More than the leader of Depeche Mode: Dave Gahan turns 60

David Gahan © APA/AFP/Getty/Kambouris

Drug abuse, cardiac arrest, cancer – charismatic Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan has had turbulent decades. But ahead of his 60th birthday on Monday, May 9, the famously hip-swinging singer has seemingly made peace with the past. “I’ve had a pretty blessed life here,” said the British singer, who now lives in New York. “I just love what I do as much as I can.”

“No, I don’t regret anything”, sang Edith Piaf one day, “no, I don’t regret anything. With Gahan, it’s probably a little more complicated. “Regret is a strange word,” the Depeche Mode leader recently told the Guardian. “I don’t look at my life like that anymore, and I don’t need excuses anymore for the decisions I made. Good or bad, they had consequences.

He has been on stage for over 40 years, mainly with Depeche Mode. If you watch the band’s early music videos, which formed in 1980 in peaceful Basildon, you must be smiling. When he appeared on the TV show Top Of The Pops in 1981, boy Gahan wore a white jacket and black bow tie. The hair is perfectly short – an understated ’80s cut. The 19-year-old is already showing off his swaying hips.

Two years later, when the band performed “Everything Counts” on the cult show, Gahan seemed much more mature and confident. From today’s point of view, the lively performer that Gahan is today is already recognizable – the dandy with the lascivious poses, the rock’n’roll star who represents excess, who dominates his audience and who is now more than the lead singer of one of the most influential bands in music history.

Depeche Mode rose to fame as part of the new wave scene with their debut album Speak And Spell and single Just Can’t Get Enough. Keyboardist Vince Clarke wrote the songs almost single-handedly. Shortly after the release, he left the band to form Yazoo and later Erasure. However, bandmate Martin Gore proved to be at least as talented and has now taken over writing the songs.

With pop classics like “Everything Counts”, “Enjoy The Silence” or “Personal Jesus”, which go far beyond the synth sound of other artists of their time, Depeche Mode have become one of the most most successful in the world. Gahan sang the songs, mostly written by Gore, with verve and power. His distinctive voice, often paired with Gore’s soft voice, made the Depeche Mode sound special.

With his stage presence, Gahan captivates audiences at concerts. Depeche Mode’s legendary performance at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California in 1988 in front of 65,000 spectators, which was released as the concert film “101”. The band’s look has changed significantly over the years. Today, Gahan usually wears tight pants and often shows off his bare, tattooed upper body.

Just as Depeche Mode’s sound grew darker and more gloomy over the years – as the band enjoyed success after success – Gahan’s personal life grew increasingly murky. His drug use got out of hand. “It was about getting high,” he told Rolling Stone. “Everything I loved didn’t seem to matter, it was a terrible situation.”

In 1996, after an overdose, her heart stopped for two minutes. “There was only darkness,” said Gahan, for whom it was a dramatic wake-up call. “I had this overwhelming feeling that everything I was doing to myself was absolutely wrong.”

The fact that he was later arrested for drug possession came in handy. “I’m actually grateful that I got arrested and the judge threatened to go to jail if I wasn’t sober,” he said in the “EW” interview. “Because I listened to it and it clicked.” Since then, Gahan says he has been dry and clean.

In 1999 he married his third wife, Jennifer Sklias-Gahan, with whom he has a daughter. He also has a son from his first marriage and adopted Sklias-Gahan’s son from a previous relationship.

Gahan was diagnosed with a bladder tumor in 2009 while touring the universe with Depeche Mode. The singer survived that too – and even so quickly that he was able to continue touring after a few weeks. To this day, Gahan fills the big halls and stadiums with Depeche Mode, who released their last album “Spirit” in 2017.

All the more surprising given that Gahan revealed he doubted himself in last year’s ‘Variety’ interview. “I played in front of people for so many years, and there were times when I didn’t feel completely comfortable,” he confessed. “So I feel like a cheater.”

Accordingly, he named his third near-solo album with longtime musical collaborator Rich Machin aka Soulsavers. On “Imposter” (in German: Fraudster), released in November 2021, Dave Gahan sings songs by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Charlie Chaplin and PJ Harvey. Accompanied by a band of ten musicians, it sounds really good even without Depeche Mode.

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