Perfect Sound Forever

Robert Quine

Understanding Generation Through Two Semi-Obscure Records:
"Let It Blurt" And Dim Stars
by Christopher Nadeau
(May 2007)

There is a stranglehold around our relationship with the word 'generation.' We're taught that to be young is to be alienated, because anyone older than us is washed up and has nothing to offer to our experience. There is no reason to look at the past for advice because we firmly believe that we ourselves are going through everything adverse for the very first time. Alienation is an easy market for advertisers to exploit. Whether our problems are with drugs, sex, depression, loneliness, shame or all of the above, there are products to lull us back to health. We need these pricey solutions like Prozac or pornography because there is no one to talk to about these problems. We have no one to relate to what we are experiencing and we are all alone.

This is all part of the lie to keep us under control. In fact, there are distinct connections between generations when we're willing to look for them. My understanding of generational similarities and solidarity came from two side projects commonly linked by guitarist Robert Quine of the Voidoids. I know that I'm breaking the social stigma against side projects as valid pieces of art but the truth is that one musician's side project can be another musician's stepping stone or beginning in the world of musical expression.

John Cale produced rock critic/singer Lester Bang's "Let it Blurt" in 1977 with Robert Quine and Jody Harris (Contortions/Raybeats) on guitar, Doug Hofstra on bass and Jay Dee Daugherty (Patti Smith Band) on drums. This unnamed band came together on a lark and created some interesting music in the process. For example, "Let it Blurt" begins with a beautifully spacey guitar line and staggering drum rhythms. This really threw me off the first time I heard it because the guitar did not sound anything like Richard Hell, the drums sounded unlike anything I had heard accompany Patti Smith and I definitely did not hear any Contortions in there. Before I could figure out where this music was coming from, Lester started yelping something awful through the mix... but it sounded amazing. His voice was like an unrefined Lou Reed, Richard Hell and Dave Thomas (Pere Ubu), and he sang with the immediacy and urgency of their best works. Suddenly, the music made perfect sense and the air of anxiety cleared. The guitar solo was intended to be an interaction between Quine and Harris, but studio master Cale cut out the latter's part (who can argue with a Velvet's ego?). Luckily, Quine's angular, start/stop playing fits the frantic "get it all out as if it's the last thing you'll ever say or do" vibe of the song effectively. Let it Blurt, indeed.

However powerful or inventive, "Let it Blurt" remained a side project. The Voidoids, Contortions, Patti Smith etc. demanded the attention of the individuals in the assembled band (Bangs himself would record with other bands like the Delinquents and Birdland). They did not tour or even have a name, but this group recorded a document that remains authentic and moving. Also, Bangs produced a good single- not merely a hack-job or parody. Several different generations mashed together for this record: a guitarist who was old enough to see and tape the Velvets live, a punk, a no waver and a few links in between. Since generation became a marketing tool, we constantly struggle with our relationship to our predecessors.

Fifteen years after "Let it Blurt," Robert Quine played with another side project that linked together different generations- Dim Stars. Richard Hell followed the opposite path of Lester Bangs. He began his relationship with rock and roll as a Neon Boy in about 1974 and helped establish the punk scene in New York as he co-founded Television, joined ex-New York Dolls Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers and eventually formed a band that was truly his own, the Voidoids, featuring Mr. Quine. Hell abandoned music in 1982 to pursue writing and other forms of expression. Ten years later, Hell returned to recording music with Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth, Don Fleming from Gumball/Velvet Monkeys and Quine. Side project or not, these recordings bash their way out of speakers to make a complete statement. Rather than just referencing his old career or making a generic comeback, Hell gave birth to relevant music with the generation he directly inspired.

The full length, self-titled Dim Stars album rumbles to life with two songs that provide a coherent overview of the rest of the record. "She Wants to Die" rollicks as Hell croons and spits dark lyrics of soul searching and depression. The music bounds across the sonic landscape while embracing the mashing of generations. The Youth and the Gumball do not pander to Hell, and this is not a revamping of Hell's old style. It blasts the preconceptions of "comeback" music by forging ahead but also acknowledges the past. Generational relationships mold together to become new expressions because experiences and influences mesh to create new ideas. Quine plays on the second track, "All My Witches Come True," adding further generational conflict because of his age. We expect people to mellow or conform to normalcy while losing touch with relevant cultural experience as they get older. However, Quine and Hell stubbornly remain defiant of preconception and recorded brutal, relevant music while intensifying their legend that has been accruing over the years. They fought back, kicking and snarling. The CD of this album comes with a bonus track, "Dim Star Theme," and it consolidates the themes of the music and attitudes of the lyrics perfectly. The guitars alternate from gentile cross-picking to squealing that rip out noises that remind us that the coming Armageddon is closer than we are willing to admit. The interplay between the instruments is very calculated throughout the record, and each one fills a certain realm of the sound. There are interesting relationships between clean and distorted guitars, screaming high pitched noises and low-end bass and drums and the human voice cutting through layers of thick music. These relationships of noise are reserved for the complete, whole recordings of fully functioning bands, not some thrown together afterthought.

In the end, it is impossible to remain trapped by these labels we take for granted in recorded music and everyday life. These two documents prove that a rock critic made compelling music beyond just complaining about the state of the rock world and these side projects interjected authentic recordings and ideas into rock and roll while generations met and found common ground in which to work together toward understanding. The labels that these points destroy ingrained themselves into our subconscious long ago, and there had to be a way out. For the sake of destroying marketing control over our entire existence, these preconceptions must be attacked, grabbed by the throat and disengaged from the human experience. They simply do not fit any accurate description of the real world. For example, if Richard Hell started singing about the Blank Generation in the mid 1970's, how can his lyrics still sound poignant to me after the year 2000? Our experiences are not as markedly different from past generations as we are led to believe. These two recordings that share the direct common element of Robert Quine destroy the presumptions surrounding the generation gap by joining musicians of several ages and times to create collaborations that surge toward understanding of our relationships with our elders and our youth.

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