David J. Haskins | Who Killed Mister Moonlight? Bauhaus, Black Magick, and Benediction (Jaw Bone)

whokilledmrmoonlightWhile the book is David J.’s domain and may be painting Murphy with a black brush, some of the stories he tells are quite revealing.

 

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Goth music in the early ‘70s was limited to novelty songs, movie soundtracks, or classical selections. Then Bauhaus came along and a movement got started. Before you start flooding the PLAYBACK:stl corporate offices with mail complaining that I’ve stolen the birthright of Goth from your favorite composer/poet/movie director, be aware: There are plenty of people out there who can lay claim to it, but for my money, the Bauhaus song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” began the movement. That 1979 release, from the band’s first EP, created an atmosphere and a sound that was unlike any other at the time. With their distinct look and flair for the dramatic, the band made atmospheric music with lyrics drawn from diverse sources throughout history. They also made the wearing of black and the over-application of makeup on both men and women compulsory. Thrift shops and morbidity had a new soundtrack. Classic bands such as Depeche Mode, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Cure, and more modern bands like Black Veil Brides, all owe much to the four men who made up Bauhaus: David J. Haskins, Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins, and Peter Murphy.

So when the offer to read David J. Haskins’ new book Who Killed Mr. Moonlight came, there was little doubt that I would put on my most somber attire and read it from cover to cover. It is no secret that there was, and is, a monumental love-hate relationship between Murphy and his former band mates. The book only goes on to solidify and, somewhat, explain this animosity. Bauhaus was a product of the early post-punk era. The members bonded over seminal punk bands like The Sex Pistols and Joy Division. From this starting point, they created a distinct look and sound built on each member’s varied and eclectic tastes. Bauhaus lasted only a few years—1979 to 1984—producing four studio albums and spawning nearly a dozen singles, including “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” She’s in Parties,” and “Kick in the Eye.”

According to the author, the split was caused by Murphy’s ever-increasing paranoia exacerbated by his drug use. While the book is David J.’s domain and may be painting Murphy with a black brush, some of the stories he tells are quite revealing. Murphy, a charismatic and dramatic lead singer, apparently carried the act to extremes both onstage and off. His antics and antagonism, Haskins admits, helped to produce some of the really great songs, but in the end caused the band to break up. Kevin Haskins and Daniel Ash formed Tones on Tails and then, with David J., Love and Rockets, while Murphy went on to a fairly strong solo career. Bauhaus had two reunions and one more album in them, but once again, Murphy’s somewhat bizarre behavior seemingly killed the band for good in 2005.

Haskins’ book tries to relate these years, as well as tell his own story, in a beefy 300-plus pages. David J. can be entertaining in relating the various tales, but the book is by far too long and, unfortunately, not always a good read. The parts about Bauhaus’s creation, and most especially, the writing of some of the songs makes riveting reading. But the overemphasis on the fact that Murphy was such a dick to him and the rest of the band becomes tedious fairly early on. Not that there isn’t a certain joy in watching a car crash—Murphy once accidently clocked Haskins in the head with a very heavy microphone stand during a performance, leaving the bassist unconscious and never even apologizing—but there is only so much joy to be gained from the many petty slights the man is apparently able to provide.

There are, of course, many triumphs in the book—shows that were great, musical innovation, or interactions with famous people—but Haskins’ rockumentary has a tendency to meander. Worse, Haskins’ fascination with black magick receives far too much attention. This is not the magic that tries to turn someone in to a newt, but more of a belief system in which a person can call upon spirits and bring about desired outcomes. I don’t fault anyone for their beliefs, but Haskins goes in to greater detail about spells, potions, and otherworldly experiences than the years between Bauhaus and the Bauhaus reunion. In a book where Haskins devotes pages to spells which seem often to involve plucking one’s pubic hair, you would think the author would have time to mention the 15-year career of Love and Rockets. I fear Haskins is saving these stories for another book.

I did enjoy Haskins’ inclusion of his many interactions with various luminaries over the years. His two meetings with William S. Burroughs were fairly hilarious and revealing. There is even a touching scene with John Lydon, whose Sex Pistols performance inspired the members of the soon-to-be Bauhaus. I was less enthusiastic about the author relating his cock-blocked interaction with Amanda Palmer. She has spent her career titillating, teasing, and working the room; relating yet another incident does neither any service. It, along with the retelling of a truly awkward meeting with two prostitutes, could easily have been left on the cutting room floor.

Bauhaus is one of those special bands whose career inspired thousands of bands and fans over its brief original tenure. That it had a second and third act is testament to how good those original four years were; the magic, however you spell it, Haskins was seeking all those years was actually there in front of him all along.

Books like Who Killed Mister Moonlight can divert the public from the pure beauty of the output of a band like Bauhaus. I am often reminded of the Kitty Kelley book about Frank Sinatra. Sinatra did not come off as much more than an arrogant prick who could be ruthless and vile…yet he also created many perfect recorded moments that are indelible to this day. Kelley’s book, a sensation at the time, has drifted off into the ether, while we are left with “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Summer Wind.” Haskins’ book will also drift away and we will be left with the 9-plus minutes of the near-perfect “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” to remember them by. [Borrow this book] | Jim Dunn

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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