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David J's Black Dahlia 

The brains behind Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, conjures up his own L.A. noir

Thursday, Mar 24 2011
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Some cultural genealogies are not really linear — they're more like tangled networks. You can draw lines from goth to industrial back to punk and then back again to situationism and surrealism. You can draw other lines that go back to German expressionism, or glam, or symbolist occultism. From Bauhaus (the band) to Bela Lugosi to Murnau to Bauhaus (the design movement).

David J, the least flashy member of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets and their quiet intellectual, has been tangled up in that network for decades now. (He's the one who wrote the lyrics of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" and the one who's long been chummy with comics genius/magick practitioner Alan Moore.)

His interests are not narrow but there's a recursiveness to them: In conversation he jumps easily from Aleister Crowley to Joe Orton to Bowie and Kurt Weill and Murnau and the Sex Pistols and Joy Division. If it's dark and uncanny and smells a little of old Berlin and opium, our man David J is on it.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
  • PHOTO BY TIMOTHY WILLIAMS

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"I'm now writing screenplays," he tells us in his Hollywood apartment. David J lives, as you'd imagine, in perfect bohemian style, in an old-Hollywood apartment from the Hollywood Babylon era, haunted by the memories of former residents including Weill, George Cukor and Louella Parsons. Weimar exile, gay decadent, tawdry gossip: As we said, the man even chooses his ghostly neighbors with care.

David and his writing partner, Don C. Tyler, are working on a script based on his stage play about Crowley (like the initiated, he pronounces it "CROW-ly"). "The idea behind that was Crowley as seen through the eyes of his Scarlet Women, who are his partners in his rituals," he explains.

Like many a Hollywood denizen, he's currently "taking meetings," except most Hollywood denizens are not foundational figures of an entire subculture, instantly respected by the producers of Shadow of the Vampire (Murnau, again) and Control.

Given his interests, it should come as no surprise that David J's stay in Los Angeles involves a preoccupation with our own local black hole of murder, dismemberment, conspiracy, fame, corruption and even well-known European surrealism in exile: the Black Dahlia murder.

"A couple of years ago," David explains, "I was approached by an independent film director, Ramzi Abed. He wanted me to write some new music for a film that he was doing about the Black Dahlia. It was a very sort of surreal, really left-of-field take on it. It was very dreamlike and possibly about the reincarnation of the Black Dahlia. Not really ... a commercial film." David shows us the gaudy 2007 DVD of the movie The Devil's Muse, with garish lettering declaring it "Intoxicating and Sensual (Rue Morgue Magazine)" and proclaiming "HOLLYWOOD MURDERS WOMEN."

"That film was the catalyst for me to meet my writing partner for the project, Ego Plum, and he's a great musician, a great arranger. We collaborated on some of the songs, some of it I did myself, and we collaborated on this song cycle about the Black Dahlia. I didn't even watch the film when I was writing. It was a catalyst for me to write the songs and to immerse myself in the legend of the Black Dahlia and I became a bit ... obsessed."

Like his friend Alan Moore, David describes the creative process in supernatural terms. "I felt that some of what I was getting was somehow received from somewhere," he continues, "like I was a channel for it and it was flowing through me. It was quite strange, the whole process, and a little bit unsettling, I must say. But anyway, I ended up with this song cycle, and I always thought this film is not the end of this. I want to do something else with this in the future — these songs are very potent."

While the Black Dahlia song cycle languished in obscurity as a bonus CD given away with the Devil's Muse DVD, David moved on to work on a stage performance based on the figure of Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick. "Helene Federici does something called electropera, combining electronic music and opera. I did a play in 2008 called Silver for Gold: The Odyssey of Edie Sedgwick," David says, pointing at the huge portrait of Edie hanging over his desk. "We had a two-week run in a little theater in East Hollywood here, the Met Theatre. After that we had one night downtown at the Vogue Theater and we had a band playing the music and also Velvet Underground songs, we did 'Black Angel's Death Song.' We had an art show, a light show — it was quite a scene. It was totally packed and a great crowd."

After Silver for Gold, Federici told David she wanted to put on a new opera and invited him to do "whatever I wanted, something theatrical." What happened next, again, was magickal:

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