Tuesday, August 5, 2008

pere ubu: 30 seconds over cleveland, ohio



hearthan HR 101, 1975.



Exploding out of the still radioactive fall-out of proto-punk misfits, Rocket from the Tombs - featuring Cheetah Chrome (né Gene O’Connor) prior to his teaming up with Stiv Bators and establishing the Dead Boys in NYC - Cleveland pioneers, Pere Ubu released their debut single on local Hearthan Records imprint in 1975. From its a-side, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" - a hugely dark brooding composition co-written between David Thomas (aka Crocus Behemoth) and guitarist, Peter Laughner - the opening chords alone make it abundantly clear that Ubu were intent on forging the unique sound which, within two years alone, would firmly establish Cleveland as the industrially blitzed Ground Zero of an art revolution at odds with the much straighter rock n' roll edge simultaneously cutting out a slice of the action in the clubs of New York.

With the notable exception of Television, specifically the intertwining guitars of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, there was no other band outwith the suburban hinterland of Ohio with a remotely similar vision throughout that time. At times a virus infected spider scrabbling over shards of brittle glass, at others a bleak mushrooming nerve agent, the corpulent presence of Thomas and the nihilistic but hugely inventive experimental tones created by Laughner coalesced into a cold blue flame licking out broken windows in the seedy bars of Cleveland to ignite pockets of interest outwith even America.

Throughout the blisteringly hot UK summer of 1976 into the media incited euphoria of 1977 when Punk Rock truly seized control, the Hearthan Ubu 45s were the Holy Grail of cool for a committed body of fans and practicing musicians alike; a small but influential core of an underground resistance teethed on the 1-2-3-4 of Ramones and the Damned but eager to map out stranger territories.

You can hear the corrosive influence of Thomas and Laughner in groups like Wire; Gang of Four; Joy Division; Throbbing Gristle; and a hundred lesser talents besides. The debt owed not just to New York but to the suppurating heart of America's midwest cannot be overestimated.

That creeping sense of dread and threat of exposure like a flat stone lifted away from a seething mass of insect activity can be heard even in the post Pistols co-operative formed between Lydon and Jah wobble and Keith Levene in the aftermath of that disasterous US tour. Not everyone escaped 1977's final reckoning. Even as John Simon Ritchie chose to explore the junkie milleau of the rotten Big Apple hand-in-hand with his new girlfriend rather than return to face the music back home in London, the nest of used syringes and cotton wadding he set up home in led him further down the never fully insulated path which already claimed Peter Laughner in the summer of the previous year in NYC's cancerous districts. Quick to raise speculation as to whether his death through acute pancreatitis resulting from substance abuse might not have been self inflicted, Laughner's closest friend Lester Bangs went on record to scotch the rumour. The Ubu guitarist and fellow Creem freelancer had just prior to his end made plans to return to the quiet of rural Ohio to stage a recuperation and had been in good spirits. David Thomas steered Pere Ubu on to record a debut album for Blank Records in same year as Ritchie's demise - the outstanding "The Modern Dance" - and "Dub Housing" (Thomas's oft quoted personal favourite) for Chrysalis Records, but those early Cleveland recordings were never truly equaled.


pere ubu on prospect avenue, downtown cleveland in 1978.

PERE UBU: 30 SECONDS OVER TOKYO from "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo b/w Heart Of Darkness" 45 (Hearthan) 1975 (US)

PERE UBU: FINAL SOLUTION from "Final Solution b/w Cloud 149" 45 (Hearthan) 1976 (US)

UBU PROJEX: BUYER'S GUIDE TO PERE UBU

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