager and I took advantage of the fact that I had a very indulgent father and a very busy mother, so I covered all the walls of my room from my parents' house with quotes from recalcitrant philosophers and texts from rock bands. A few parties took place between those walls, which ended in drinking sessions, and, as a consequence, the walls were also inscribed by the visitors. Once, I happened to receive a visit from a few Visual Arts students, who were big Sex Pistols fans, and who papered one of my walls with a huge mural artwork, eulogistically dedicated to the band. The following day, although in a terrible hangover, I realized the disaster. Right above my bed, written in letters as big as the flower vase: Sex Pistols. 'Une sainte horreur!' I told myself. I needed to repaint. As soon as possible. I was terribly ashamed, thinking about my refined artists from Bauhaus, who were so arty! Two decades later, I would read an interview in which Daniel Ash, a guitarist in Bauhaus, confessed that the music of the guys from Sex Pistols had the same effect over him, in his youth, as his music had over me. Irony of fate, or what?
Peter Murphy (voice): generally reflexive and a dreamer, occasionally impulsive, somewhat misanthrope, the passionate kind, who dedicates himself and lives stormily and intensely, with a high goalpost in artistic tastes, with a bent for elaborate music and many layers and sub-layers, with a distinct sense of the strange and the unusual. Great cat lover, of all shapes and sizes. A relatively troubled romantic, constantly searching for strong essences. He has always tried to refine his means of expression and create a delicate music, with a philosophical stake. Sometimes tempestuous, at other times introspective, his music, just like his personality, traces the profile of the explorer and the black-gold digger: a modern, eccentric alchemist, with the style of a dandy. He evolved towards a fairly elitist musical direction, combining elements and influences from different musical genres, from ethno to electronic. He's had numerous collaborations with some of the most influential musicians in the world and had always been in the avant-garde.
Daniel Gaston Ash (guitar, saxophone, voice): the instinctual and intuitive type, a fairly emotional and sensual jester - an atypical one - an adept of the punk movement and music, with a vivid imagination and humour, with intense and uncontrollable passions, the expressive and excessive kind, a fanatic motorcyclist, with an obsession for individuality and freedom, refractory to social norms, shy and cheeky, an introvert with gregarious temptations, good-hearted, with a certain taste for danger and risk and a reluctance towards commitments and especially the idea of a job, assertive and temperamental in relations, very melancholic deep down. A paradoxical and sometimes contradictory fellow, a complex and unpredictable personality. One of the most original musicians of his generation, inventive and plucky when it comes to experimenting. He has searched in many directions, he has changed his style, his look and his ideas, oscillating between extremes. In his solo projects, he proved to have a certain affinity towards a "rough" kind of sound, intense, raw, which inspires a lot of vitality.
Kevin Haskins (percussion): the cadet of the band, three years younger than the others (born in 1960), the type of good and reliable guy, delicate, shy, fairly anchored into reality, despite his ethereal appearance, fascinated by Punk, Ska and Dub sonorities (I have certain questions with regard to the specific distinction between them), electrified by everything that sounds and looks challenging and might constitute a counterpoint of his untamable timidity. As a percussionist, he liked to combine rhythmic elements that capture influences from apparently incompatible musical areas. With a harmonious and malleable personality, very open-minded and empathic, with a special sense for "the pulse of the moment", he took part in most of the group's or even Daniel Ash's solo projects, including one of the most spectacular musical experiments initiated by him: Tones on Tail. He has become a highly appreciated film music composer.
David J. Haskins (bass): rational, libertine, with intellectual inclinations, with a black and dry humour, the introvert, reflexive type, with certain misunderstood guy complexes and multiple preoccupations, interested in poetry, essay writing and literature, with a hermetic personality, emotionally opaque, dilemma lover and hard to please, prone to criticism, fascinated by the world of marginal people. He had a special taste for the burlesque and even the grotesque and the morbid, he proved to have affinities with art and cabaret music, but also with somewhat more classical formulas from the area of rock'n'roll. He had numerous collaborations and released a few solo albums, in fairly different musical registers, which had positive echoes.
Despite the name of the band, the story of which is pretty extravagant, and I won't go into details, the style is rather expressionist than minimalist... Given the nature of the music created by the four British men, the allusion to the Bauhaus architecture seems to be an unquestionable irony. The Bauhaus architecture, which is so bland and tasteless and lacks fantasy, has nothing in common with their music, which is full of life and nerve and at the same time sophisticated. A fateful mixture of radiance and morbidity sonorously illustrates a form of romantic nihilism, of the Nietzschean type. An aesthetics of pain/pleasure and ecstasy/melancholy is shaped in Bauhaus' songs, on a background of social satire or bitter and lucid meditation.
