‘Undead, undead, undead’: The evil, alien weirdness of Bauhaus live at University of London, 1980
Please believe me when I tell you that I am in no way pining for the era of the VHS videotape—I lived through it, folks and it wasn’t pretty. You’ll hear no nostalgia for obsolete home entertainment formats coming from me—but I do want to convey, for our “younger readers,” something that has been lost, never to return, in this age of press play, always on, instant streaming digital video pumped directly into your home 24/7 like water or gas.
And I’m actually wincing as I compose this because what I’m about to impart seems so… I dunno… parental or heaven forfend Republican. I don’t mean to come off like that but I’m gonna say it anyway:
You appreciate things more when you have to work for them.
Okay, so what do I mean by this? When something must be hunted down, or is otherwise elusive, scarce, expensive or rare, you simply appreciate it more once you finally get your hands on it. A big part of what motivates any crate digger is the thrill of the hunt. It’s just not the same when you can easily download something or have Amazon deliver it to your doorstep the next day, or sooner. Today the distance between your desire and manifesting whatever that desire is, is but a short and uncomplicated path. The Internet took all of the joy out of record and book collecting for me. I haven’t had a “holy grail” that I’ve been looking for since forever ago, if you’ll forgive me my first world problem!
Another thing that’s gotten lost along the way is any sense of something being “underground” anymore. Nothing—at least entertainment-wise—is “rare” in a digital world. Look at the films of Kenneth Anger. Once upon a time, you’d have had to have gone to a gay porno theater in New York’s Times Square to see his short films “Fireworks” or “Scorpio Rising.” You’d have to have seen them projected on celluloid and most probably under fairly seedy conditions, if you were to see them at all. That also meant physically being in a big city when they were being screened. Esoteric entertainment of this sort did not come to you then, you went to it. In 2016 YouTube might host Jack Smith’s legendarily perverse underground classic Normal Love in HD, but it’s just not the same as seeing it in a sperm-stained Times Square fleapit that smells strongly of Pine-Sol when the NYPD’s vice squad arrives uninvited, now is it?
Kids today have it so easy! Back when I was a boy… Well, first of all even if you were an “early adopter” and owned a VCR in the early to mid-1980s, VHS tapes could cost upwards of $30, often much more. Rental stores weren’t much of a thing at the beginning and an “imported” videotape might run you a premium $59. But there still weren’t all that many retail places—even in New York City—to buy them even if you wanted to to pay top dollar for them. The ostensible (ahem) subject of this post is the Bauhaus video that you see embedded at the bottom. I bought this when it came out in the gigantic RKO Video store in Times Square. Now long gone, it was one of the first, best and biggest selections of video tapes for purchase as probably existed anywhere in North America at the time. A huge multi-level store, its selection dwarfed what even Tower Records and J&R Music World had on offer. (The day that I actually bit the bullet and ponied up my hard-earned $39.95 for the Bauhaus VHS, the members of Duran Duran were coming down the escalator as I went up. They had just done a fan signing and the debris from that was strewn all over the store. I remember thinking that they looked cool in their makeup and sharp suits, but also thinking that there was something a bit tragic about men wearing makeup during the day. In any case, I thought I’d throw that in there. Where else will I ever be able to use that?)
Bauhaus made a strong impression on movie audiences when they appeared onscreen during the opening credit sequence of Tony Scott’s ‘The Hunger’ with Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie in 1983. (Fun fact: The female victim in this scene is none other than Bongwater’s Ann Magnuson.)
The live Bauhaus VHS video I bought at RKO Video came packaged in a clamshell case with what was obviously a color Xerox for a cover. Not only was the cover art probably laid out by a human hand, it had also been wrapped in cellophane, clumsily, by hand. It wasn’t a bootleg, it had come from Target Video, but it looked like one. And forty bucks. I was probably making $8 an hour then, so this seemed like a fortune to me. But I had to have it. I was nuts about the first two Bauhaus albums, and after seeing them in action in The Hunger, I really wanted this video. Forty dollars was a lot of money to me then, but for whatever reason, this was something I perceived to be worth it. Once I spent that kinda dough, though, I wanted to get my “money’s worth” out of it with repeated plays. You are gonna watch this video—if you watch it at all—for free on YouTube and that will be that. But imagine if this was hard to get and came in a box for $40 and the only way you could see it was to go to NYC and buy it in one particular store and take it home. No Amazon, no iTunes store, no Pirate Bay… no Internet!. If you put that kind of effort into acquiring something, well, wouldn’t you want to “appreciate” it more than once? No one today would invite their friends over to watch such a thing, on YouTube, but back then, hey, that’s what you did.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not necessarily taking any (intentional) position on digital piracy or how people should pay for music or any of that stuff, I’m simply saying that having a barrier, in a sense, between you and the thing you desired to see ultimately made finally getting to see it all the more crucial and meaningful. I’m also not saying that this would be a good thing to return to—please no—but what I will ask you to do is imagine how incredibly ALIEN—even evil—this transmission, Bauhaus Live at London University, looked in the context of the time it came out and I pushed play on my VCR remote.
Kids these days, they just want to hit play on their smartypants phones… Back when I was a boy, the video below was an unholy grail. “Undead, undead, undead…”
Accessed 6/4/16 http://dangerousminds.net
Take a look at at the Fan page for nowthisisgothic.tumblr.com - A photoblog with a collection of 1980s goths, wavers and (post)punk.