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Peter Murphy Biography

Last updated: 07/11/2007 12:00:00 PM

I know very little about Peter Murphy.I know his name, and I know the shape of his head, because itÌs a shape IÌve always been very jealous of. I think anyone with a head shaped like that, all kind of sharp and hollow and almost sinister, must have something of the magical about him. I wonder if itÌs a fluke that he has a head like that, a splendid accident of birth, or has it been sheer vain anxious will-power that has shaped Peter MurphyÌs head into something that is positivley Artaudian, if youÌll pardon my french. I know also that he has eyes as hollow as a dream, eyes that seem incapable of shame, and a decayed mouth that could but for the grace of God eat you alive and kiss you to death. For all I know, he also has lovers hands, a body that seethes with life, and feet shaped like Chile. For all I know, he might once have been the Under-15 200 metre sprint champion of Northampton, he might believe that God is a bisexual creature, his favourite animal might be a squirell, his favourite colour shall we say an impure purple, his favourite Edgar Allen Poe story ÎThe Man Who Was Used UpÌ, and his favourite item of clothing something made up of leather, lace and papier mache.

For all I know his middle name might be Ovid, and his dad might have been a priest, or a Romanian prince, or a meat packer. His motherÌs name could be Ivy, and her favourite chair could be covered with a dark green velvet. Peter Murphy might be married with a couple of children and have a fondness for camomile tea. I just donÌt know, because you see I know very little about peter Murphy.

I know that he was once in a group called Bauhaus, a pale a awkward quartet who may or may not have been part-way responsible for blood letting goth-rock into the pop firma-culture, a silly a fervent boy rock group who seriously took themselves in persuit of a ravaged greatness that would equal Baudelaire and Pollock and Iggy. They guessed that they were the Velvets gone holy, but really they were the Sweet gone mouldy. They figures they were clearly art, but actually they were as clear as Mud. (They never wrote a song as good as ÎTiger FeetÌ.) I know that when I was a boy rock critic sometime about 1980 I reviewed a Bauhaus concert, and felt that for all their effort and dedication and self satisfaction they were truly madly deeply a pile of shit, or was it cold sick. I think I said that they should be shot, although I did have a shady regard for the shape of the singerÌs head and the way his lips played all by themselves.

I know that not long after that review I rather stupidly went along to interview them. The room where we met was the coldest place that I have ever been. Now that here I am writing about Peter Murphy, I feel how cold that room was, cold like it must have been when you know that someone is about to shoot you. We talked shit for two hours, the shit that only a rock critic talking to a rock group can really talk, serious farce shit, intense, introverted, irrelevent shit. I remeber thinking, though, that this Peter Murphy, he looked like I always hoped Delmore Shwartz would look, he looked a million times better than he talked. Actually he didnÌt talk, he just about murmured, as if he might be autistic, so that he looked beautifully, like he might be on the verge of collapse, but talked vaguely, as if he was always five minutes behind what could almost be called the rest of the conversation.

And then a week, or a month, or a year later I saw them on Top Of The Pops doing their anti-smart last ditch novelty cover of ÎZiggy StardustÌ, the band all mock demented, and Murphy clearly seperated from them at the end of some tether, as if he was desperatley shocked at his own mediocrity, face to face with pop oblivion. ThatÌs that then, I thought. What a waste of a great face.

I know that the group split up, sometime

To be honest youÌd have to check the details, and I was as aware as most people in the world who caught the music papers now and then that Murphy was making solo records. I made up my mind as you do, what they would sound like, pretend out of control, would be epic, make believe tragic, messy masses of naggy narcissim, if youÌll pardon the rock critic talk. During the 80Ìs I probably thought about Peter Murphy six or seven times, once when I heard he was doing a loveversion of Howard DevotoÌs elegant and severe ÎThe Light Pours Out Of MeÌ and a few times when I was thinking of him when I was working out who could play the young Kafka in the film that Steven Soderbergh was making.

Then one day or an hour, or a minute, or, indeed, one second, I got a call from Peter Murphy asking me if I would write a short biography to accompany the release of his new album. Speaking to him meant that I thought of Peter Murphy for the first time during the 90Ìs. Speaking to him meant that I was speaking to him for the first time in 12 years. The first thing I thought was; I wonder if his head has changed shape. Then I thought; maybe he still wants to shoot me.