Peter Murphy has a full, grave voice, with dramatic accents and many nuances, even in its acute or eccentric inflections. A voice that transmits a well-tempered incandescence. The sound of Daniel Ash's guitar is dense and loaded, sometimes pretty harshly, with unpredictable modulations and changes in register, as well as a lot of lust-appeal. More epic than lyric, it is very evocative, sometimes even onomatopoeic. In certain songs, such as Small Talk Stinks, for example, the melodic line suggests an entire urban menagerie, with all its associated moods and bursts, through a succession of sonorous phrases that register somewhere on the interval between comic and grotesque... Somehow, keeping in mind how dramatic Murphy's voice is, the guitar sometimes appears to be the ironic counterpoint. David J's bass, as well as his stage appearance, have something of the perfume of the English Bohemian, something of a playful origin in any case. And Kevin Haskins' drums sound much more temperamental and aggressive than his aspect might indicate.
One of the most interesting musical experiments of the boys from Bauhaus is the song Exquisite Corpse, on the album The Sky's Gone Out. In short, Exquisite Corpse is the name of a game started by Andre Breton, which implies assembling into one visual or textual composition several elements created by different artists, with or without a connection between them. The name was extracted from a phrase that emerged as the result of a game that various famous surrealists took part in: Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, etc. Subsequently, their idea was assumed by William S. Burroughs, who developed the technique of clipping newspapers and who would later inspire the members of the band. Their song, Exquisite Corpse, connects four different musical themes and four strange texts, which combine in all manners of ways, into a savoury incoherence. It is a song with no logical sense, but fascinating from an aesthetic point of view, the stake of this game being precisely to produce aesthetic emotion beyond any spectre of logical significances.
Just to be as clear as possible for those who are not familiar with the sound of the band: the Bauhaus-type music is a kind of rock with bossanova and dub rhythms, with a guitar that sounds, most often, extraterrestrial and a vocalist who presents himself as a holy fool of contemporary civilization, a jester of a European world cut adrift. The lyrics are acidulous, sarcastic. There is a certain dose of self-irony in the interpretation of the music and in the subtexts. The most interesting and unique aspect in the history of rock is the fact that there is a disparity between the message and texture of the music and their interpretation; the guys in Bauhaus don't appear to take themselves seriously, more precisely they seem to taunt the sonorous and semantic universe that they produce and, unlike the representatives of other bands in the era, they don't display the morgue and the deliberately tragic and lamentation spirit that most musicians from the beginning of the '80s used to come into the spotlight with. There is a certain degree of theatricality in all the stage apparitions of the cluster of post-rock musicians, but in the case of Bauhaus, the theatrics implied a higher level of humour and refinement and this characteristic detachment: essentially, their music is also a musical satire, it somehow parodies itself. Their interpretation is a complex and sinuous one, in which nuances set the rules and give the key to the whole. The most adequate term to describe the specificity of their music is subtlety: nothing is direct, explicit, obvious, everything is distilled through numerous filters that change either the meaning of the words or the meaning of the musical phrases and tonalities. The theatricality lies in this employment of many subtextual meanings, if you'd like.
I have never and not in the least bit understood why the music of the guys from Bauhaus was assigned to the gothic genre. Firstly because this genre is, by far, the most humourless in the history of rock music, whereas Bauhaus is one the funniest band I've seen, and secondly, because the gothic style is one filled with visual and stylistic clichés, situated at the border of kitsch and full of soupy airs and a rather vulgar coquetry, which is not the case with regard to the guys from Bauhaus, but it is really an offense directed at the aesthetic dimension they move in and which is infinitely more evolved. My favourites have been labelled in many other unjustified manners, throughout time, but the association with the gothic genre is extremely arbitrary. Their music is not even as dark as they declared it themselves. It is dark here and there, as any good form of art should be. In my opinion, Bauhaus are an arty band. It is not by chance that three of its members are graduates of the art school in Northampton, and Peter Murphy has a genuine natural for drawing. The strongest influences I feel come from the area of expressionist art and surrealist ideas: the elimination of rational censorship from the act of creation, the exaltation of the instinctive drive and sensitive experiences beyond the network of explanatory mechanisms. Entire musical fragments, but also a great deal of lyrics, appear to be taken out of a surrealist delirium, erotically and neurotically well relished.
