The art of noises

Bill Millard, a guy who once wrote a rock music column for me in another place, another time, and another newspaper, instantly identified himself as a long-lost blood brother of mine when he admitted to having (a) an abiding love for the music of Pere Ubu, and (b) friends who did not. One of his friends went so far as to say that the two most terrifying words in the English language were “Pere” and “Ubu.” Hermano! He’s moved on to his own rock band, Shanghai Love Motel, and I’m trying to get some more books published, but the Ubu link will always be there.

When the debut Ubu album (debubu?), The Modern Dance, came out in 1978, a high school buddy who’d followed my changing musical tastes through the import edition of The Clash , Rocket to Russia, Another Green World, Fingerprince,and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols rolled his eyes and said “No way” after sitting through the industrial screech that opens “Non-Alignment Pact” and the crowd noises that serve as the chorus for “The Modern Dance.”  It was the shrieking horns on “Laughing,” combined with Dave Thomas’ nasal bleat, that finally did him in. No judgment on my part, but I still love the deliberately unlovely thing.

I mention all this as a lead-in for Glenn Kenny’s review/reminiscence about The Modern Dance, which evokes the sheer excitement of being a hardcore music fan in the very late Seventies, when the punks and New Wavers were coming into their own and getting record deals, and it seemed like a must-listen album was coming out every other day. The only comparable period, for me anyway, would be the late Eighties and early Nineties, when hip hop was exploding with great, original groups having their say on vinyl, and I was racing to keep up with Public Enemy, Digital Underground, De La Soul, Boogie Down Productions, Ice-T, and the Jungle Brothers. (Even Straight Outta Compton and Ice Cube’s first solo record were part of the excitement, until gangsta rap rolled in like a tsunami of Agent Orange.) It also brings to mind the last time I watched Ubu perform, when the screeching that opens “Non-Alignment Pact” drew the kind of response another crowd would reserve for the opening  notes of “Stairway to Heaven.”

Time to put some tracks from The Tenement Year on the bookstore sound system.

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