He Is Your Slice of Life

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Appropriated from Burkhart Studios

Turning 50 today: one of my musical idols, Daniel Ash of Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets fame. Although not what you could call a household name, Ash has had a long and illustrious career that lifts him up high into the pantheon, just one notch below his obvious role model, David Bowie.

Bauhaus hit the scene in 1979 with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” a nine-minute-long slice of idiot-savant strangeness from a band that barely knew how to play. For its first half, “Bela” consists of Peter Murphy’s moaning vocals riding a stuttering, bat-echo rhythm. The second half is all Daniel Ash and his effects pedals putting on a fireworks show. It’s freaky, off-kilter, borderline ridiculous, and oddly charming. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” remains a much-beloved underground chestnut to this day; when I saw Bauhaus in 2005, they played it as an encore and people went nuts.

Bauhaus released four albums and various singles after that, developing a signature sound that was a perplexing mixture of arty effeteness and metallic aggression. Ash increasingly added acoustic guitars to their music in later years, bringing a textural richness to such lovely numbers as “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything,” “Kingdom’s Coming,” and especially “Slice of Life,” which was his first and only lead vocal on a Bauhaus song.

It’s a curious footnote to the Bauhaus saga that Daniel Ash, who except for “Slice of Life” was limited to backing vocals, turned out to have a truly great and unique singing voice, at once sweet and smoky, not as powerful as Murphy’s baritone but much more versatile. After the demise of Bauhaus he became the frontman of Tones on Tail, whose variation on the Bauhaus sound — equally dark but more electronic and less angular — blew a lot of minds in a short time. They made only one real album (Pop) before morphing into Love and Rockets with the departure of Glenn Campling and the return of Bauhaus bassist David J.

Love and Rockets, in turn, mutated into a gen-u-wine pop band, adding elements of glam, psychedelia, and Beatley melodicism to the mix. They made several albums that stand high on my all-time list, including Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, Express, and the self-titled album that finally put them on the charts with “So Alive.” Showing an unexpected sense of humor, they sometimes appeared in costume as “The Bubblemen” (even releasing a Bubblemen EP in 1988), with Daniel Ash occasionally dressing in drag.

The last time I saw Daniel, he was looking pretty butch, playing guitar for a reconstituted Bauhaus and sporting surprising biceps. Although known to be fond of motorcycles and recreational chemicals, he apparently intends to go on living, which is good. Maybe we’ll get an L&R tour sometime before his 60th birthday.

Perhaps my favorite Daniel Ash moment comes from a show at the Berkeley Community Theater circa 1989. The Lovely Rockets — who started off shaky as a live band but improved steadily over the years — had just played a scorching set. Never exactly raconteurs, they had said barely a word during the proceedings, but after it was over, Ash put down his guitar, adopted a Preslyish sneer, said “Never be an old fart!” and exited stage left. He’s stayed true to his word, and we should all be so lucky.

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