The image of the guys from Bauhaus, and especially the vocalist Peter Murphy and the guitarist Daniel Ash, relevantly depicted an archetype of androgynous beauty. The impact, not only the sonorous, but also the visual one, was very strong when I saw the video for She Is in Parties... There were several bands, especially from the glam area, who used stage make-up, but the key to their androgyny was not the fact that they put on make-up. I have always found Peter's and Daniel's apparitions in women's stockings and dresses rather comical and allegorical, ironically demonstrative. They were a defiance against the stupidity of certain obsolete and absurd mentalities regarding the genders and sexist beliefs that were still viral in that era. Their dresses and stockings were a form of social protest aimed at sexism and clothing conformism. They were also a provocation for those narrow-minded and virility-obsessed jocks who were pretty vocal back then as well. We have to admit: neither Peter nor Daniel paid too much attention to details, they could have designed more fanciful dresses, if they had wanted to. Their "feminine" outfits were not the epitome of clothing elegance or innovation and they didn't necessarily fit them, they weren't a sign of coquetry or a travesty show-off: they were intended to signify something and kick a goal in a goalpost. But these ingredients were only a defiance, whereas androgyny was reflected in their type of expressiveness and it was something real, authentic, not a mere artistic suggestion. It was as readable as possible in the amalgam of sarcasm and ingenuity, lucidity and ardour, morbidity and eroticism, strength and sensitivity from their expressions, mimicry and attitude; their androgyny was visible in the poetical tonality of revolt transposed onto notes and in the vibrato of sonorities and of aggressive-sensual and playful-dramatic lyrics, even in the alternation between the definite and the indefinite, present in the musical formula itself or in the construction of the lyrics. An exceptional sense of contrast and paradox is reflected in a musical formula that finds its centre of gravity and point of balance in ambivalence. The music in itself is an androgynous and complex one. The attributes of all four fundamental elements can be found in it: sensitivity (water), intensity (fire), intelligence (air) and instinct (earth). It is both an elaborate and impulsive music, which rummages through territories of the subconscious. Both visually and musically, the boys from Bauhaus seek to extract pure substances from the heavy, viscous and relatively opaque matter of contingent experiences. Examples of pure substances: the elixir of youth, of pleasure or of desire. The vibration of the music is charged with erotic tension and a beauty that has some of the consistency of quicksilver (mercury), a lunar beauty that radiates a cold, bluish light. Although sometimes, the members of Bauhaus proved to be fascinated by a morbid expressionism, in certain songs and videos, such as Mask, for example, the essential line is not that of an aesthetics of ugliness, but of the strange and unintelligible, of the irrational.
Certain songs, such as In the Flat Field, Hair of the Dog, Departure, Poison Pen or even Mirror Remains from the most recent album, Go Away White, seem to invoke the world in Lewis Carroll's books, which has reached a phase of hysteria and maximum decadence. You can almost see hybrid characters parading on the background of the atmosphere described by the music: Alice and the Mad Hatter, the Great White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat and the Gryphon, fused into apparitions that are even more bizarre than the original. Nothing is direct and explicit, everything is subtle, refined, subversive. This is the second defining key word for the songs of Bauhaus: subversiveness. Their humour is subversive. So are their lyrics. Their sound is very European and bears the mark of a heavy cultural heredity. The sonorous harmonies and stridencies, the stormy and intriguing and melancholic chords carry whispers of multiple times and worlds. From the visions of alchemists to the traumas of existentialists, from the charm of Shakespeare's jesters to the significance crises of the Angry Young Men of the '60s generation, from Poe's shadows to the delirium of the last romantics, from the fumes of dandies' pipes to the exaltations of surrealists, from the explosions of subconscious substances caused by the followers of Artaud to the indifference of the "blank generation" (see Richard Hell's song), you can see through the substance of their music the echoes of a long and sinuous European urban history. That's why I am a Bauhaus fan: the wounded, anguished, drunk, in love, hounded and beaten heart of Europe has transmuted to their music and has been singing its chant. A bitter humour and a considerable dose of sadness pierce through the not always harmonious sonorities of the songs. In certain fragments, their music is utterly atonal. The vocal interpretation also tends to have an atonal and inciting coloratura from time to time. There are many suspension points in music. The aesthetic fascination results from an advanced degree of ambiguity, which, as a matter of fact, gives the measure of subtlety. The imagination and emotional background of the listener improvises and fills in the blanks on the dotted line suggested by the sonorous ambiance. The dotted line on the road allows you to overtake another car, turn left or right, make a left about face (right about face, in the UK), it gives you a certain freedom, and as a listener, the songs of Bauhaus give you a similar advantage: the opportunity