The Bauhaus Mixtape (excerpt from The Pursuit of Cool)
What else could Lance do but start listening to Bauhaus? He’d gotten into them through LaCoss’s friend Sy Terlinger, the anarchist actor who lived in the most decrepit rental in the West Downs. Terlinger was intense, maybe the coolest guy on campus, earning the reverence of people like LaCoss. His bio fascinated Lance. Terlinger had been attending Langford as an undergrad and postgrad for eight years. He was a teaching assistant in Organic Chemistry. He had welded a twelve-foot muffler sculpture in his yard in the shape of a Celtic cross. There were rumors he manufactured drugs in his basement. He was a Yokohama Karate black belt instructor. He carried a .25 caliber semi-auto pistol in his motorcycle boot. He’d rigged four IBM PCs together to form a supercomputer that calculated the distance between stars. He was a pen pal of Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Terlinger listened to Bauhaus first thing every morning, likely ingesting the day’s first drugs while doing so.
And the guy knew good music.
It was dark, intense stuff from the late seventies and early eighties. In those years, in his boring mainstream existence, Lance had been unaware of Bauhaus. All the current music — the sugar rock barf from MTV-created hair bands — turned his stomach, so he dove into some old stuff for nourishment. Terlinger made a tape for Lance using a ninety-minute high bias cassette, recording two albums, some amazing live songs and a bootleg EP.
“Are you ready for this?” Terlinger had said before handing over the tape. He tapped the plastic holder against his black leather vest. He’d filled the blank cover with blue India ink sketches of the band, four emaciated deadpan Englishmen.
“You bet.” Lance smiled, unsure what Terlinger was intimating.
It was musical heroin. The screeching, icicles-on-your-spine guitar work of Daniel Ash and the charismatic, wounded-vampire vocals of Peter Murphy. That commanding voice, it started narrating Lance’s dreams. The songs sprung from a strange poisoned well of punk, but with a hypnotic insistence that put them in their own category. They pounded out an eerie furious landscape, riveting his attention as a manifestation of his inner turmoil. Dark forces had surrounded him, creating the fetal confusion, whispering doubts into Lynn’s ear.
No! It was her fault, he realized. She was causing all this. The great Love controversy was an excuse for her cruelty. The unfairness of it enraged him. He had done nothing but love her, without ever cheating on her, and treat her well. He respected her career motivations, allowing her due as a modern woman. He’d vacuumed her apartment! She’d chosen to spit on his best intentions. To mock him. The Bauhaus shed new light on Lynn’s mysteries. What had seemed innocent, endearing, now became monstrous. He had miscalculated, wrongly assuming she had positive intentions.
He was listening to his Bauhaus tape so much, he heard guitar chords while in line at the Bursar’s Office. The lyrics of “Stigmata Martyr” ran through his brain during sleep.
He fell into the Walkman habit for additional Bauhaus fixes. He became a campus walker who piloted in a contained world, cords dangling from his ears, the ephemeral buzz of miniature noise trailing him. The guitar twitches, ricocheting explosions and sonic slithering added new meaning to everyday campus sights. He’d never noticed the grim architecture of the journalism school. The upper floors of The Ivan were streaked with purple pigeon shit. And the typical Langford student — with their sad backpacks and shoulder bags, like so many lost travelers — they had no idea of their ridiculous selves. Packs of sorority girls roved, smug and clueless. Weight room dudes trudged about in chopped shirts, the morons. They all knew nothing of their mistakes, their life miscalculations, blissfully dumb about the folly of their efforts. They were like those plastic football players who randomly collided according to electric vibrations. He wished them all misery. Beside the Economics building’s fountain he consumed an apple as the endless dire melody of “Béla Lugosi’s Dead” unwound in his ears.
Lynn was mocking him. Well, screw her!
Lance liked that the headphones suspended the pretense of connection with other pedestrians. He was oblivious to his haunted expressions, his moving lips and dazed eyes, the times he blurted lyrics aloud. He’d see people he knew, acknowledging them briefly with wary eyes. His belligerent body language and quick pace made it seem he suspected others of violence, or was planning a violent outburst himself. He sensed the confusion of innocent people. He anticipated their reports, but didn’t care: Rally was marching down Hawthorne with this demonic expression and didn’t even say hello.
He preferred walking to sitting in his room. He went on long forays off-campus. One day walking around the West Downs he dropped by Sy Terlinger’s house to thank him for the music. Terlinger was in the backyard, site of the altar-like muffler sculpture. Industrial music played from roof speakers. Terlinger threw paint bombs against large canvases. This was to be the set of The Complete Nuclear Family, the production Terlinger and LaCoss were acting in. Terlinger was also the set designer.
“The Bauhaus is awesome,” Lance said.
“Too bad it’s splitsville for the band,” Terlinger said. “It’s a royal shame.” His dark hair was a massive braid that hung to his belt. He let Lance toss a few paint bombs. Lance missed with a green one; it splattered against a garage.
“Oh, sorry. My bad.”
“Good one, man.” Terlinger nodded in appreciation. He tossed a yellow bomb at the garage to add contrast. He singed parts of a canvas by igniting lighter fluid. He dipped arrows in paint and shot them. Lance shot a few, then suggested mixing more colors. They exploded firecrackers gobbed with wet paint. They were creating art! It looked fantastic. Jackson Pollock would have been proud. It was pretty cool to hang with a guy like Terlinger.
“Did you want anything else?” Terlinger asked. His peculiar gray eyes twinkled. “I can set you up.” He meant drugs, and Lance was flattered. Terlinger considered him worthy of this secretive confidence.
“I’m good. I’m trying to sort out my head. I was just walking in the neighborhood.”
“There’s no better way to enjoy the day,” Terlinger said. “That’s the mark of true freedom.” He held out a fist, and Lance bumped it with his own. Joy suddenly poured from the sky — Lance’s first in weeks. Standing in Terlinger’s backyard was a fine moment. In his rebellious way, Terlinger was a genius. Terlinger smiled, pulling his top lip back, revealing gray, hideously problemed teeth. On the other hand, it could be that Terlinger was actually going nowhere, or had given up on going anywhere.
Robb Skidmore writes upmarket fiction. He is the author of the novel The Pursuit of Cool and the novella The Surfer. His short stories have appeared in many literary reviews and websites. When not writing, he enjoys reading books, traveling, finding new music for his iPod, and staring at the sky with wonder and appreciation. Find the book excerpted in this interview here or here.