Archive for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks

Thurston Moore and Byron Coley’s “No Wave”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2008 by johnbuckley100

Thurston Moore and Byron Coley have just published a gloriously scuzzy high-end artbook cum conversation among the participants of New York’s No Wave subculture, which existed in the blink of a crusted eye between 1976 and 1980. 

The difference between historians Thurston Moore & Byron Coley and Edward Gibbon is that Gibbon didn’t have documentary photos of Rome’s decline and fall.

The difference between archaeologists Thurston Moore & Byron Coley and Walter Alva is that when Alva unearthed those Sipan tombs, none of the mummies could speak in whole sentences about what life was like in the Moche heyday.

They’ve done a really good job of letting the participants speak for themselves (thank you, ur-historian George Plimpton for producing “Edie” lo those many years ago), while ransacking the NY Rocker photo vault for some great black and white pics.

I arrived in New York too late for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and I never really liked Mars and DNA, though I admit to having enjoyed the Contortions (at least for the novelty, and from the back of the room, where it was safe.)  I got there just in time for 8 Eyed Spy, though, and because Byron was incredibly generous in introducing his fellow Hampshire College grad (that would be me) to Andy Schwartz at NY Rocker, I think my very first published review, entitled “Love for Lydia,” was of one of their early shows at Max’s.

Byron was the coolest person any of us knew, and still is.  When he says in the author’s bio here that he was the “resident editor” of NY Rocker, it’s an in-joke — he actually lived in the offices at Fifth Avenue and 23rd in late ’78 or so.

This brings it all back, and does so really intelligently.  It’s Moore’s and Coley’s insight that New York was never really about punk, but always about art rock.  That’s right, and very smart.  The narrative, if that’s what it is, of “No Wave” is built on the story of how two sets of multiple bands — one from the East Village, the other from Soho and points south and west of Houston and Broadway — got essentially pared down for history by Brian Eno choosing only the aforementioned four — Mars, DNA, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and the Contortions — for his “No New York” sampler.  Eno undefensively tells the tale of kismet that led to that record, including a wonderful sense-making detail about the cover: the reason all the bands showed up as individual pictures was he was influenced by the wanted posters for the Baader-Meinhof Gang!  Those were the days.

Anyone could pull together a compilation of the CBGB bands like Blondie and the Ramones and Television and the Talking Heads.  Possibly no two other people — okay, Chris Nelson and Andy Schwartz — could have pulled together “No Wave.” Not just because of the cred needed to get all factions to participate, but just the very sensibility needed to try!

I arrived in New York for good (until I moved four years later) in 1979, and by that time the half life of a movement was over.  That didn’t bother me, for there was still lots going on in ’79, including the first sightings of Thurston Moore on the way to his forming Sonic Youth.  Besides, I liked bands that played rock’n’roll — the Fleshtones, the DBs, etc.  But many of the second-gen No Wave bands, from the Raybeats to the Bush Tetras, gave us plenty of fine nights at Tier 3, followed, as Byron remembers, by egg creams at Dave’s on Canal.  This book brings it all back.  

Go buy it before books themselves go the way of Tier 3 and Dave’s Luncheonette.

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