Bauhaus' Peter Murphy Fondly Remembers His First Time Seeing the Arizona Desert
The year is 1983. Punk is dead, and the undead appears to be on the minds of many post-punk ingénues and avant-garde crowds alike.
Nowhere did the dark light shine more forebodingly than in Tony Scott’s campy erotic horror cult film The Hunger, which starred David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. The opening scene featured an enigmatic singer clutching the bars of a cage in a scene that is part music video and part bizarre montage.
His baritone voice seemed to beckon the late-night, hip audience of would-be vampire victims into a near-hypnotic state as he chanted “Bela Lugosi’s dead.” The scene debuted to the world the face of goth rock.
The singer was Peter Murphy.
These days, Murphy, one of the creative geniuses behind the English art-house cult band Bauhaus, is very much alive and thriving, minus the graveyard fog, bloodletting, and cheesy horror editing.
Murphy has been a solo artist for 30 years, a span that long ago eclipsed the meteoric rise and fall of the band he began with Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins.
He has seen five of his 10 solo releases reach the album charts in either the United States or the United Kingdom.
Murphy is no stranger to Arizona, where he has more than enjoyed the open spaces.
“When my daughter was 2, and my wife came over and we played that outdoor shed [Mesa Amphitheatre in 1990], I loved the dry heat.
“We went to the desert, and it was really the first time I was able to get out and see something in America. That was very memorable — the silence that came over us in the car. There is something very peaceful there.”
Murphy brings his “Stripped Tour” to Crescent Ballroom on May 3. The idea is that he brings minimal instrumentation and plays a smattering of songs from his solo career, with some Bauhaus thrown in.
And despite the breakup of Bauhaus in 1983, he still looks back on it with pride and satisfaction.
“It is what I did,” says Murphy, now 58. “It’s part of my collection. It was amazing,” he confesses. “I took it for granted. The moment I walked out on stage after writing with Danny Ash the first time, everything was effortless.”
And though the band’s success might have felt easy for Murphy, after four albums (In the Flat Field, Mask, The Sky’s Gone Out, and Burning From the Inside), the band broke up. Even two abbreviated reunions and a final album, Go Away White, in 2008, could not keep the personalities from clashing, nor sustain a long-term lineup.
“It’s exhausted now,” he says. “When I left the band, I had no egoistic aspirations of doing what I am doing. I discovered myself again, and in fact, what I discovered was in fact what Bauhaus could have done.”
After a short alliance with former Japan bass player Mick Karn under the name Dalis Car, Murphy dove into the unknown world of solo artistry.
From his debut solo release, Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, in 1986, Murphy didn’t just distance himself from the Bauhaus sound but also discovered his own.
It was with his third record, Deep, in 1989 that Murphy truly struck a chord with U.S. college-rock and alt-music audiences with three singles, the most popular being “Cuts You Up,” which stayed atop the Billboard Modern Rock chart for seven consecutive weeks.
In his own post-Bauhaus songs, Murphy was spreading his musical wings, finding more joyful, yet dramatic overtones, packaged with richer sounds yet not falling into pop predictability.
By the early ’90s, Murphy and his wife, Beyhan, moved to Turkey. Middle Eastern influences made their way onto his next album, Holy Smoke, in 1992.
With 1997’s Dust, Murphy had immersed himself in full Turkish form, thanks in part to the influence of Turkish DJ and composer Mercan Dede, who fuses traditional Turkish music with acoustic and electronic sound and a touch of Sufism.
The quest for purification of self and following of the mystical tenets of Sufism resonated with Murphy. And a more trance-like effect took hold on this album, which rose to No. 38 on the U.S. Independent album chart.
Though Murphy never converted to Islam, he has espoused many of its beliefs. He has stood up for Islam, preaching that people must separate the religion itself from the hostility and violence evident in the religion’s more fanatical sects.
“Take away the notion of another religion; take away the notion of the Middle East, of the exterior radicalization of young kids, now,” he explains, expressing that Islam is a religion of peace. “There are essential sounds in Koranic Arabic. ... The word ‘Islam’ [comes from the] word slm, and that basically means peace and it means surrender.”
For Murphy, the desire to seek out life’s meaning and find peace in one’s identity has been there since day one.
“If you listen to the first song I ever wrote, ‘In the Flat Field,’ it’s an esoteric journey of the self,” he says. “I was always very spiritual. I do believe in God. How can I not?
“From my personal experience, I realized that [when] a lot of the dressing and symbolizing got taken away [from organized religion], what was left was very pure. So there’s no change, really.”
One spiritual presence that always has been with him throughout his artistic career has been the influence of David Bowie.
“It was transcendence from suburbia,” he says of the Man who Sold the World. “It was very magnetic, and it was beauty in a sense. It wasn’t good to know too much about him, though.
“But reading NME articles about him; they were just guessing. He wouldn’t play into people’s hands. You can’t pin anybody down if they don’t let you.”
And, as for his desire to continue his touring without being predictable, Murphy remains with a dose of mysteriousness and does not share what to expect on his “Stripped” tour.
His latest tour is stripped down, and he’s bringing just two other musicians with him — John Andrews and Emilio DiZefalo. The two played on Murphy’s most recent two studio releases, Ninth (2011) and Lion (2014).
Murphy says he thinks the low-key approach to performance helps him connect with fans on a more intimate level.
“People don’t read to each other nowadays. Remember when we used to read to each other? People don’t really have conversations anymore. There isn’t that intimate level of conversation anymore, or rarely.”
As he continues down a more intimate path, Murphy finds comfort in self-exploration and musical experimentation.
“Knowing not how I do it is great, because if you try too much, it doesn’t happen. You have to keep an open appraisal to it and not be too put off by history or people’s perception.”
Peter Murphy is scheduled to play Crescent Ballroom on Tuesday, May 3. Tickets are $35 and are sold out.