Bauhaus Is Undead

This summer, after a long delay, Bauhaus is scheduled to embark on their first tour in Quite a Few Years. Kate and I will catch them in Seattle. Am I excited? Well… the boys are getting pretty long in the tooth now. In my most recent memory of Peter Murphy he is wearing reading glasses, conjuring bat sounds from his phone at the end of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”; this was when he toured to celebrate the band’s 35th anniversary with three younger musicians who were perfectly fine but definitely Not Bauhaus.

Given the simmering intra-band hostility that has obtained for some decades now, there is every reason to suspect that this reunion is motivated mostly, if not entirely, by filthy lucre. So I am keeping my expectations low. But at some level it’s not even about the performance — it’s about spending time with these guys who, in one configuration or another, have been a big part of my life for almost 40 years now.

In an encouraging sign, they recently released their first new song since 2008. Though “song” might not be the right word for it. According to the band,

“Drink the New Wine” was recorded last year during lockdown with the four members sharing audio files. The track employs the Surrealists’ “Exquisite Corpse” device whereby each artist adds to the piece without seeing what the others have done. Bauhaus have used this technique in the past to great effect. The title refers to the very first Cadavre exquis’ drawing rendered by André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert and Yves Tanguy which included words which when strung together made up the sentence, “Le cadavre exquis boiara le vin nouveau” (“The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine”). For the recording, the four musicians each had one minute and eight tracks at their disposal plus a shared sixty seconds plus four tracks for a composite at the end.

Is this something to rival their best work? Don’t be silly. It’s a trifle, it’s a goof, it’s a prank. But for whatever reason and for however long, it’s good to have them back.

Last Notes on “Outside”

Because I can’t help myself I turned my opinions about Outside into a playlist, using the latest mixes from the Brilliant Adventure box set. At 12 tracks and 48 minutes, it’s a bit more digestible than the original album.

Also, this morning I happened to be reading a Bowie radio interview from 1972. He’s talking about Ziggy Stardust, but what he says could just as easily be applied to Outside.

It originally started as a concept album, but it kind of got broken up because I found other songs I wanted to put in the album which wouldn’t have fitted into the story… so at the moment its a little fractured and a little fragmented… I’m just lighting a cigarette… so anyway what you have there on that album when it does finally come out is a story which doesn’t really take place… I wrote it in such a way that I just dropped the numbers into the album in any order that they cropped up. It depends in which state you listen to it in. The times that I’ve listened to it – I’ve had a number of meanings out of the album… but I always do. Once I’ve written an album – my interpretations of the numbers in that album are totally different afterwards than the time that I wrote them and I find that I learn a lot from my own albums about me.

Apparently this is what he did, over and over and over. I wonder, by the time he finished Blackstar, did he finally really understand himself? One certainly hopes so.

An Audience with the Jazz Butcher’s Ghost — Part 2

On to the B side.

1. The Highest in the Land

This is the most mysterious song on the album. It appears to be about a monk in, say, the 13th century? There are references to Genghis Khan, the Great Wall of China, and the Boo Yang Shang, which may or may not be a real thing; Google is no help here. One day, I’m sure, all will become clear. For now I’m quite content with the mystery.

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One thing I can tell you for sure is that “Black Raoul” was the Jazz Butcher’s cat, who was celebrated in this earlier song:

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An Audience with the Jazz Butcher’s Ghost — Part 1

It’s rare anymore that I listen to an album all the way through, especially a new one. At most I might sit through it once before throwing it into a playlist of recent stuff, which I’ll then listen to on shuffle as a concession to my short and ever-shrinking attention span.

But I have listened to The Highest in the Land — the posthumous final release by the Jazz Butcher — almost every day since it came out earlier this month. I don’t think I’m just being sentimental; I think it’s really that good. So I thought I’d pay tribute to its creator, the late Patrick Guy Sibley Huntrods, a.k.a. Pat Fish, by going through it in two entries, roughly corresponding to what would be two sides of an LP.

1. Melanie Hargreaves’ Father’s Jaguar

In the leadup to this album’s release I was excited but also worried. The two singles were jaunty numbers with bleak, cutting lyrics — the ruminations of a man who’s reached the end of his life without feeling like he has much to show for it. Money, or the lack thereof, was a recurring theme; “time’s running out, the money’s running out,” said one; “nothing in the bank/nothing in the tank,” went another.

I wondered if the album as a whole would be equally dark, and maybe not as catchy. And hey, a man facing the abyss has a right to his feelings. The obvious point of reference is Blackstar, a work I admire but don’t find myself listening to very often.

But my concerns were allayed within the first 30 seconds of the first song. “Melanie Hargreaves’ Father’s Jaguar” is warm and jazzy, nostalgic and funny, beautiful and bitterweet. It’s pretty close to a perfect song.

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Hallo Spaceboy, Goodbye Oxford Town

The world at large has mostly forgotten about Outside. For most people, including a lot of younger Bowie fans, the discography pretty much jumps from Let’s Dance to Blackstar.1If they know anything from the mid-90s it’s likely to be “Hallo Spaceboy,” but unfortunately the version most circulated is the Pet Shop Boys remix, which is… well, let’s be polite here. I, personally, hate it. I think it eviscerates and needlessly discofies a pretty good song. But then I’ve never seen the point of anything the Pet Shop Boys did, so maybe it’s just me.

The original track is, in the parlance of the times, a banger. “I adore that track,” said Bowie. “In my mind, it was like Jim Morrison meets industrial. When I heard it back, I thought, ‘Fuck me. It’s like metal Doors.’”

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When he agreed to let PSB remix the song, he didn’t know that they were going to steal it from him. Nor did he know they would splice in bits of “Space Oddity,” which annoyed him.2But it was a hit, and he didn’t exactly disown it — as it climbed the charts he agreed to do several TV appearances where his omnipresent cool was severely tested by having two insufferable twerps behind him.3

Later he had regrets. Says Chris O’Leary,

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Control or Deranged?

You don’t really need both “No Control” and “I’m Deranged” on the album, as they pretty much cover the same territory. I tend to favor “No Control,” which is sleeker and sexier:

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Brian Eno agreed with me, calling “I’m Deranged” “a poorly organized song with no meaningful structure,” adding, “It goes something like ABBBBBBBBCBBBBBBB but the hook is A. I’ve had relationships like that, where the bit you liked never happens again.”

But David Lynch liked “Deranged,” which comes to life when paired with Lynch’s hypnotically minimal visuals:

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In fact, playing that right now in another window, I’m changing my mind in real time. Maybe we lose “No Control” instead? Maybe we keep both, put one at the beginning and one at the end? Or even put them back-to-back, lean into the repetition. One or both would need to be edited, though; or maybe they could be combined somehow. There are a lot of options. When is the release date for this thing, anyway?