Thursday, July 10, 2008

BOOK REVIEW!...NO WAVE (POST PUNK. UNDERGROUND. NEW YORK. 1976-1980.) by Thurston Moore and Byron Coley (Abrams, 2008)

Would you buy a book (new or used) from these guys? Especially the bozo on the left, with his thinning hair, furrowed brow, craggy depraved face and paunchy Irish boozehound looks which remind you of the president of your local chapter of the Carroll O'Connor fan club? Well, don't let seedy looks deceive you, because if I were you I'd buy, beg, borrow (but not steal) the tumultuous tome that both of these unhealthy specimens dished up for you! You see, their book on the oft-discussed yet under-documented subject of late-seventies no wave rock & roll is perhaps "thee" biblio of the year (though the TRUMP and HUMBUG collections to arrive this September sure do look tasty!), and in a year which has produced a number of mighty fine reads it ain't exactly some fluffy "lifetime achievement" award that I am bestowing upon this inspirational document! No, this no wave book is perhaps about as definitive a history on the subject as you can find, and with such old hands as Coley and Moore dishing it out what else would you expect, Simon Reynolds rattling off about implied Marxist leanings in English post-punk music for nigh on five-hundred pages?

And in a year which has not only given us another nice handy-dandy no wave overview plus a much-needed Teenage Jesus/Beirut Slump CD , can our poor li'l ol' hearts stand this pretty much definitive history of the original no wave thrust of it all? Considering just how all-encompassing and detailed this book is and how it sucks you and and spews you out making you want to know even more what else really can be said? Coley and Moore's NO WAVE thankfully avoids all the no wave cliches that even I have set to type and it's more'n obvious that this particular no wave histoire's gonna be different than the vast array of articles that tried to put a particular time in New York underground rock into a supposedly "proper" perspective usually failing in whole or in part probably because it was so hard to get all of the facts, fiction, photos and (especially) recordings together in one place!

But Coley and Moore managed to get just about everything together ('cept the recordings...I was hoping a Cee-Dee of no wave rarities would have accompanied this book wishful thinker that I am!) and they did a pretty hotcha job doing so as well. Published in an easily frayable, guaranteed to dogear hardbound cover, NO WAVE is perhaps (at this time) the ONLY hard-edged source as to what that whole "avant garde" scene was really about not only with its recounting of the entire NO NEW YORK axis with but pertinent and heretofore unknown information on all of those no wave obscurities that you wanted to lend an ear to ever since you saw that two-page photo spread in the May '78 NEW YORK ROCKER. (And yeah, thurty years is a long time to wait but just digging into this book's enough to zoom me back to those days when I was spending an inordinate amount of time scouring and scrounging for any shard of underground lift wherever I could find the darn thing!) And what's really great about NO WAVE is that Coley and Moore knew enough where to start and when to stop at the right place, meaning we don't have to read the umpteenth rehashing of how the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Yoko Ono got the no wave ball rollin' as well as about the groups that appeared directly in the wake of no wave even if they were worthy of even a little smidgen of time and space! I mean, sure groups like Live Skull, Borbetomagus and Moore's own Sonic Youth had their "moments" if not more, but gee weren't the eighties really downer times on just about every level you can imagine?

Anyone who thinks that Mssrs. Coley and Moore are not going to show their own preferences and prejudices are plain and simple screwy, but I figure that hey, it's their book and they can do whatever they want in it. So whatever you do, don't buy this for any Walter Steding coverage (he ain't even mentioned, probably because he was more or less part of the upscale Blondie/Chris Stein crowd), plus while Suicide get their dues as sorta springboarding the no wave movement (while not actually being part of it even if Alan Vega was a Blue Human for a gig) don't expect to read anything about Kongress other'n the fact that Von Lmo played drums with them. Between you and me, Coley thinks that Kongress were kinda "progressive" and yeah I can concur with the man on this point, only I believe they were more of a progressive band in the same Teutonic fashion that came off like late-sixties American punk rock meets Stockhausen! I guess Coley never heard a certain tape capturing the 1974/75 version of the group when it consisted of only Lmo and Otto von Ruggins creating a terrifying wail while opening for Television at CBGB in '74 (not mentioned in any TV gigography I can find so I guess they were unbilled), but hey, why should I complain when this book is really that perfect! (And y'know, maybe it is!)

