Goth is dead
Bauhaus, the godfathers of doom and gloom, return
By Matthew Singer 12/08/2005
Creatures of the night, prepare to have your black hearts crushed.
“Goth doesn’t exist,” says Daniel Ash in the blunt tones of an older brother telling his kid sister there is no Santa Claus. Coming from him, that’s a bold statement: As one-fourth of Bauhaus, the doomiest and gloomiest of all first-wave British post-punk acts, the 48-year-old guitarist is a quarter responsible for essentially spawning the modern gothic subculture — or, at least, for giving it a soundtrack. Everything the media likes to label “goth” can be traced back to the group’s monumental first single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Over a hollow, dub-like arrangement, the bellowing incantations of singer Peter Murphy and Ash’s creaking six-string atmospherics, the band inadvertently gave birth to Marilyn Manson, the Trenchcoat Mafia and the worst nightmare of every red-blooded American father: that his son may one day trade his Little League uniform for fishnets and eyeliner.
So, considering what it gets applied to these days, it’s no wonder Ash would want to place as much distance as possible between himself and the word “goth.” “In England, goth has always been a joke,” he says. “It means big hair, too much makeup and no talent. People tend to say the Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, New Order and Joy Division were goth. No way: Goth was Alien Sex Fiend and Specimen, all that crap. Time has shown we had more talent than those guys.”
Indeed, time has been especially kind to Bauhaus. Although their official career lasted only four years, their influence has given the band a life five times as long. Over the course of four albums, they created a new sonic palette for the alternative era, inspiring the dark sensibilities of artists as widespread as Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins and Interpol. Now, as Bauhaus spans the globe on its second reunion tour in seven years (hitting the Ventura Theatre on Dec. 10, which is something of a homecoming gig for Ash — he lives in Ojai), their cult has grown larger than ever.
Bauhaus formed in 1979 out of the same social muck that produced the English punk boom a few years earlier: skyrocketing unemployment, burning racial tension and, worst of all, disco. But at least the Sex Pistols had artsy King’s Road as their ground zero. At the time, the members of Bauhaus were living in Northampton, a depressing industrial town about 60 miles northwest of London. “It was dismal: bad food, bad weather and Mary fucking Poppins,” Ash says. “It sucked all around.” In response to their joyless surroundings, Ash, Murphy, drummer Kevin Haskins and bassist David J started playing spare, haunting music that cut deeper into punk’s dreary nature than any band had previously gone. Instead of raging against the bleakness that enveloped their lives, Bauhaus dwelled on it. Their lyrical obsessions that later became goth clichés — bats, dead horror movie actors — were extensions of that hopelessness. “We had no prospects, no future. It really was shit,” Ash says. “That’s why we sounded the way we did.”
It was a sound destined to stay below the mainstream glass ceiling. But as punk commercialized into neon-colored new wave, Bauhaus found an audience among the disaffected holdovers of the Me Decade, for whom the 1980s were no better than the 1970s. With their black wardrobe and grim theatricality, the band reflected the reality of their fans’ existence more than skinny ties and bright synthesizers. As a result, Bauhaus experienced substantial success in the underground rock world and even flirted with the pop charts in the UK.
In 1983, however, everything fell apart. As the sessions for their fourth album began, Murphy fell deathly ill, forcing the remaining trio to shoulder the creative load. Burning From the Inside turned out to be their last album.
“Bauhaus was a very intense band, very intense,” Ash says. “Something that burns that bright couldn’t last that long.”
After the breakup, Murphy relocated to Turkey, while the rest of the band, with Ash out front, became the glammy and decidedly less-dark Love & Rockets. Ash says he had hardly any contact with Murphy until 1998, when Bauhaus spontaneously decided to get back together for some live shows. What began as a one-off gig expanded into a world tour after the band sold out the Hollywood Palladium in record time. Just like the first go-round, though, the reunion ended as quickly as it began. “We didn’t see eye-to-eye on doing another studio album,” Ash says. “To be honest, my attitude was, ‘Well, that was fun,’ but I wanted to do something different again.”
Everyone again went his separate way. Then, earlier this year, the organizers of the massive Coachella music festival approached the band with the idea of co-headlining the first night of the two-day concert. Despite making several “when hell freezes over” proclamations following their second dissolution, Ash signed on almost immediately. “It just felt right,” he says. “I wouldn’t do it a the end of the day if it didn’t feel right.” On April 30, Bauhaus performed in front of 50,000 people, perhaps the biggest crowd of their career. They made the most of it: Opening with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Murphy sang the entire song while suspended upside-down like an aging rock star vampire.
Again, the rapturous response to their set encouraged them to launch a full-scale tour. But the prospect of a new album — their first in over two decades — remains up in the air.
“The thing about Bauhaus, it’s a very volatile situation. It changes day to day. I’ve given up on planning,” Ash says, adding, “Anything and everything is possible.”