It is one of the ironies of rock music that few groups, such as The Velvet Underground or The Doors, only gain their influential reputation with hindsight, long after they have disbanded. Bauhaus broke up in 1983, yet fifteen years later their back catalogue sells better than ever, their style still contemporary, and the live shows are now legendary. With the image and brooding music it was inevitable that Bauhaus would be classified with the vanguard of the "goth" fashion, a totally misleading confinement which ignored their humor, experimentation and uniqueness. Their music was dark rock 'n' roll, owing more to Elvis Presley's "Heatbreak Hotel" than to their imitator's pompous epics which gave the Gothic genre a bad name.
The Craze, The Submerged Tenth or Jack Plug and The Sockettes are not exactly internationally known names- hardly surprising, since these (among others) were early short-lived ventures involving two brothers, Kevin and David J. Haskins and later, guitarist Daniel Ash. The chemistry lacked a certain "je ne sais quoi" until a phone call from Daniel to Peter Murphy, ex-school friend and like-minded "beautiful misfit." Within a couple of weeks, Peter and Daniel were writing so prolifically together that over one weekend they had penned "Dark Entries," "In The Light," "Boys," "Harry" and numerous others that were developed by the final line up when Kevin and David joined.
Thus the seeds were sown for what, a month later, would be known as Bauhaus, (at one point suffixed "1919"), drawing comparisons with the aims of its namesake, the German art movement. Very soon after their public debut on New Years Eve 1978 they recorded a 12" single "Bela Lugosi's Dead." Released in August 1979 on the Small Wonder label, the track is an epic. The band recorded it in one take and for the price of a bouquet of "Tomb Flowers". It's a dark slab of music, an auspicious debut for any group, over nine minutes long and still sounding unlike anything else. At the groups request, this version of "Bela" has never been available on any album until now, with the release of Crackle, the most recent Bauhaus compilation.
Already Bauhaus' live shows were attracting attention. Using white lights only ("Colored lights are for Christmas trees" - Bauhaus), videos on a single small screen and one strobe, the group was startling, threatening, and hypnotic, especially in the confines of a small club.
In September of 1980, Bauhaus made their debut performances in the USA, returning the following February for a 16 date tour. On the verge of a wider audience acceptance, they transferred to the Beggars Banquet label and released the single "Kick In The Eye," which introduced a much more commercial sound and dance rhythm.
Though the group had been touring consistently in the UK and abroad, breakthrough success still eluded them. The next single, "Spirit," was their first (and last) to use an outside producer, and scraped into the UK top 50. The group were unhappy with the arrangement of the song so a longer and more complete version was re-recorded for the next album.
Despite making great (if unconventional) videos and being a strong visual attraction, the group's first real exposure on television came from a non-musical source when Peter Murphy starred in a series of stylish and trend setting Maxell tape advertisements filmed by the renowned Howard Guard (who later filmed the band's "She's In Parties" video). This led to a cameo performance in the movie "The Hunger", a modern version of the vampire myth set in New York. Bauhaus performed (appropriately) "Bela Lugosi's Dead" in a club visited by the leading stars, Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, while on the lookout for a suitable bite to eat.
The Bowie connection was renewed when the group recorded cover versions of "Ziggy Stardust" and Brian Eno's "Third Uncle". In the late 70's and early 80's the English music press played the lazy game of categorizing many different artists as Bowie plagiarists if they saw a hint of mascara or the slightest glint of "Glam Rock". Like their contemporaries, Bauhaus had grown up in he 1970's, so Bowie (a man not averse to adapting a wide selection of personas in his time) was one of several influences. The group had already released Marc Bolan's "Telegram Sam", so in a typically provocative way they knew that releasing "Ziggy" (the theme song of Bowie's most popular incarnation) as their next single would invite howls of protest. To heighten the satire, the track was released along with "Third Uncle" and, on the 12", a live take of The Velvet Underground's "Waiting For The Man" featuring a ragged duet with Nico herself. And the sleeve incorporated Aladdin Sane's "Lighting Bolt' over the Bauhaus logo. Probably we'l
l never know who had the last laugh, but the single finally gave Bauhaus the UK top 20 hit they deserved and the new album The Sky's Gone Out entered the LP charts at number four.
Included free with the first 30,000 copies was a live album made up from shows in late 1981 and the Old Vic, London in February 1982. Released independently later, (along with a bonus live single and poster of group photographs sent in by the public), the title Press the Eject and Give Me The Tape reveals the last words on a bootleg tape confiscated by security at the Old Vic theater! Just as the live album is a "warts and all" recording of the group's on-stage forte, so the studio record was mostly written as it was recorded, creating a patchy but personal album.
As the band were booked in to record a new album, Peter Murphy became seriously ill with viral pneumonia. The others, impatient and bursting with ideas, decided to start without him and by the time Peter was recovered over half of the album was recorded, leaving Murphy to reinterpret or rewrite the vocals an only the remaining four songs were true band collaborations. The end result was an album that implicitly signaled the split that was to come. "She's In Parties" was released straight-away as a single and, following a series of Japanese concerts in May, Bauhaus toured England from June 11 to July 5. During the final show at Hammersmith Palais and after an unprecedented encore of six songs, David left the stage with the words "Rest in Peace". (This show is available complete but slightly lo-fi on CD as, logically, Rest In Peace - The Final Concert).
Speculation was rife as to Bauhaus' future when the new album Burning From The Inside was issued in 1983. Very diverse, and a product of the individual group parts, the record received wide-spread press acclaim, and rose into the UK top 10 before a press release confirmed that Bauhaus had decided to go their separate ways.
The recorded legacy continued beyond the bands demise. When the group disbanded it was felt that, as some fan club members had just paid their annual subscription they should be compensated. 325 copies of a single featuring one of the best tracks any group has left off an LP The Sanity Assassin were sent out free. This track is now released in it's extended form for the first time in the USA on Crackle.
Apart from a double best of album (Bauhaus 1979-1983) which was later expanded into two CD's and other assorted compilations, the major "posthumous" release has been an album of radio sessions, Swing The Heartache, which features alternate versions and some otherwise un-issued songs. Recently a limited edition book of Bauhaus memorabilia, "Beneath the Mask ", was also published and included a CD of a very early recording session.
Though the commercial success of Bauhaus has subsequently been eclipsed by the group's individual projects (Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets, and Peter Murphy solo), their musical legacy still remains highly influential - the mark of a truly great band.
And on July 10th and 11th, 1998 at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, with the fastest multi-show ticket sell out that the venue has had for over 8 years, Bauhaus is resurrected... So why have Bauhaus reformed now? Certainly there is a huge relevance for Bauhaus' music in 1998, which is obviously abundantly referenced, but also the cause of much inspiration today. I can only speculate - but who hasn't wondered what might have been if you hadn't split with an old flame? Until now the four individuals from Bauhaus have always said "never" but maybe with time the curiosity of "why not?" creeps in. This isn't a rusty unit that needs to revisit past glories. While the musical section of Love and Rockets have had their own sabbaticals, they have still continued to work together for 5 years after Bauhaus, and Peter's five solo albums have established him as possibly the only 'star' left in a field of purposeful anti-star mentality. So for now the vocals are back together with the music to have fun and explore some unfinished business. After 20 years of working with Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins, I've come to recognize one constant - expect the unexpected!