A rock 'n' roll book review…Who Killed Mister Moonlight? Bauhaus, Black Magick and Beneditction
By David J Haskins (you know, the specky bassist out of Bauhaus…)
The sub-title does not lie. This book is mostly about Bauhaus, from the band's tentative beginnings in seventies Northampton, through their spiky and incendiary 80s glory days, to their eventual triumphant return as world-touring elder statesmen of art-glam, post-punk rock.
Other Bauhaus-related bands are touched on - briefly. Love And Rockets (a band that existed for 14 years and made 7 albums) and David J's solo career (itself 10 albums long now) are referred to only glancingly. This is very much the Bauhaus story, recounted in David J's matter-of-fact - sometimes almost naif - writing style.
It's a story I have some sort of personal stake in, since I was a diehard Bauhaus fan in the 80s and went to every gig they played in London. Some of these are mentioned in the book, giving me a few 'I was there!' moments. The only gig I didn't go to was the Adelphi show, which I avoided because the thought of seeing Bauhaus in a seated venue just didn't work for me.
Believe me, the mosh at a Bauhaus gig was fierce
. We were always rather glad when the band played 'Spy In The Cab', because that was a slowie and us moshpit fiends could have a rest. Sure enough, David J recounts how the Adelphi's seats were comprehensively trashed by marauding fans. I thought that might happen.
Later, I became a live music promoter in London myself - inspired, in a way, by a Daniel Ash solo gig I saw at the Underworld in 1993. Frankly, I thought I could do better (and I like to think I did). I even tried to book Daniel Ash, although it never worked out.
I also exchanged emails with David J himself at one point, when he was on the circuit as a DJ. That one never worked out, either. I'll tell you the story if you buy me a beer. I've kept David J's emails all these years on my old computer - I'm still enough of a fanboy not to delete them.
So, one way or another, me and Bauhaus, we go back. And it's about time the story of Bauhaus was told. The only other book on the band, Ian Shirley's Bauhaus And Beyond
, is essentially an outsider's view, and frankly isn't very well written.
Not that David J's book is necessarily a great improvement in that department, as I hinted above. For a man who spent his youth reading Camus and Sartre, and who later got to hang out with William Burroughs, it must be said that as a literary lion David J makes a very good bass player. He walks us through the Bauhaus story with the careful precision of a man wearing sensible shoes.
At times the text has the feel of a school English essay: an extended take on 'What I did on my holidays'. Irritating spelling mistakes and typos crop up - 'starring' for 'staring', 'sporn' for 'spawn'. NYC rock 'n' roll poet Jim Carroll is mis-spelled as 'Carrol'. The lead singer of The Cramps turns up on page 305 as 'Lux Interia' - a particularly foolish mistake, since he makes another appearance, correctly spelled, earlier in the book.
But then, I suppose nobody is going to pick this book up expecting great literature. It's a rock 'n' roll autobiography. It gets that job done well enough, although without much in the way of flourishes and fireworks. Strange, in a way, given that Bauhaus were all
about the flourishes and fireworks.
As the title also hints, this book is also extensively about magick. Somewhat surprisingly, David J appears to have spent much time dosing himself up with interesting drugs, and marching himself merrily (or sometimes not so merrily) through the doors of perception.
I say 'surprisingly', because David J - with his severe suit jackets, his respectable hairstyle, and his geeky demeanour - is hardly anyone's idea of a hippy tripper. And yet he seems to have been quite a fiend for the old hallucinogenics, and dramatic Crowley-esque excursions into The Arcane.
There's an episode at Alan Moore's Northampton home where the two of them get thoroughly charged and have an evening of full-on out-thereness (sigils, circles, mysterious forces bouncing all over the shop) that is almost comedic - all the more so because it's narrated in David J's dry, matter of fact writing style. The thought of this odd couple - the bearded, shamanistic Alan Moore, and the reserved, studious David J - getting it on like a Hammer Horror movie in a Northampton basement is downright surreal.
There's a lot of this stuff in the book. Too much, really, for anyone who would prefer David J to skip all the drugs and the weirdness and just get on with the story of the band, dammit. I'm reminded of Julian Cope's autobiography, Head On
, in which Copey recalls - in extensive detail - every acid trip he's ever had, to the eventual boredom of the reader.
It might've seemed frightfully important at the time (and maybe still does, for the main protagonists), but reading about other people's out-of-body and/or out-of-head experiences isn't all that interesting - even if David J does claim that the Bauhaus reunion in the 90s was prompted by some magickal workings he'd done a few years previously. Magick takes a bit of time to work, apparently.
As with Julian Cope's book, I found myself skimming these episodes of druggy woo-woo, and fast-forwarding to the real story. Which has some surreal moments itself, it must be said, since for all their killer cohesion on stage, Bauhaus could be a spectacularly dysfunctional band behind the scenes. It never seems to have occurred to David J to work a bit of helpful magick for that.
It would be an over-simplification to say that the fault lines in Bauhaus basically ran between Peter Murphy and the others. Everybody, at one time or another, seems to have brought their share of conflicts and freak-outs to the table - with the possible exception of Kevin Haskins, who comes out of the story as The Sensible One.
But, as the years pass, Peter Murphy is portrayed as the loosest cannon, the most unstable element, the catalyst for the simmering tension that seems to have dogged Bauhaus for much of the band's on-off existence.
I dare say Peter Murphy himself would tell a different story. And maybe a bit of simmering tension isn't even a bad thing in a band, if you can harness it and make it work on stage (and Bauhaus certainly could).
But there are several moments where Pete - not to put too fine a point on it - seems to go a bit mad.
In the 90s, before the band's reformation, he sends David J a fax - quoted in all its bonkers, obsessive, stream-of-conciousness glory - in which he makes a garbled case for himself as the band's principal mover 'n' shaker. Later, he returns to this obsession, insisting that he is the 'main man' of Bauhaus in a series of backstage arguments David J transcribes apparently verbatim.
The infamous gig in Utrecht, where Murphy more or less sat out the performance in a strop, is recounted in gory detail. I recall a rather baffled review of that gig, clearly written by someone who had never seen Bauhaus before and thought this was a regular show. That reviewer didn't know it, but what they saw that night was a band falling apart.
In the end, the book and Bauhaus themselves finish messily, inconclusively, at a rainy festival in Portugal - and that's that, apart from several pages of notes, giving extra details about matters touched on in the main text. Frankly, the notes could have been incorporated into the main text by a writer a little more skilled in keeping the flow going. But if you've got this far you'll have reconciled yourself to David J's English essay writing style. Who Killed Mister Moonlight
is full of fascinating backstage detail, large dollops of context, a stellar supporting cast: John Peel, Ian Curtis, George Melly, Rene Halkett, Genesis P-Orridge - even Amanda Palmer, who Dave doesn't quite
get to shag.
The book successfully fleshes out the bones of the Bauhaus story, but it's not exactly freewheeling, knockabout stuff. In fact, it's amazing how dryly pedantic David J can be, even when recounting the craziest episodes of his life, and the most dramatic moments of Bauhaus in their pomp.
Perhaps, in the end, you just had to be there. I'm glad I was.