Count Chocula Invades Duran Duran
By Jessica Machado
Such distress led me to re-listen to Peter Murphy’s 1989 solo album, Deep, home to one of my favorite songs of all time, “Cuts You Up.” I cannot tell you how many times I danced to “Cuts You Up” between the years of 1997 and 2000. To say that it was my jam would be an understatement; it was my solo performance in the spooky pageant that was my pseudo-goth-dance-club life. In college, I don’t know if I had a goth phase as much as I did an appreciation for black clothes and dark music. Like punk, there was something beautifully un-self-conscious about letting the emotionally charged tranciness of gothic noise fill up my innards and guide me around the dance floor in fits of spins and flails.
When I was twenty, I worked the door for a DJ/promoter who put on a weekly dark-’80s night—i.e., the Cure, Joy Division, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, anything dance-mope. It was understood long before I started working for him—when I was just a patron with an asymmetrical bob and a lace dress—that “Cuts You Up” was my song and that, later, I would have to forgo all my duties as door girl and run (see, I wasn’t too goth to show enthusiasm) to the dance floor as soon as that first note of synth violin played; the people waiting to get in had to keep waiting—or pay the bouncer. (The DJ also gave lil ol’ underage me a bar tab, ensuring that this would be the best job I’d ever have). When I eventually started promoting my own similar night, it was an unstated contract between my new DJ and I that he had to play this song at every single event. Never mind if the night’s theme was Siouxsie or hair metal (okay, so I was obviously running a wide-ranging vanity project), I’d have to have my Peter Murphy.
Even though I hadn’t heard the song in a few years, my brain began to play it as soon as the thought “Cuts You...” was formulated. I assumed it would make a pointless revisit because of that familiarity—there was nothing new to hear. But as I re-listened to “Cuts You Up” the other day, I wanted to figure out why this song, above all other gloomy grooves (“How Soon Is Now,” “Cities in Dust,” “Lucretia My Reflection”) was my favorite to dance to at the time. The easy answer: It has the basic sequence of what I deem a great, emotionally rousing (dare I say) pop song—the slow build that gives way to a whabam! of a chorus, the wind-back down and up again, only to pull out a bigger chorus bruiser, then a bridge that isn’t a break but an introduction to further tension, and a final keep-’em-wanting release. “Cuts You Up” is so badass, in fact, it has not one but two bridges. What song has two bridges?
Add a dark tone to the pop formula, and there you have the best circumstance for a repertoire of gothy dance moves: the sway in and out/rock back and forth like a possessed, skittish cat (slow build); long-skirt twirls á la Stevie Nicks in loop-di-loos around the dance floor (chorus); swirly arms and twisty wrists above head with spins, a.k.a. picking “so, so many spider webs” (bruiser); massive arm-flailing-web-detroying-loop-di-loo combo (bridge). By the time I’d get to the second bridge, I was usually out of control, a tornado of limbs and spins and closed eyes and demonic rocking. You could not stop me.
Much of Murphy’s other solo work is fairly unremarkable, something I’ve always believed and still stand by after re-listening to the rest of Deep (and maybe something he now realizes too, as he’s about to go on tour next month, performing only Bauhaus material, his recent arrest notwithstanding). Once Bauhaus disbanded in 1983, Murphy went in a more radio-friendly, commercial direction (if you consider Dead Can Dance on synthesizer amphetamines radio-friendly), and he never had another sort-of hit outside of “Cuts You Up.” The problem and the pleasure lies within Murphy’s voice—it’s deep and brooding, almost cartoonically so—and paired with the rest of Deep, which is mostly upbeat and ’80s keyboard-heavy, it’s all too, too much. It feels like Count Chocula invaded Duran Duran.
Murphy does better when he sounds like he’s emerging from the already-pitch-black shadows. “Bella Lugosi’s Dead” is Bauhaus’ best and most infamous song for a reason: It has Murphy’s trademark bellow without being the overproduced melodrama that most people (who’ve never listened to the good stuff) associate with the goth sound. “Lugosi” is suspenseful and minimal, with sparse lyrics and percussion and a near-surf guitar over dripping, hypnotic electronica. On the spectrum of Murphy’s work from solo pop to Bauhaus art gloom, “Cuts You Up” is somewhere in the middle, closer to the Bauhaus end. It’s got the same push-and-pull intensity as “Lugosi,” but it’s more compact, a little less risky, and therefore, a more comforting discomforting dance jam.
I hail, yearn, pray for that Peter Murphy, the man that brought joy to mope. Wishing you well, sir, and a safe journey back to your dark, cavernous home, away from the pressures and shitty decisions of the common people.
Jessica Machado is an associate editor at Rolling Stone and author of the blog "Baggage Claimed" (baggageclaimed.tumblr.com). Her work has appeared in Bust, The Awl, and The Economist’s More Intelligent Life, among other publications.