“Bela Lugosi’s Dead”
Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is the granddaddy of ’em all. Clichéd, bloated, completely lacking a sense of humor, and perfect in every way, this is where Goth begins and ends. It’s also the only logical jumping off point for The End of the Eighties playlist.
Originally holding the track one, disc one slot on the BGSU / Fall 1989-Spring 1990 mix, this is the first song I associate with Bowling Green State University.
Shortly after John and I got settled into our BGSU dorm room, we became close friends with Jen and Erin. As I recall, I met Erin during a campus visit sometime between early July and late August before classes started. I know this because I remember the first time I saw her she had on a black and white PiL concert t-shirt and these bright aqua blue shorts. I went up to her and asked her if she attended the show at Blossom (she had) and our friendship took off from there.
I seem to think I met Jen at a freshman orientation mixer kind of thing out on the lawn. I don’t think John and I introduced Jen and Erin to each other, though we might have. I do know that the first time Jen and Erin came back to our dorm room, we all hung out and listened to music, and I played Bauhaus’ Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape live album with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” on it.
I had picked up the disc while I worked at Digital Daze (now long gone) in Akron. I actually had all of Beggars Banquet’s Bauhaus reissues with the extra tracks and similar packaging. Those imports were crazy-expensive, but I loved them, often going weeks without seeing an actual paycheck because I poured my money right back into the store.
By the time John, Jen, Erin, and I were listening to it on that hot August afternoon, the song itself was already ten years old and considered the first Goth song released (as a single on the Small Wonder label in August ’79). For only having 15 or so lines of lyrics, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is a sprawling blueprint for Goth. Clocking in at nine-and-a-half minutes, the song fills the space between with heavy bass, a metronome drum beat, and winding dub guitar work. An “alternative night” staple in clubs, the song doesn’t unfold so much as it broods its way across the musical landscape. Atmosphere is everything here.
Back in the day, we would watch beat up second- and third-hand videocassette copies of Shadow of Light and Tony Scott’s The Hunger to see “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in its glory. (And how delicious the irony of Peter Murphy, who has unabashedly worshiped at the altar of Bowie, on screen with his idol in those opening moments of the film?) And I guess that’s as close to seeing the song live as I’m gonna get, because I've only seen them live once and they didn’t play it.
There are Bauhaus songs I like better than “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (and four more Bauhaus songs will show up on this playlist before I’m finished), but this one is where friendships began and the ’80s end for me.