This past weekend’s musical accompaniment (to washing dishes, doing laundry, getting ready to go out, walking and running around town): the best of singer-songwriter-guitarist Daniel Ash. A major part of the soundtrack to my late teens and twenties, the songs of Ash and the bands to which he’s contributed cover many miles of musical ground: post-punk Goth rock (with Bauhaus), electronic dance pop (Tones on Tail), folk, glam and college rock (Love and Rockets), all of the above and so much more, including creeped-out covers of “My and My Shadow,” the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and Classics IV’s “Spooky” (on his three solo albums).
But who is Daniel Ash? It’s tough to say, and therein lies his greatest strength, and his greatest liability. As a band member, and as a solo artist, he’s trod so much stylistic terrain that although he spent two solid decades in the public eye, regularly releasing new material, he remains one of music’s most elusive practitioners. He’s a true mystery man: To love him is to not really know him at all.
When was the last time a rock band spun off several acts and the lead singer didn’t have anything to do with the biggest one? I’ll always love Peter Murphy (his second solo album Deep, released on December 19, 1989, was the last great album of the ’80s), but Ash is the only former Bauhaus member who can boast of writing and singing a Top 10 U.S. hit: Love and Rocket’s “So Alive,” which hit No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1989.
My three most memorable Daniel Ash-related moments:
1) Listening to Debbie Gibson subbing for Casey Kasem on “America’s Top 40” and being taken completely off guard when she introduced Love and Rocket’s Top 10 hit “So Alive” and made an off-the-cuff comparison to T. Rex. What did she know about T. Rex? Right then I was certain there might be a lot more depth to Miss Gibson than her early frothy-pop hits like “Shake Your Love” and “Only in My Dreams.
2) Hanging out with Love and Rockets backstage before its 1996 show at Irving Plaza on the New York City stop of the Sweet F.A. tour, 3) watching the entire concert from the wings of the stage, and 4) going out drinking with the band on the Lower East Side afterwards. The was no shortage of sights that night as I lusted after drummer Kevin Haskins (rock’s hottest drummer this side of Larry Mullen Jr.’s biceps) with one eye and watched Daniel Ash chatted up a beautiful blonde with the other at Max Fish on Ludlow Street (my suggestion — the venue, not the girl!). Such a smooth operator (Ash), such a handsome guy (Haskins).
5. Seeing Bauhaus live at the Hammerstein Ballroom during its 1998 reunion tour. Who knew Goth would still play so well more than a decade and a half later?
The Best of Daniel Ash (After Bauhaus)
“Christian Says” Tones on Tail (1984 single) My favorite song for a guy until Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” came around.
“Yin and Yang and the Flower Pot Man” Love and Rockets (from Express, 1986) I took a class on Eastern religion in college, and every time the professor mentioned yin and yang, this song would play in my mind.
“Love Me” Love and Rockets (from Express) As creepy and seductive as that four-letter word.
“Shelf Life” Love and Rockets (from Sweet F.A., 1996) Backstage at Irving Plaza, I made one special request of Ash: Don’t forget to play my favorite song on Sweet F.A. He didn’t. It sounded as good live as it did on the CD.
“Natacha” Love and Rockets (from Sweet F.A.) Alas, Sweet F.A.‘s other standout didn’t make the set list.
“Party’s Not Over” Love and Rockets (from Lift, 1998) Sadly, it was. Lift was the final Love and Rockets album.
“Candy Darling” Daniel Ash (from Coming Down, 1991) I’ve never been so big on musical tributes to tragic or suicidal blondes, with two exceptions: INXS’s “Suicide Blonde” and this high point of Ash’s first solo album.
“Get Out of Control” Daniel Ash (from Foolish Thing Desire, 1992) As shamelessly commercial as Ash ever dared to get.
“Trouble” Daniel Ash (from Daniel Ash, 2002) Another musical reinvention (this time as a full-on electronica act) in a career full of them, first heard on the soundtrack to the 2000 Christian Bale film American Psycho.
“Burning Man” Daniel Ash (from Daniel Ash) Just as things were getting really exciting — Ash’s self-titled third solo album was his most daring and experimental work since Bauhaus — he more or less disappeared. There’s been some scattered activity in recent years, including a Bauhaus reunion album (2008’s Go Away White), several EPs and a 2008 Love and Rockets regrouping at Lollapalooza, but no new Ash studio solo album in 10 years and counting.