"PeterÓ I said ÏI donÌt know anything about you, except your brother believes in reincarnation, you have no hairs on your body, and you were once in a stink bomb of a group who might even be part way responsible for Sisters Of mercy."

"I donÌt care that you know nothing about me,Ó he said, ÏIÌd rather have someone write about me who knows nothing, because IÌm sick of these biographies that just repeat the same old simple things, and that attatch me to the same old simple past, and that repeat the same old half-truths about who I am and what I do...."

"PeterÓ, I said ÏWhat if I write something that suggests youÌre just a piece of shit, or a cup of cold sick."

"So be it,Ó he sighed. ÏNothing could be worse than ÎPeter MurphyÌs new album is a fresh and surprising collection of personal, sensuous songs that will confound the doubters and thrill the believersÌ Anything but something that goes on about how IÌve evolved as a songwriter, about how I pack out 10,000 seaters in America and have albums in the top ten....."

"Peter,Ó I said, Ïyou pack out 10,000 seaters in America and have albums in the top ten...."

"ÏYeah,Ó he sighed like he believed it. Ï So will you write a short biography to accompany the album?"

"Even though I know nothing about you?"

"Even though you know nothing about me."

"Except that in fact you are still ill looking and your favourite hobby is to catch and tame wild cats and teach them to dance."

"How did you know that?"

"I just made it up, but I figured that it was the kind of stuff that you would want in your biography."

"So will you write it then."

"Are you asking?"

"IÌm asking."


So here I am writing a biography to accompany the new album by Peter Murphy, and in fact IÌm not writing it simply because he asked me to, or because IÌm being paid, but because oddly enough, the album is a nervous, intimate, curiously endearing set of confessions and secrets that doesnÌt have anything to do with what I thought he was, or what he thought he was, or what his fans thought he was all those years ago. The first time I heard it I figured that I would be telling the truth but deadly dull if I wrote somewhere that Peter MurphyÌs new album Î is a fresh and surprising collection of personal, sensuous songs that will confound the doubters and thrill the believers.Ì For what itÌs worth I would probavbly use words like relaxed, unburdened, gentle, fickle if someone sensible asked me to begin describing the record; if someone less sensible, or in a way more sensible asked me, I would ramble on with crafty coherence about a guilty guiltlessness reaching upwards into magical metaphysical spheres and downwards to the darkest relam of instinct.

It occurs to me that through, oddly enough, listening to the new Peter Murphy album, I now know a lot about Peter Murphy, about a few particular incidents and feeling and attitudes. I know that heÌs making records for his own damned, quiet reasons in the way that some people write novels. I know that his songs have nothing to do with pop trends or rock fashions and in that sense theyÌre so old fashioned theyÌre plainly radical. I know that heÌs two or three albums away from making one thatÌs as perfectly shaped and as mysterious as the shape of his head, and therefore heÌs as close as heÌs ever going to be to being the kind of pop star that pop music was invented for, a dangerous impulsive arrogant magician who only truly comes alive when thousands and thousands of people are paying attention all at the same time. I could even get even get quite enthusiastic: I mean, fuck Mick Hucknall, Jim Kerr, Belinda Carlisle, these agents of mediocrity, middle of the road journeymen, if thereÌs real life left in pop as a worldwide spectacle, then the Peter Murphy who I know called me on the telephone to ask me to write his biography, who I know speaks softly and deliberatley about the simple, complex act of writing songs and then performing them, is as good a hope as any. I know that I never thought IÌd know that, but now I know.

So I guess if you want to know any facts about Peter Murphy, apart from learning that he loves a natural pause in conversation, the best thing is to listen to the record and, if you want to, make youÌre own mind up about what to know. Make your own words about what Peter Murphy is making up. Look at the details the record company have no doubt attatched to these pages. And listen to the record again. If you want to.Oddly enough, I know I will.

IÌm not sure I know why, but thatÌs a whole other two thousand words, and IÌm sure youÌve got work to do.

by Paul Morley, London 1992