Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I have a book reading coming up on March 27, at Dynamite Records here in Northampton. It's the first one I've done in a long time, and may be the only one I'll be doing for the new book - it's not like university presses have lots of money to throw around for publicity, after all. Anyone reading this who's in or near the Northampton area, please come down.

Last week I went to a very cool book event at the APE gallery in downtown Northampton. It was supposed to be Thurston Moore and Byron Coley talking about their recent book on the New York No Wave scene of the late 1970s-early 1980s. I have the book, haven't yet had time to really sit down with it, so I thought it would be cool to hear the authors give their version of how it came about.

(A sidenote: yes, Thurston Moore is a local resident, as any good indie rock acolyte should know. I've not had the chance to strike up a real connection with him but chances to see him around the area are not rare.)

Unfortunately, Thurston was apparently laid up with the early stages of the flu, and so the evening was left to Byron alone to hold the floor. Of course, Byron had to joke that Thurston was feigning illness to save face because he'd just played a pretty mediocre show at the Bookmill, a used bookstore in nearby Montague that hosts the occasional adventurous music show. Jokes aside, though, Byron alone was enough to hold the attention of anyone with an interest in that musical moment in time.

What followed was a brief reading from the introduction to the book, and then Byron offering his own first person narrative of what it was like to be in NYC in the late 70s and early 80s. As he said at one point (and I paraphrase): "If there's anything worth being nostalgic for, it's how cheap the rents were in New York at that time." And cheap rents in damaged but stimulating neighborhoods, of course, are a godsend to the creation of interesting art.

What I most enjoyed hearing Byron talk about was the incredible amount of cross-pollination that existed in the New York art and music world of that time. Visual artists were also musicians, filmmakers were also musicians or were having their films screened between sets at some of the main music venues. Of course this could give rise to a certain overbearing pretentiousness, or a sense of carefully guarded exclusivity, and from Byron's account it did, fed in part by some of the fucked up but powerful egos that inhabited the scene of the time. But it also was the mark of a scene in which experimentation was taken for granted, where musical genres were things to be deconstructed and reassembled at will, where audiences were to be provoked and prodded, not just pleased. I've always found the recorded output of no wave bands like DNA and the Contortions to be more interesting in theory than as things to listen to (although I think Teenage Jesus and the Jerks are pretty great on record). But I'm sure I would have loved seeing these bands play live, soaking up the scuzzy atmosphere and not knowing quite what to expect.

For the curious:


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