And do you remember? When too much time was mine…
When I was a teenager, I liked nothing better of a Friday evening than lying on my bed, listening to Bauhaus. Periodically my father would fling open the bedroom door and – his oft-professed atheism notwithstanding – forcefully instruct me to ‘turn that bloody racket down, for Jesus Christ’s sake’. When I had lowered the volume sufficiently, he would then berate me for my sullen, ‘hang-dog’ expression, lack of brio and the fact that I wasn’t out fighting, drinking and shagging like my peers/like he had in his youth/like every man in Ulster has done since the dawn of time, except me.
Once he had departed I would lie back down. A silent black wraith would glide downward from the ceiling and pin me to the bed with its claws. Thus immobilised, the dark, urgent pretension of Bauhaus became the perfect accompaniment to my teenage despair.
Eventually I escaped all that. I became determined to never look back. Freedom was like a drug. As if sensing this change in me, my favourite band had also undergone a transformation: the blind pupa of Bauhaus, crawling around wretchedly in the shadows had emerged into the light as a butterfly.
A beautiful, selfish butterfly called Love And Rockets.
The relationship of Love And Rockets to Bauhaus can be challenging for the uninitiated, so I have prepared this Venn diagram to help explain:
There is a famous clip of Bauhaus, in their final days, on Top Of The Pops, playing Ziggy Stardust. Towards the end of the song, the bastards from Love And Rockets move inexorably forward and push the hapless lead singer, Peter Murphy, off the stage; a clear statement of intent.
I viewed this as a direct signal from the band that it was time for me to cast off my self-pitying teenage temperament and move forward into a new era of unrestricted selfishness and hedonism.
Love And Rockets concurred. In their almost entirely meaningless and superficial lyrical canon, they espoused a vaguely Eastern philosophy. Unlike most Eastern philosophies, however, theirs was wholly selfish. Every other song deployed the word ‘Heaven’. They perpetually demanded nirvana, paradise, white light, beauty, transcendence; but it was quite clear that they were not prepared to suffer for it.
- If there’s a heaven above, let it be near to me
- Give me what I’ve always missed, give me a good time
- Give me heaven, because heaven should be mine
- I’m only interested in paradise; I’m only interested in pure white light
And my personal favourite:
- Beauty can only ever be skin deep. But if I’m honest, that’s all I ever really need
At that time, British music journalists hated any band that wasn’t political. As you can imagine, they particularly despised Love And Rockets’ lazy cod-mysticism and the band was vilified on a weekly basis in the press. Doubtless this impacted upon the bands domestic success. Upon my arrival in England I saw them in concert. There were about 19 other people in attendance.
Love And Rockets’ response was the album Earth, Sun, Moon. Although their third LP, it was the definitive break from their origins. Visually and sonically the ghost of their former band was completely exorcised; the clean, white cover a salutary erased de Kooning to the frantic dark scribblings of Bauhaus. Predictably, it was a complete and utter flop in the UK. It was quite clear that the British did not want the type of enlightenment Love And Rockets were offering. Seemingly it was quite clear to Love And Rockets too – they left the country, never to return.
I was also seeking a definitive break at that time. Like Love And Rockets, I wanted a life absolutely free from responsibility and The Man. The UK was too oppressive and parochial. I wanted comfort and convenience. I wanted more of everything. I wanted it all, and I wanted it with fries to go. I wanted the American Dream.
As summer approached, the stars aligned. I managed to fail my degree course; I came into some money; some Americans invited me to visit them. My exit from the UK was assured.
I followed Love And Rockets to the USA in June 1988 with a bin bag of clothes and my copy of Earth, Sun, Moon. The USA immediately exceeded my expectations in every possible way. The taxi I got from the airport was an air-conditioned Cadillac; fags were 80¢ a packet; you could get fresh coffee in the middle of the night; gigantic cop cars were everywhere; it was just like being on the telly all the time.
I stayed with a friend and her flatmates in an apartment with a balcony on an interestingly busy road and spent the entire summer indulging in the hitherto unknown American concept of ‘hanging out’. Hanging out involved a lot of lying around, smoking fags, tripping around town at night, lying on the sofa, playing records, lying on the floor, sleeping in, lying in the park, contemplating beauty, watching the dawn come up and feeling the sun on my face.
Earth, Sun, Moon was the soundtrack to this hive of activity. Lyrically it was inane as ever, but nevertheless it all seemed profoundly significant. Every song encapsulates a moment:
- Sparking a fag to my reflection as the dark rush of Mirror People heralded the start of another evening’s activity.
- The languorous of swirl of The Light, coiling around a room full of the smoke from 100 joss sticks.
- Night time visual and sonic disorientation to The Telephone Is Empty, chewing my acidic tongue.
- Rainbird, a melancholy aubade: lying on the floor as dawn filtered into the room, my head on a girl’s lap, looking upwards. Above me, another girl in an armchair blew bubbles into the air, her face hidden from view. The iridescent stream flowed over smooth curve of her calf and foot; bubbles would rise briefly into the light for a moment before falling wetly onto my face.
Fate decreed that I didn’t stay in the US after all, but Earth, Sun, Moon and its experiences catapulted me into a decade of inactivity and under-achievement, not all of which was entirely regrettable. Not so for Love And Rockets who, with their warm-molasses, chart killing monster So Alive, went on to straddle the world like skinny colossi. Give me some money, you bastards, I occasionally thought during the 1990s and then for many years I never thought of them at all. When I finally heard them again they were still singing about heaven, but by that stage I had a job.
No New Tale To Tell is the catchy, poppy, strum-along-on-your-air-acoustic centrepiece of Earth, Sun, Moon. The lyrics describe how the individual seeks recognition and significance, either through acceptance or contrariness, but finds ultimately that the cosmos is uncaring; he is just a tiny cog in a greater whole. Whether stuck in one’s bedroom in Belfast or playing to 40,000 adoring fans at Lollapalooza for 100 grand, it’s all the same thing – no new tale to tell.
Or so I console myself anyway.