Perfect Sound Forever

The Shimmer And Clang of
Robert Quine

By Kenneth Coleman

There was a time when I thought of punk rock as one big snotty jack-hammer assault of sixteenth notes performed by emaciated Brits with supermodel girlfriends. However, at the tender age of 18, I heard '(I Belong To The) Blank Generation' by Richard Hell and the Voidoids for the first time on the soundtrack to an obscure English film called That Summer. This recording was a life-altering revelation. It was loose and jazzy, almost sexy, without sacrificing an ounce of nihilistic swagger. A year later, the Voidoids debut album was finally reissued by Sire Records. It resided in my Walkman for an entire burger-flipping summer. While Hell's charisma was undeniable, it was the razor blade guitar interplay that kept me coming back. The two guitarists, Ivan Julian and Robert Quine, were true anomalies in the punk universe. They were multi-racial and multi-faceted, modelling their stage act after The Defiant Ones. Quine especially fascinated me. First of all, he had a great look: black sportscoat, starched white shirt, go-to-hell sunglasses and a gleaming baldpate.

Later, I heard (Lou Reed's) The Blue Mask, which became another landmark record for me. Here was something of a departure. Most often he used the guitar not to assault, but rather to establish a mood. Even the maniacal bursts of feedback on the title track serve to illustrate Reed's lyrical content.

Around this time I was stuck in the laid-back hippie wasteland of Eugene, Oregon. Quine became a role model of sorts. I greedily snatched up every recording of his I could find. I started donning Quine-style threads and coaxing foreign sounds from my cheap Korean strat copy and solid-state Peavey amp. Discovering a 1986 interview in Guitar Player magazine was a bit like unearthing the Dead Sea Scrolls for me. Here I learned of his passion for James Burton, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Albert King, Hank Marvin and James Williamson. His brand of musical mayhem started to make a bit more sense. I started devouring records from many disparate genres, which lead to me finally formulating my own musical style. It's strange how originality is often birthed through emulation.

However, Quine is still very relevant to me. This is a fact best illustrated by his extraordinary contributions to Matthew Sweet's early nineties efforts, which still thrill and disturb the way his work with the Voidoids did. And I have yet to overcome my compulsion to purchase every decent black sportcoat I see.