A couple of interesting books turned up in this morning’s post. Mark Kozelek sent me his collected lyrics, “Nights Of Passed Over”, which also comes with a CD of live and rare recordings, a nice complement to the excellent Sun Kil Moon album which I blogged about last week.
I’ll have a proper look at this in the next day or two and report back, though a quick skim of the intro reveals some awful news: Katy, the subject of many Red House Painters songs, who I mentioned in that last blog, died of cancer a few years ago. Thanks, and belated condolences, to Mark.
I’ve spent the morning, though, leafing through “No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980”, a fantastic volume by Thurston Moore and the fine rock journalist Byron Coley. No Wave is a meticulous document of that subterranean downtown scene which transformed the city’s punk scene into a volatile mix of avant-garde noise and art grad antics, laying the foundations for both a rethink of classical music – in the shape of uncompromising composers like Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham – and a new generation of adventurous rock bands, epitomised of course by Moore’s own, enduringly remarkable Sonic Youth.
I guess on paper a book like this can look pretty forbidding, if you’re a little nervous at the prospect of an academic tome on the likes of Lydia Lunch, Arto Lindsay and James Chance. But while Moore and Coley never try to cover over the intellectual ambitions of the No Wave scene, they also are keen to capture the chaotic, often confrontational aspects of the artists involved.
In this way, “No Wave” almost emerges as a sort of sequel to Legs McNeill’s “Please Kill Me”, using the same oral history format to tell the stories of these weird and compelling figures. There are stories of Lester Bangs playing gigs, out of his mind, with Robert Quine and Jay Dee Daugherty. There’s a great yarn by the avant-jazz guitarist Rudolph Grey about his brief tenure with Von LMO, a performance artist loosely affiliated to Suicide who would spend most of every gig dismantling his keyboards with a chainsaw or a pickaxe.
Grey recalls a terrible night supporting The Stranglers, of all people, in New Jersey, a story which involves LMO destroying his gear in a handful of minutes and being heckled offstage, leaving the rest of the band to try and play songs about the Baader-Meinhof gang committing suicide for long enough to secure their pay at the end of the night.
The book is also filled with some incredible shots of the bands and scenesters, largely featuring James Chance either launching himself at audiences or mingling with various NYC untouchables like Debbie Harry. Eno appears with a chest expander, smoking. Iggy slouches on a bar. Richard Hell, The Cramps and Suicide lurk in the shadows. Jim Sclavunos, currently handling percussion in the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, appears to have been involved with every band on the scene.
And the whole thing looks tremendously alluring, this collision of high-concept fashion punks, passing artists like Basquiat, and a bunch of scholarly but invigorated noise nerds, all coming together to make a racket that resonated far beyond the squalid dives in which they played. I must dig out those “New York Noise” comps on Soul Jazz tonight; like all the best music books, even a brief glance at “No Wave” makes you desperately want to hear the music which it so vividly describes.