I can’t stop thinking about Peter Murphy. The “Godfather of Goth.” The Gothfather.
News surfaced last night that Peter was in jail in California, arrested Saturday “on suspicion of causing injuries while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, felony hit-and-run and possessing methamphetamine,” according to the L.A. Times. There was an ugly mug shot alongside the story. Peter is 55 but has always seemed immortal. Here he has that unshaven, blank look of someone who has been through the wringer. A criminal. The charges come after he allegedly rear-ended a vehicle and drove off. The story quotes police as saying he appeared to be “very confused.” They also reported finding a small bag of meth in the patrol car where he had been sitting. Peter denied it was his. Or drinking that day. He said he took only his prescription anti-depressants. He blamed the collision on jet lag.
Right away, my Twitter and Facebook feeds filled up with jokes. He was driving a Subaru Forester? Hilarious! The crime took place at 11:48 a.m. The vampire prince trying to drive in California high-noon? Well that explains everything. Peter Murphy and Bauhaus lyrics that could be considered ironic now were cut up and posted. Wink, wink. Plenty more wondered how their lives would be affected: would his upcoming tour dates be cancelled? Will I get a refund? It doesn’t escape me that when an artist we admire is sick, I mean physically sick, there is an outpouring of sympathy. But if someone is known to have depression, mental health struggles, relationship problems, addiction, well how quickly they are raked over the coals. Like it’s lame. Like it’s not sad.
I don’t think it’s funny. Not because he’s special, above ridicule. Just the opposite. Because he’s just a man. A man with problems, apparently.
We Goths, and plenty of 80s new wavers and 90s alt rockers, consider Peter Murphy A-list, an icon. Most people, like say the average L.A. Times reader, probably don’t know Peter Murphy from Adam Ant. They don’t remember “Cuts You Up” or “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” or his role in the Hunger. The paper tagged him as “lead singer of 1970s British goth-rock band Bauhaus.” That’s close enough to a celebrity to warrant news coverage. Which means we can expect more details to come out, probably not good. About why he’s on anti-depressants. About any personal issues that might shed a light on this behaviour. (Someone on his FB page posted he’s mourning the death of his sister.) They might rip apart his finances, although the fact that he is in jail because he can’t post the $500,000 bail and there’s been no swift press release or statement yet tells you he’s not exactly rolling with high-priced lawyers or pr firms these days. Fans can scream “leave him alone!” but that’s their job. the reporters, to report. And it’s his own fault. He didn’t have to crash that car. He didn’t have to drive away. Hit-and-run, that’s pretty low.
At least nobody was hurt. I’ve read The Dirt. I know how Vince Neil of Motley Crue drove drunk and killed Razzle from Hanoi Rocks — and got 30 days in jail for it. (Then went on to beat up people and drive drunk again but still get off free to date and fuck and marry models and Playmates, because he clearly does have expensive lawyers.) I thought that made him a pretty awful human being, but it didn’t affect me. All those Hollywood celebs, glam rockers, whatever. Let them be bad. They’re not my heroes. This time though, I can’t stop thinking about it. I worry that Peter is not like Vince Neil at all, but like Dave Gahan. I think about Gahan’s heroin addiction, his suicide attempt, his near-death experience. Or Trent Reznor, whose struggles with depression and drugs, his descent down the spiral, thankfully led him ultimately to rehab, not jail. I remember how back then, in the mid-90s and even early 2000s, you mostly heard about these things much later, when the person was ready to talk about it. Not like now. People on the scene tweeted fuzzy cell phone photos of Peter Murphy being arrested. The infamy is immediate. Whatever happens in court, Peter will never be able to erase that mugshot. His Wiki bio— and his obituary — will have that mark.
Yes, there is a tour at stake. And his ability to work and to travel, if convicted. I don’t care if the shows are cancelled. I hope his friends have called. (I’m looking at you, Trent Reznor.) I hope someone bails him out.
In 2011, Peter Murphy put out a damned fine solo record, Ninth. I saw him perform on that tour, and he was marvelous as ever. His voice sounded great. His aging body still had the moves. He was still a master manipulator of the stage, of shadow and light. On two occasions I had the chance to chat with him after the show. In these tiny, unglamorous dressing rooms he held court, smoking cigarettes and telling stories. One of my favourites was of him walking through the Leipzig Festival (the world’s biggest Goth gathering) without make-up or costume and not being recognized. I gave him a copy of my book and he said, typically, “But I’m not Goth!” My sassy girlfriend replied, typically, “Well then you will learn alot from this book.” Sometimes the people there were really annoying. Drunks or ubergoths or both. He smiled at them anyway, listened to them, shared his cigarettes. And when he got tired he simply waved and said goodnight and disappeared out the backdoor. I like to picture him wandering off into the night to read poetry or write a song or call his daughter or go to sleep. I like to picture him singing, dancing.
I don’t like to picture him in a mug shot, a meth user, a man on the edge. And so I will not.