Words work by creating spaces where thoughts can live between narrators married by communicative need. As a solo artist and singer for Bauhaus Peter Murphy uses simple language to create impassioned stories set in apocalyptic fugues and narrated by doomed but ecstatic characters. The runaway, the doomed bride, the fevered student of the arcane, the sparks of consciousness in a dark crowd – all lyrical positions that Murphy uses to portray an aesthetic philosophy of danger, escape, release and revolt. Themes which perhaps reflect the drama of Murphy’s early life in Northampton as a self-conscious stammering androgene to his rapid revelation as one of the truly iconoclastic frontmen of the 20th Century.
Presented as a lush coffee table book this 288 page tome contains Murphy’s lyrics from 1980-2014, as well as photography and lyrics sheets from the course of his career. Here fans of his words can study the minutiae of his world building in totalis. Arranged by release in chronological order the reader has the ability to gauge Murphy’s progress as a lyricist release on release. Though it’s important to recognise that lyrics function differently than poetry, they often have the structural constraints of song and thus have to operate as verses or choruses. As such, the formal characteristics of these lyrics can be read by their use of repetition, first verse scene building, beat twists and denouement. While Murphy’s might have incrementally pushed the rock music formula don’t expect formal surprises – compared to say Van Dyke Parks, Tim Smith (Cardiacs), Nick Cave, Jimmy Webb, Judee Sill, David Tibet, Joni Mitchell…. But where Murphy progresses is in his approach to language within tight structures and how he advances more nuanced content and imagery without becoming flabby.
“Lyric writing is a dive into the never-ending internal depth of your sea of being. You’re writing to, from, and for your fellow beings and Earth friends.” – Peter Murphy
Over the 34 years captured in the pages Murphy moves from a bleak urbanity towards a diverse mystical appreciation of life amongst the ruins – and always in a spare language that gives ample room for the reader to find mystery. When they work, Murphy’s lyrics, like good poetry, allow the reader to become the imaginarium of music. To feed and feel the creative matter that conjures sumptuous arcane worlds and in a sense to become the silent musical setting that electrify the lyrics. And they often do… but not always.
A compendium of lyrics is not for everyone. The totality of Murphy’s lyrics when read cover to cover is exhausting and tiredness dulls the peaks. The multiplicities of Murphy’s face page after page starts to grate, and even the lovingly collected handwritten lyrics feel corrosive. On top of the handwritten lyrics, there are almost as many photos and artworks that would be rare finds for all but the most devoted. Additionally, there is an exclusive print of Murphy’s own artwork included with the deluxe Gold slipcase edition. Surely, a necessity for personal shrines across the global Bauhaus fandom. One appreciates that Bauhaus and Murphy’s influence across visual and musical culture, goth or otherwise, is immense but ye gods there’s a lot here.
the line between… feels like the Ur text for another tome of Murphy scholarship, one which bifurcates into visual, lyrical, musical and autobiographical streams. Each an inky river which charts the importance of handwritten changes, mirrored sunglasses, trips to Turkey, cloudy relationships with the other talented Bauhaus members, fame, personal reticence, and whether esoteric flirtations ever gave lip service the breath of devotion. All questions which remain glimpsed rather than grasped. Of course, the audience of this exquisitely produced book are the legions of scholastic Peter Murphy fans, those deep in the lore, and for them this rich source will reward year after year.
“the line between the devil’s teeth and that which cannot be repeat”. Peter Murphy lyrics 1980-2014. Purchase here.
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle