When I enter the restaurant at the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, goth progenitor David J Haskins is tucked all the way in the corner, wearing his signature look of thin, black shades and sipping a glass of red wine. His skin and hair are fair fair; his eyes small and incisive. With his stylized glasses and angular features, his presence reminds me of an something avian…or even alien.
Haskins (or David J. as he goes by professionally) has led a peculiar life. He’s best known as a bassist, founding member, and songwriter for Bauhaus, the group often dubbed the “Godfathers of Goth” for pioneering the sound and look of the 1980s subculture. After Bauhaus fell apart in 1983, he and other band members formed spinoff Love and Rockets before a pair of Bauhaus reunions in the 1990s and 2000s.
Since then he’s made solo records himself (his 12th LP An Eclipse of Ships came out in May), but his love of the chasing bizarre experience may be his defining trait. In the decades since he first hit London’s music scene, he’s collected stories of encounters with the twentieth-century rock legends and eccentrics, including Johnny Rotten, Iggy Pop, Ian Curtis, Timothy Leary, and John Peel. He hung with writer William Burroughs while Burroughs shot cans of paints to spray canvasses, “tripped bollocks” (as the English say) on psychedelics too many times than to count, was involved in a voodoo ceremony that allegedly had something to do with a fire at Rick Rubin’s Steinway Mansion in Laurel Canyon (leaving performance artist Genesis P-Orridge trapped inside), and on and on.
The wild anecdotes are laid out in sharp, page-turning prose in his just-released memoir Who Killed Mister Moonlight (after one of the early Bauhaus songs he penned), which recounts his days in Bauhaus and the psychodrama of the oft-insular goth icons as they toured the world several times over.
Today, Haskins has taken the train up to Los Angeles from his hideaway in Carlsbad, a beachy retreat in San Diego county, to talk about the book. He’s chipper and chatty as we discuss his open marriage, bad blood with a former band-mate, and what it’s like to still be hustling at age 57.
PLAYBOY: A lot of rock memoirs are co-written or flat out ghost-written. I assume none of this was ghost-written?
HASKINS: There were ghosts in the room, but no ghost writing. It was me sitting in my apartment-office in Hollywood at the time. And I’d clock in at noon and write solid for two hours. Even if I had a flow going, I’d stop and have a break, then write until four. Then I’d have a cocktail. The whole thing took seven years. The main part of the book, I suppose, was concentrated over three years of writing.
PLAYBOY: Like other musician’s memoirs, this book focuses on sex, drug, and rock ‘n roll. Some of that sex is happening outside your marriage, including the fling-slash-flirtation with Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer. And the time when you hired two prostitutes in Vegas and—well, it doesn’t exactly go as planned. What does your wife make of all of that stuff?
HASKINS: We always have been very honest and open and it’s a very healthy situation. There’s no cheating going on, because it’s all upfront. I mean, I was faithful to her for a good many years—many, many moons—because she’s a fantastic lady. We had a child in the mid 1980s, and I didn’t want to do anything that could endanger either my relationship with her or consequently my relationship my son. After he left home, we came to an agreement whereby one can have other experiences outside of the marriage. She’s at liberty to do so as well, but she chooses not to.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever had any run-ins with Robert Plant? You seem like kindred spirits.
HASKINS: We were recording at the same time he was recording in Rockfield. We would see him occasionally, and he was a lovely man. Very friendly, very down to earth.
I saw Led Zeppelin in 1975 at the Wembley Arena, and John Bonham had these white towels on his tom-toms. And every now and again, he’d take a towel, throw it in the air, and this powder would go everywhere, then he’d go back to playing. A few years later when I met their roadie, he confirmed my assumption as to what that powder way: top flight Bolivian cocaine. Bonham was just taking hits, and there were thousands of dollars on the stage floor. It was that decadent.
PLAYBOY: How much do you follow electronic music?
HASKINS: I love electronic music. I love the new Adam Freeland project, The Acid. Things like Can, Kraftwerk, Neu! were quite an influence on Bauhaus. Love and Rockets had a very intensive relationship with electronic music in the late 80s. In the late ‘80s, we discovered acid house, and the synergy with ecstasy was a big part of that… as drugs have always been, going back not centuries, but eons. I’m sure the cavemen that were banging around on drums were ingesting mushrooms.
PLAYBOY: How much do you have to work these days? Does the back catalog brings much money in?
HASKINS: I’m constantly hustling for work, but it’s not just doing it for the money. I have these interests that fortunately make me a sufficient amount to get by. Sometimes it’s a bit more than getting by if you get a song placement in a TV ad or a nice film placement, but that’s only for a limited amount of music because we only own the publishing on a few songs. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is one of them, which is a nice little cash cow to have.
PLAYBOY: Tell me about your DJing slate…
HASKINS: I’m playing Francois K’s [long running, Monday night at NYC’s Cielo] Deep Space party. I’m playing songs that are dub-related, in the broadest sense of that. I love dub. My relationship with dub is very eclectic. I’ll play everything from King Tubby to Morphine’s “Let’s Take a Trip Together”.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been setting up and performing at these very small ‘happenings’ in people’s homes. What about playing in people’s homes is attractive to you?
HASKINS: They’re so intimate. It cuts out the middle man; you’re dealing directly with the music lovers. There’s an excitement and focus that’s different than at the club. Everyone’s there specifically for that gig. There’s no texting on the floor, which drives me insane.
PLAYBOY: So, what medium suits you best?
HASKINS: I feel that I am more intrinsically a writer than a musician. In some ways, I’ve always felt like a bit of a fake musician. …I feel really comfortable entering this phase of a new era of writing more. I’ll probably write more than I’ll make music.
PLAYBOY: When was the last time you talked to any of the Bauhaus guys?
DAVID J: I just texted my brother, who’s coming to my reading at Book Soup in Hollywood. I haven’t seen or spoken to Daniel since our last show, Lollapalooza in 2008. It’s not that we’re on bad terms, necessarily.
Peter Murphy, I have not spoken to since that last gig, when he went into my room. As described on the last page of the book. [Editor’s note: Murphy would have a meltdown on the final leg on Bauhaus’ 2008 reunion tour in Europe.]
He’s rather persona non grata as far as myself and the others are concerned.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.