And with all of the rare snaps ond previously unknown (at least to me and a few billion outsiders) factoids why should anyone complain? I mean, where else are you going to see such rare pix of groups like the Gynecologists and Theoretical Girls in action, not to mention those glorious shots of the Contortions at Artists Space where James Chance is beating up on Robert Christgau (and how long have we been waiting to see that wussy get pounced?) Yes, NO WAVE is a treat for the eyeballs for sure with all of those fliers and long-mothballed snaps that I sure could've used at the time, but what really makes the book a winner's the huge lumps of heretofore unknown info on the no wavers that I must admit puts all previous attempts to relay the experience to Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch in the proverbial shade.

Considering the previous hush-hush mysteries surrounding no wave (much of it filled with conjecture, half-backed myth-making and downright misinformation) you could say that NO WAVE clears up a lotta past fuzziness even if it does create new questions in the process. (Questions like, just what did groups like the Gynecologists, Daily Life and especially the legendary Jack Ruby sound like???, questions I hope will be answered by the vast number of releases by these groups and more that should be coming out in NO WAVE's wake.) But those questions sure make my erotic impulses for all things seventies avant-punk even stronger! The shard of information on the long-desired Terminal (which makes this group out to be perhaps the ultimate noiserock no wave expression extant) just had me crawling more than a few walls in anticipation of anything this group might have laid down to live or rehearsal tape! (Though I thought it was Elodie Lauten, not this Anne DeLeon character, who was Terminal's leader/frontwoman! Perhaps these French gals are one 'n the same but until we get some concrete information I will remain in the dark!) Gee Coley/Moore, what are you trying to do...send me into cardiac convulsions knowing that I have nil chance ever to hear this long-desired booty?

Maybe I should also mention that the only Lmo snap inna book has his face hidden by a welder's mask (and surprisingly there's nada about his solo days which were the stuff of legend during the very late Max's Kansas City strata), plus a few groups didn't even make the footnote section for whatever reasons (I'm thinking Made in USA for one) and of course there are the seemingly mandatory for these kind of offerings minute mistakes for anal retentives like myself to write in about, but why should I quibble given the outright pow'r and energy each and every sweaty page of this tome for our times exudes. NO WAVE is about as close to the taproot as we're probably gonna get as far as getting to the bottom of just what no wave meant as an obsessive (at least for me) flash in the late-seventies and unless we're talking some major all-out studious college disseratation (of course when we're all dead and gone) some time in the distant future I can't think of anything topping this outright classic!

Oh yeah, and before I go I thought I should clarify one teeny-weensy thing that probably would fly right past you but sure caught my eye. On page 144 in the "acknowledgements" section my very name is listed amongst a bevy of the greats who were there (I wasn't) as if to say that my role in the creation of this book was big if not Herculean enough to warrant a mentionm Although I should feel honored or something to that effect to have my name listed in such a book as this I really deserve none of the credit. In fact, the only thing I did to help in the production of NO WAVE was to forward the aforementioned picture of Von Lmo chainsawing his guitar to Lou Rone so's he could identify the drummer playing away to Lmo's destructive act. (The guy turned out to be Teddy Chapogis who later on would be involved with a few of Lou's eighties-era heavy metalloid bands). That's all I did, nada more and rilly, if anyone's moniker should be appearing amongst the movers and shakers in this 'un it's Rone's since he was there and knew the guys in Mars and Red Transistor for that matter and hung out at all the clubs back during one of the more fertile times in rock music history. If I were you, I'd white my name out oh-so-carefully and replace it with Mr. Rone's, just to make things a little more righteous out there in the world of high energy rockism!


Anonymous said...

Sounds great! Although is that an advance copy you've got there or one you bought?

Because I don't know about an accompanying CD being "wishful thinking" - when it was originally announced, an accompanying CD was definitely part of the package. Hmmmm....

Christopher said...

Bought my copy fair and square! No Cee-Dee was enclosed, or else I would have been yapping about that one from here to Melbourne and back. And, like I said in an earlier post, if those Artists Space gigs were taped there's no reason why we shouldn't be hearing Terminal and Daily Life before the end of the year (ATAVISTIC: hint hint!).