to appropriate music, to transfer it into the field of one's own intimate fantasies, desires, insights and lusts. It seems made from a malleable material that perfectly moulds itself onto the body of the experiences and emotions of the listener, precisely due to this level of ambiguity. The Bauhaus spirit is infused by two cardinal values: freedom and pleasure, but they are not only invoked or stated, as is the case with most rock bands, but professed and decanted in the formula that they put into operation. They take on a separation from all currents and styles that had already been experimented and from the paradigm of rock music in itself, obtaining an entirely original sonic product. With regard to the hedonistic stake of the Bauhaus spirit, things are even more complicated, because both music and lyrics express as clearly as possible the dual nature of pleasure and passion and warn against the fact that, sooner or later, any pleasure turns against you. The Bauhaus sonorities perform acrobatically on a rope stretched between ecstasy and turmoil, between desire and disgust, between melancholy and voluptuousness. Some songs invoke an impossible erotic asceticism or, to be more precise, the inevitable fall from the solar states of passion into a dull and grey sentimental matter. The song Passion of Lovers, which was illustrated with the image of two insects devouring each other, says it pretty straightforwardly: what you want when you fall in love is for that hypnotic and magical thing to kill you, because you know that in one way or another, you will perish anyway. But it is preferable to die in a state of grace... Every time I listen to this song, I tell myself: death by love is the least tragic of all. That is how we might translate the hedonistic message of the guys in Bauhaus. I never knew who wrote the lyrics to this song. I have a hunch. But I don't think I want to know for sure.
Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash have always conjured the image of jesters for me; figures that might as well appear in a comical extravaganza or a historical drama. In 2006, when the members of the band reunited and released the album Go Away White, it came as a pleasant surprise, of course, but it was a short-lived joy, because they soon separated for a third and last time. It wasn't exactly the most unusual situation in the world of rock music. I succeeded in repressing my temptation to do what other fans did and try to explain it to myself or throw the blame on someone. 25 years have passed since I discovered them and 36 since they became famous as a band.
When I found out that Peter Murphy has recently organized a tour entitled 35 Years of Bauhaus together with the musicians that he usually plays his own songs with, my first reaction was one of recoil. Without the other members of the band, there is no point in performing the Bauhaus repertoire, I told myself. It's absurd! And disappointing. Then, I thought about it and changed my mind. I realized that this might be the last chance for the Bauhaus songs to be known by the current audience and for them not to be covered in a thick layer of dust, onto which the stone slab of oblivion might be placed by time. The whole of life is a continuous struggle against time, an indescribable battle, from which man always emerges defeated and rumpled, and in those moments when you manage to pry a shred of beauty from the filthy and wretched claws of time, you feel like the king of the world for a few moments. Murphy didn't come to terms easily with the idea that life gorges everything that you invest in it, that you cannot preserve anything. He tried to bring some of the spirit of those years and that world into the present. It's understandable. Of course, such gestures exude a lot of nostalgia and are accompanied by the phantom-radiation of the past, even when they reach their goal. However, the attempt to live entirely in the present, in a bright serenity, and seeing your past as a previous life, is not necessarily better. You cannot free yourself of nostalgia unless you manage to completely erase your memory, as in the storyline from Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. There is no serenity without shadows. It is precisely serenity and the glow of the sun that accentuate shadows. When the sky is overcast, the shadows are less visible. I've lived this as a paradox, until recently, without understanding that this is the natural way. I am a solar being. Nevertheless, especially during summer days, when the sun is at its peak, the shadows in me come to light, they become more intensely contoured, the void described by melancholy is more profound.
In Things to Remember, one of the songs from the Dust album (which has nothing to do with Bauhaus), Peter Murphy tells us:
Maybe there is nothing to say.
The future is gone,
The strain of the past,
Something nothing often means;
The beauty of human experience...
Use a metaphor and tell us that your lover is the sky
Sometimes nothing often means
The beauty of human experience,
There things are to be remembered
To be remembered."
There are two possible paths. The path of reviving the past and the path of separating from the past. None of them is absolute. No matter which one you choose, there is a force drawing you to the crossroad and keeping you in tension. Memory and oblivion are relative. The past is also in a continuous transformation, depending on the experiences in the present, it reconfigures itself, memory engages many fresh energies and a lot of fiction.
Regarding the relation with what they created together under the name Bauhaus, Daniel Ash has chosen to forget. Peter Murphy has chosen to remember.